50 Brands You Didn’t Know Were Owned By Big Businesses (FAK Friday)

50 Brands You Didn't Know Were Owned By Big Businesses

Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it… America isn’t exactly the healthiest place there is. In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say we love our junk food here. We have, however, gotten a lot more health conscious over the years, and if you’re anything like me you probably make an effort to avoid the bad stuff and opt for something a little healthier.

To me, that doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding stuff like cookies and ice cream, but it means finding companies that use better, more natural ingredients to make their products. The closer it is to home-made, the better… which is why I make so much stuff at home! When I’m not making something from scratch, though, that usually means steering clear of the big-name brands, and looking for something made by smaller scale companies. Not only do I feel better about what I’m putting into my body, but I can feel confident that I’m supporting an independent business at the same time. Or at least, I think I am, anyway…

As it turns out, many of those l business aren’t so small or independent after all. In fact, most of them are actually owned by the big corporations I might think I’m avoiding! Brown Cow yogurt is owned by Dannon, Back To Nature is actually Kraft, and Stacy’s Pita Chips are really owned by Frito Lay… which in turn is owned by Pepsi.

Now, just because a brand is owned by a big company doesn’t make it bad, by default. Just because Odwalla is owned by Coke doesn’t mean that drinking an Odwalla is the same as drinking Coke — you’re still getting a nutrient-packed smoothie instead of a soft drink! What it does mean is, instead of supporting the brand you like, a portion of your dollars are actually going to a big, multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

I don’t know about you, but I like to know the difference between the two. I also like to know about the ethics and standards behind a company, no matter who it’s owned by… which is why I’ve put together this list.

Many of these brands actually started out as small, mom-and-pop type operations, but after very successful growth started to catch the attention of the big leagues. For some of them, selling out to a “parent company” was a means for keeping their business above water, while for others it was just the next logical step to bigger and better things. In most cases this is a win-win: the smaller business gets to keep growing, and companies like Coca Cola and Kellogg are more than happy to take on a product that their more health-conscious customers will appreciate. Plus they can sell it at a much higher premium, so it makes them money. Lots and lots of money.

These are just a few of those brands, which you maybe didn’t know were owned by big businesses. Many of them still strive to maintain their original standards, or even expand upon them, while others have faltered under the pressures of the big-name food industry. Not all of the brands on this list try to fool their buyers with the appearance of being small or independent, but I’ve included them anyway because you may be surprised to know a little more about them.

If there are any I’ve missed, please add them to the list in the comments below!

Cascadian Farms
Cascadian Farms is one of the most well known names for its transition from independent company to subsidiary brand.

Muir Glen, Cascadian Farms, and LaraBar — what do these brands have in common? They’re all owned by General Mills! Gene Kahn, the founder of Cascadian Farms, served on the USDA’s board of National Organic Stanndards in the 1990’s, and helped to define the current standards of what organic is. He fought for the use of synthetics to be legal in organic foods, so that things like organic TV dinners could be made possible. In talking about how Cascadian Farms progressed from a small organic farm to an agribusiness, Kahn said, “we tried hard to build a cooperative community and a local food system, but at the end of the day it wasn’t successful. This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but it’s just lunch.” (from the book, An Omnivore’s Dilemma)

Dagoba Chocolate is actually owned by Hershey’s. Dagoba was founded in 2001, and bought up by Hershey’s just five years later. The company focuses on organic and sustainable practices, and currently all of its products are “rainforest alliance certified.” This just goes to show, big companies can make healthy products… they just don’t usually choose to.

Silk Soymilk, Horizon Milk, and The Organic Cow of Vermont are all controlled by Dean Foods. Silk Soymilk came under a lot of scrutiny when, in 2009, it quietly swapped the word “organic” on its label to the word “natural.” In order to not raise prices, the company had switched from using organically grown soybeans to conventionally grown ones. They kept their prices the same, and pocketed the change. The FDA does not currently have any regulations on the use of the word “natural,” so when a product says “all natural,” it is not the same as organic.

Brown Cow and Stonyfield Farms Yogurt are both made by Dannon. Brown Cow was actually started back in the 70’s, and it wasn’t until 2003 that it got bought by Stonyfield Farms (a subsidiary of Dannon). Stonyfield Farms Yogurt is entirely organic, while Brown Cow yogurt is certified humane, and promises never to use artificial hormones in the production of their yogurt (but is not organic.)

Odwalla was founded in 1980 by three friends in Santa Cruz California, who literally started from the ground up, juicing oranges and selling the fresh juice wherever they could. The company grew quickly, and became extremely successful under its own management until 2001, when it was purchased by Coca-Cola for a whopping $181 million. Odwalla benefited greatly from this merger, and its original management was able to stay on as heads of the company. Odwalla continues to offers a range of natural juices and smoothies, and focuses on green practices like recycling.

Naked Juice was bought by Pepsico in 2007, in a bid to compete with Coca Cola’s recent purchase of Odwalla. The company began nearly 25 years earlier when founder Jimmy Rosenberg started making the drinks in his home and selling them on the sun-kissed beaches of Santa Monica. To this day the company is dedicated to using no added sugar, and no preservatives, meaning that the bottles of juice have a very limited shelf life. The company also focuses on sustainability, and has made an attempt to green itself by installing over 1,800 solar panels.

Naked and Odwalla
Can you feel the tension?

Kashi — okay, we all know that Kashi isn’t a small company, but did you know it’s actually owned by Kellogg? Kashi advertises itself as an all-natural, healthy alternative to other breakfast cereals and bars, but in 2011 the company stirred some serious consumer outrage when it came to light that a majority of their products (containing soy) were made with GMO’s. This made many question the brand’s “natural food philosophy.” Kashi makes no claims to be organic, and as I mentioned before, the word “natural” has no firm definition when it comes to product labeling. In an attempt to mitigate the damages, Kashi released a line of seven Non-GMO cereals. In the same year, Kellogg (Kashi’s parent company), donated nearly $800,000 to voting against the labeling of GMO’s in California. To read more about Kashi’s GMO controversy, check out this Huffington Post article.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was founded by two friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, in 1978, in Burlington Vermont. They became known for their unusual flavors and witty wording, and in 1988 were awarded the U.S. Small Business Person’s Of The Year, by president Ronald Reagan. In 2000, the founders sold the company to Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. Although their names are still attached to the brand, Ben & Jerry no longer hold any board or management positions, and are not involved in the day-to-day management of the company. Owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s has said it is in full support of mandatory GMO labeling, and has a full-disclosure policy on their website stating what percentage of their products contain them. The company hopes to be fully GMO-free by the end of 2013.

Häagen-Dazs ice cream was first created by founder Reuben Mattus in 1961. According to his daughter, Mattus chose the name by sitting at the kitchen table saying nonsensical words until he came up with something unique that he liked. Mattus said he wanted the name to sound Danish, even though the words have no actual meaning. In 1983, Häagen-Dazs was bought by Pillsbury, which was later purchased by General Mills. However, to confuse matters further, in the U.S. and Canada Häagen-Dazs products are produced by Nestle, under a license issued by General Mills. The brand is known for being one of the few commercial ice cream makers to not use any stabilizers, such as guar gum, xanthan gum, or carrageenen. The company also focuses on providing funding for research and protection programs for honey bees in the U.S., which have been decreasing in numbers dramatically over the past several years.

Stacy’s Pita Chips are owned by Frito Lay (which is a subsidiary of Pepsico). The company was started by Stacy Madison, who started giving out her fresh baked pita chips to customers in line at her food cart in downtown Boston. The customers loved them, and soon Stacy and her husband started marketing their chips to nearby grocers. In 2006 the company was bought by Frito Lay, and Stacy took her new-found time and money to travel with her family. Frito Lay acquired Stacy’s Pita Chips as a way to move into a more “natural” market.
Perhaps you like to enjoy your pita chips with some Sabra Hummus or Salsa? Also owned by Frito Lay. Well, it’s actually split 50/50 between Frito Lay, and Israeli food manufacturer, Strauss. Close enough.

Back To Nature is actually a product of Kraft Foods. The brand makes a variety of products including granola, crackers, boxed macaroni and cheese, and more recently, fruit juices. Many, but not all, are certified organic. The company recently launched a project to verify some of their products as non-GMO, and states that it hopes to work towards removing GMO’s from all if its products in the future. Kraft Foods recently sold a majority stake in the company to Brynwood Partners, but will remain in complete control of Back To Nature’s Mac and Cheese.
Back To Nature, Natural vs. Organic
“Made with Natural Cheddar” vs. “Certified Organic Cheddar” — another example of the deceptive word “natural,” which is not defined by the FDA.

Boca Burgers, a brand of vegetarian and vegan frozen foods, is also owned by Kraft. Boca Foods Company began in 1979, and was bought by the bigger company in 2000. The company’s signature meat-substitutes are made primarily with soy. The brand states that it sees no problem with using genetically modified ingredients, but introduced a small line of products made exclusively with non-GMO soy anyway, in order to reach a wider customer base.
Morningstar Farms is another big name in vegetarian and vegan frozen food products, and is owned by Kellogg. It was first introduced to the market by Worthington Foods in the 1970’s, and was purchased by Kellogg in 1999, when it acquired the Morningstar brand name.
Quaker Oats is owned by… wait for it… Pepsi! Quaker Oats came into being in 1901, with the combination of several smaller oat mills. The company was bought by Pepsico in 2001, a full century after its creation. The brand has no formal ties to the actual Quaker’s Society, but the name was chosen because of the Quaker’s motto of ‘integrity, honesty, purity, and strength’, which the brand wanted to embody. The man on the front of the package is often thought to be a representation of the famous Quaker William Pen, but the company states that the “Quaker Man” is not an actual person. The company fondly refers to him as Larry, and in 2012 gave him a bit of a make-over, saying he had been “getting back in shape and eating right,” and that he has more radiant skin because of “daily oatmeal masks.”
Now a’days Quaker sells much more than just oats, including breakfast cereals (such as Life), cookies, snacks, and a long line of breakfast bars.

Quaker Yogurt Bars contain High Fructose Corn Syrup
These Chewy Yogurt Bars contain High-Fructose Corn Syrup — be sure to look for the “No High-Fructose” label on many other Quaker products!

Nature Valley fruit and nut bars were created by General Mills in 1973, and was one of the very first granola bars. The Nature Valley brand has come under some scrutiny for the use of the word “natural,” with many of its products containing questionable ingredients including high fructose corn syrup and GMO soy, corn, or palm oil. As mentioned before, the word “natural” is not regulated by the FDA, and means very little when used on food product labels. Don’t be fooled by the difference between the word “natural” and the word “organic”! One thing Nature Valley does have going for it is its ongoing partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association, working to preserve many of America’s national parks.
Burt’s Bees — I know, I know, it’s a cosmetic product, not food. But did you know the company is owned by Clorox? Burt’s Bees started in 1984 as a candle making company by Roxanne Quimby and beekeeper Burt Shavitz, and expanded into the world of personal care in 1991. In 2011, it was bought by Clorox, and the company subsequently released a letter to their “loyal customers,” stating that their merger would help them attain the “greater good,” and promising that their products would remain as natural as possible. Since then many long-time fans have complained of changes to the original formulas, including the use of synthetic fragrances. Burt’s Bees provides a label on each of its products stating what percentage of the ingredients are natural, and ensuring that any synthetics or preservatives used are necessary for the safety of the product. In 2007, Burt’s Bees began collaborating with the Pollinator Partnership, in an effort to help the dwindling population of honey bees.
Tom’s of Maine, also a personal care company, is owned by Colgate. Tom’s was first started by Tom and Kate Chappell in 1970. When they couldn’t find good, natural personal care products, they decided to create their own, with a philosophy of sustainability and respect for nature. In 2006, a majority stake in the company was bought by Colgate, but the terms of the purchase specified that the original policies of the brand would remain intact. The brand is dedicated to providing products free of artificial flavors, fragrances, preservatives, sweeteners, etc., and promises never to participate in animal testing. On their website you can find an extensive list of all the ingredients used, what the purpose of the ingredient is, and where the ingredient comes from.
Pepperidge Farms is owned by Campbell’s. It was created in 1937 by Margaret Rudkin, who began by baking homemade breads for her son, who was allergic to many processed foods. Curious, she approached her local grocer with a sample of her bread. After tasting a slice, the grocer quickly bought what she had and placed an order for more. The company grew, expanding to offer cookies, frozen pastries, and later, goldfish. In 1961 it was bought by Campbell’s Soup Company, and Margaret became the first woman to serve on the board. Two years later she published the Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, which was the first ever cookbook to make the New York Times Bestseller list. She later retired from the company in 1966.
Bolthouse Farms is also owned by Campbell’s. It started in 1915, was bought by a private equity firm in 2005, and later purchased by Campbell’s in 2012. Bolthouse promotes an image of natural and healthy fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, and salad dressings, but does not claim to be organic or GMO-free. The same year it was acquired, Campbell’s invested a half million dollars to vote against the labeling of GMO’s in California. Bolthouse Farms claims to use green practices, such as installing solar panels, conserving water usage, and using recyclable packaging.

Honest Tea, a brand of simple, organic brewed teas, is owned by Coca Cola. It’s a catchy title, but somehow feels a little less convincing with the name Coke behind it. Still, the company was first started 1998 by two college buddies, Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, who were intent on making a tea of higher quality than what they were finding in most commercial beverages. They started by selling their drinks to their local Whole Foods, and the company took off from there. In 2011, the company got bought by Coca Cola, but is still run as an independent business by Seth, who is now the president and “TeaEO.” Honest Tea has since expanded to become entirely fair-trade certified, and partners with many well-known causes, including cancer research, the Arbor Day Foundation, and Green America.

Honest Tea

Snapple was originally founded in 1972, and the company was first known as “Unadulterated Food Products.” It all started as a brand of fruit juices sold to health food stores, and later got the name “snapple” from a combination of the word “snappy” and “apple,” when some of the company’s apple juice fermented, causing the lids on the bottles to snap off. Between 1994 and 2008, Snapple was bought and sold back and forth to multiple companies, before finally landing in the hands of Dr. Pepper (aka, Coca Cola). In 2009, Snapple switched its formula to use sugar in place of high-fructose corn syrup.
Simply Orange, with its oh-so-wholesome commercials, is actually made by Coca Cola. It was founded in 2001 by Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid department. Commercial orange juices have a long history of controversy over the label’s use of the words “fresh,” “100% Juice,” and “natural.” In the 1990’s there was a bit of an uproar over the use of juice from concentrate, so producers began offering juices labeled “not from concentrate.” What this usually means, however, is that the juice is squeezed, deaerated, stored, rehydrated, and supplemented with natural and artificial flavors and colors to restore the juices original taste and appearance. This is done to extend shelf life, and to ensure that the juice tastes the same all season ’round. Simply Orange claims to never use added water, sugar, or preservatives in its products, but does not specify how the juice is made. Because the wording “not from concentrate” is fairly vague, it’s hard to know how fresh it really is.

(For more information on the production of commercial orange juices, I suggest this post from Leaf and Grain.)

While Coca Cola owns Minute Maid, Pepsico has Tropicana. Tropicana was founded in 1947 by Anthony T. Rossi, in Bradenton Florida. It was bought by Pepsico in 1998. Tropicana strives to source its oranges exclusively from Florida as much as possible, but due to fluctuations in the crops has, at times, had to supplement with Brazilian oranges. They now claim to be back to using 100% Florida oranges. Tropicana admits to using the deaerating process for some of its juices, due to the limited growing season of fresh oranges. In 2008 the brand partnered with Cool Earth to launch the Rescue Rainforest Initiative. They also support the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and encourage the recycling of their packaging. 
Dasani, Vitamin Water, Smart Water, and Nestea are all owned by Coca Cola.
Aquafina, Gatorade, SoBe, Ocean Spray, and Lipton are all owned by Pepsi.
Perrier, S.Pellegrino, Aquarel, Pure Life, Deer Park, Arrowhead, Ice Mountain, Poland Spring, Zephyrhills, Oarka, and many others are all products of Nestle. It just goes to show, you can never have too many brands of bottled water.

So, which ones were you surprised by? If you can think of any I’ve missed, or notice any errors, please let me know in the comments below!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Still hungry? Try these:

20 Responses to 50 Brands You Didn’t Know Were Owned By Big Businesses (FAK Friday)

  1. ~~louise~~ July 20, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    Excellent article Willow. I can just imagine the amount of time and effort into researching this article. I just had to tell you how much I appreciate it! Thank you so much for sharing…Amazing!

  2. Maria July 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Wow…who knew? Thank you for the enlightenment and for the effort in culling all this information.

    • Willow Arlen July 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      You’re welcome! Glad to be able to put it out there.

  3. Jill July 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Thanks for the excellent article Willow. There is a free iPhone app called ‘Buycott’ that helps you figure out these connections. You enter your areas of concern in the the app’s settings (No GMO, child labor practices, etc.). Then you can scan a product’s barcode and the phone will tell you if there are any conflicts. Even more interesting is the option to look at the ‘family tree’ to see who owns the company. It’s amazing how deeply buried these connections can be! I was shocked to learn how many of the ‘natural’ products by seemingly small companies I was buying were owned by big business. Needless to say I’ve changed the way I shop now, I scan everything so I know who I am supporting with my grocery dollars! Thanks again for the great blog, I look forward to reading it every time it hits my inbox and your photos are wonderful too. : ) Keep up the good work!

    • Willow Arlen July 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Wow, how did I not know about this? That app sounds incredible! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Kristen July 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    There are so many brands on this list that I’m so surprised at. It’s a natural step, I guess, but it makes you question those products!

    • Willow Arlen July 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Indeed! I was surprised by many of them, and then surprised again by some that were actually better than I thought they were. Interesting how they go both ways!

  5. Abby July 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    Great article! Now I really want to get that app the other reader mentioned. It’s so frustrating that a small group of people are controlling so much of America. I was just having a conversation the other day about how America really is run under the false assumption of Democracy. Drives me crazy. I’ll put my soapbox away now…. :)

  6. thefreshfresher July 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Some of these are shocking – I genuinely still thought Ben and Jerry owned Ben and Jerry’s! Pretty naive I guess haha. I have never liked the look of Nature Valley bars, though – in the UK they gave the impression they were made by Welsh farmers on their TV advertisment!

  7. shannon weber July 26, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    what i learned today: EVERYTHING is owned by either Pepsi, Coke, or Frito-Lay. ARGGHH! :) I’ve been reading the fine print on things a lot more in the past two years i’ve been blogging, and it really is interesting to see who owns what: it’s certainly kept on the down low that some of the healthier brands are actually owned by some of the countries most-maligned corps, i think. Unless you’re shopping at a straight-up health food store, it’s difficult to pick up a package and NOT see that a larger conglomerate owns the brand…it’s a wee bit depressing. Sad what little companies have to do to stay in the market, i guess.

  8. Cassandra July 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Quaker Oats is run by Pepsi?! I didn’t know most of the giants behind these small(er) brands, but this one surprised me the most.

    It’s so disheartening to know that a handful of companies monopolize the food industry like this. Thanks for bringing our attention to the issue!

  9. Juliana Walters July 30, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    I’m not super surprised. But the more I read the more nervous it makes me. It is disheartining to see so few companies hold so many cards.

  10. wildbluewonder August 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I knew about quite a few of these, but not all of them. Thanks for all your legwork in putting this together.

    It’s a shame that nothing seems to stay SMALL and successful for long. I feel disheartened as Juliana mentioned… but I also recognize that sometimes the larger companies can give small brands more exposure. It’s a catch-22, for sure. Not sure there’s any one “right” answer, but knowledge is, indeed, power. So thanks again!

  11. falling_james November 6, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    Thank you so much for bringing re-new(ed) attention to this. When Macromedia Shockwave first came out they hosted a site for folks to show their best work… using Shockwave. My favourite site was from a few students that created “We Rule” A site that connected viewers with all the available data on CEO’s, BOD’s, how much they made and what companie(S) they controlled. The fascinating part of the project is that one could say: show me the links between CocaCola and MiraMax or George Dubya and Haliburton and it would create this expandable spider that showed every connection in a visual way… kind of like your text… but in ways that one can see that it is not just who owns the company, but who is on the board, how much they make and every other board they sit on or control…

  12. Teri En April 21, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

    Thank you for the article. I would like to add that many of these corporations have opted to use the phrase, “All Natural” in an attempt to also avoid/bypass the need to address whether (or not) their products contain GMO’s.

  13. Samantha January 10, 2016 at 7:12 pm #

    Thank you for this article, I didn’t know about Ben & Jerry’s and now I’m out of ice cream options. I did notice that Annie’s (another Vermont favorite of mine) sold out to General Mills last year. They still have the non-gmo project status but the profits are going to the corporation that is paying a lot of our money to remove the labelling option.

    • Willow Arlen January 12, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      Yes, I heard about Annie’s! Such a bummer, and since Back To Nature’s mac and cheese is owned by Kraft it really doesn’t leave any good (boxed) mac and cheese options. I was really surprised to hear they sold out, since they were so successful under their own management. Oh well…

  14. Nathan January 29, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    One slight clarification. Dr Pepper/Snapple is not a subsidiary of Coca-Cola. They are their own company. They have worked out a deal with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for assistance with bottling and local distribution and worked with Coco-Cola exclusively for international distribution but that should not be confused as ownership. The FTC specifically blocked a merger between Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola on anti-trust grounds which sparked the merger between 7Up and Dr. Pepper.

    When the Coca-Cola or Pepsi logo is printed on a Dr. Pepper product, it only indicates where the drink was bottled/canned.

    • Willow Arlen January 29, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

      Thank you for the clarification, Nathan! Very well explained, that makes a lot of sense. I think my confusion was with the logo showing up on their products at times. Good to know.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Read previous post:
Chai Iced Tea Cubes & a Giveaway of My Favorite Teas!

  When I was a teenager, I fancied myself a bit of a poet. I was also extremely shy and...