Image via The Cornucopia Institute – click image to see a pdf poster-sized version

“Who Owns Organic,” is a popular infographic featuring independently owned organic food companies and the organic companies who used to be independent but who are now owned by Big Food companies. The infographic, created in 2003, by Philip H. Howard, an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State, makes it easy for organic advocates and other consumers to quickly observe the state of the organic industry. According to Howard, there were about 81 independent organic companies in the United States in 1995 with, “the first wave of acquisitions of organic processors concentrated between December, 1997 and October, 2002.” The 1997-2002 timeline of acquisitions coincided with, “the initial release of the draft USDA organic standards and its full implementation in October, 2002,” and a large wave of organic company buyouts has been occurring steadily since 2012.  In fact, in 2014 there were only 15 independent organic companies left in the U.S. and just last month, Howard and The Cornucopia Institute reported some significant updates to his Who Owns Organic Chart, including:

  • Hormel’s acquisition of Applegate Farms for $775 million
  • General Mills’ acquisition of Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million
  • Pinnacle Foods’ acquisition of Boulder Brands (Earth Balance, Evol, Udi’s) for $975 million
  • JAB Holding’s acquisition of a number of coffee brands (Green Mountain Einstein Bros./Noah’s, Stumptown and Intelligentsia, Peet’s, and Caribou)

To sum up, organic acquisition trends show no signs of slowing — and visible independent organic companies seem to be on the way out in the U.S. So what’s an independent organic advocate to do?

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Image via Philip H. Howard – click image to see a pdf poster-sized version

Last month, Howard noted to The Cornucopia Institute, “I expect more deals to occur, since organic foods sales continue to increase faster than sales of conventional foods, and corporations are flush with cash and/or access to cheap credit.” If you still want to support independent organics, an act that also helps maintain organic integrity, you can — it’s just becoming more difficult.

  • Use Howard’s Organic Industry Structure: Major Independents and Their Subsidiary Brands chart, shown above, to make shopping choices. Note, however that Applegate Farms has so recently been bought out by Hormel, that it’s still on the list, but, it’s no longer independent.
  • Make sure you fully understand the organic label so you can make educated organic purchases.
  • Seek out smaller, independent organic companies, such as local organic farms in your area. Find Farmer’s Markets near you that may be selling organic or visit Local Harvest to find organic farms.

The updated Who Owns Organic Chart is available for download at The Cornucopia Institute or Howard’s website.

RELATED | Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About the Organic Label

+ Organic Processing Industry Structure by Philip H. Howard

+ The Cornucopia Institute