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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarianism in the News

January 1, 2018 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

The Big Guys Are Taking Over;
Large Food Conglomerates Swallow Vegan Companies

Click to see timeline of mergers and acquisitions

The big guys, giant food conglomerates, have noticed a greater public acceptance, desire, and demand for meatless products. They want to play a greater role in the plant-based food wave because they see the large dollar signs. The easiest way to achieve this goal is to buy or merge with a successful company that markets plant-based foods.

The merger may be beneficial to the vegan community by making products similar to those sold by companies like Daiya more widespread and accessible. In other instances the purchasing company seeking greater profits destroys the vision of the small company and introduces a product/products that deviate from concepts established by the absorbed company.

Daiya Announcement of Daiya's purchase by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals on July 27, 2017 is yet another case where a large conglomerate absorbs a smaller vegan company. This purchase may be a positive development for the company and for vegan consumers.

Daiya began its life in 2005 in British Columbia. Founder Andre Kroecher joined Greg Blake in 2007 experimenting with creating mozzarella and cheddar shreds. The company went into production in 2008. Introduction of the cheese at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California in 2009 led to instant success. Those who sampled the cheese fell in love with how tasty it is and how well it melted. In the following years, Daiya has broadened its offerings. The company now produces pizza, yogurt, cheesecake, cream cheese, and salad dressings in addition to their multiple varieties of cheese slices, chunks and spreads.

Surprisingly, companies developing meat and dairy substitutes seem to originate in Canada. Three exceptional vegan companies, Daiya, Gardein, and Yves, boast Canada as their birthplace.

Yves and Gardein have the same lineage. Both companies are the brainchildren of Yves Potvin, an innovative Canadian entrepreneur. Potvin started Yves and began supplying health food stores with meat substitutes. His first big selling product was what he called the veggie dog. Under his guidance the company developed deli slices, hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and appetizers. Potvin sold Yves in 2001 to Hain Celestial but had future endeavors in mind.

Gardein Potvin went on to form Gardein Protein International in 2003. In 2009 the company began selling meatless frozen products that featured substitutes for chicken, beef, and fish.

Pinnacle Foods purchased Gardein for $154 million in 2014. Pinnacle Foods specializes in shelf-stable and frozen foods and has managed to obtain two dozen brands including names like Birds Eye, Duncan Hines, Earth Balance, Lender's Bagels, Log Cabin Syrup, Udi's, Van de Kamps, Vlasic, Wish-Bone, and many more.

Originally founded in Massachusetts in 1979, Lightlife became a member of the Conagra Foods family in 2000. Conagra is the purveyor of brands like Big Mama Sausage, Banquet Frozen Dinners, Gebhardt, Marie Callender's, Parkay, Reddi-wip, Hebrew National, and many others.

Lightlife achieved success by offering vegan plant protein foods like Fakin' Bacon, Smart Dogs, Smart Ground, Gimme Lean Sausage, and Organic Three-Grain Tempeh. The company became a brand of Maple Leaf Foods in 2017. Vegans may be distressed to learn that Maple Leaf Foods is primarily a purveyor of meat products.

Kelloggs has also seen dollar signs in the vegan and natural food market by acquiring Morningstar, Gardenburger, Bear Naked Granola, and Kashi. Morningstar Farms was a brand introduced by Worthington Foods in the 1970s. During the 1960s Worthington was one of the largest manufacturers of soy-based foods in the United States.

Silk Atlantic Natural Foods, a company that specializes in private label manufacturing of soy products, purchased Worthington Foods from Kellogg in 2015. Atlantic Natural Foods is a case where a small company specializing in vegetarian products is acquiring a vegetarian division of a conglomerate.

French dairy conglomerate Danone, known in the US as the maker of Danon and Activia yogurts, now features WhiteWave in its mix of products. WhiteWave brands include Silk, So Delicious, Horizon Organic, Alpro, and Earthbound Farm. The company, now renamed DanoneWave, has a strong presence in the dairy cases of supermarkets across this country.

Nestle, a Swiss company with a strong presence in the US, purchased plant-based Sweet Earth in 2017. The California company produces Righteous Meats like Benevolent Bacon, Harmless Ham, Tuscan Veggie Sausage, Chipotle Strips, Artisan Bowls, Exotic Burritos, Veggie Burgers, and Breakfast Sandwiches. The original owners remain in charge of the company.

Silk As vegans look forward to 2018, rumors are circulating that conglomerates are eyeing successful small and medium-sized companies that produce plant-based products. One possible target is Hain Celestial, a corporation with many products in its stable. Their brands include Arrowhead Mills, Casbah, Earth's Best Organic, Hain Pure Foods, Imagine, MaraNatha, Nile Spice, Rudi's, Spectrum, Terra, Westbrae Natural, Westsoy, Yves, and Celestial Seasonings.

Vegetarians in Paradise predicts that in coming years more food conglomerates will search out small companies that produce vegetarian and vegan products. As the growing market for these foods increases, so will acquisitions multiply. If vegans object to an acquisition, they can vote with their dollars to not buy plant-based foods from companies that also market meat products.

On the other hand, large conglomerates have the financial means to bring vegan products to a larger population. That, of course, results in fewer animals killed for food. We at Vegetarians in Paradise support the merger as long as the conglomerate doesn't change the ingredients of the original products to make them non-vegan or use the brand name to market foods that are not plant-based.

The bottom line for all of us is to know about the company whose products we are buying, and, of course, check the Nutrition Facts labels to see that the products maintain vegan standards.

Timeline of Plant-Based Food Company Mergers
1997 M&M Mars buys Seeds of Change
1999 General Mills purchases Small Planet Foods (Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen)
2000 Heinz buys 19.5% of Hain Celestial (later sold shares)
2000 Kellogg's purchases Kashi
2000 Kraft buys Boca Burgers
2000 General Mills acquires Small Planet Foods that owns Cascadian Farms
2000 Conagra acquires Lightlife Foods
2001 Yves Veggie Cuisine sold to Hain Celestial Group
2002 Dean Foods buys WhiteWave (includes Silk)
2007 Kellogg's buys Bear Naked Granola
2007 Kellogg's purchases Morningstar
2007 Kellogg's buys Gardenburger
2008 General Mills purchases Larabar
2013 WhiteWave leaves Dean Foods
2014 General Mills absorbs Annie's
2014 Pinnacle Foods purchases Gardein
2014 WhiteWave buys Vega
2015 Atlantic Natural Foods buys Worthington Foods (includes Loma Linda brand)
2017 Danone acquires WhiteWave (Silk, So Delicious, Vega)
2017 Maple Leaf Foods buys Lightlife
2017 Unilever buys Sir Kensington's
2017 Nestle USA purchases Sweet Earth

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