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The Deceiving Nature of Brands: Part 1 Big Food

With the way branding works and subsidiary companies, the original company can become mystified, some companies make it more obvious it is their product/brand and some are just tiny writing on the back of the product. Even with some companies having their name on it, you can often miss it, as I have for so many years, because you only look at the big bright brand name, even when the company has used their branding colour like Cadbury.

I am sure some people will think it is naive not to know certain brands are owned by certain companies, but how few companies own the majority of brands, is quite shocking. How many consumers know one of people's favourite soft drink companies, owns Costa or a food company owns Primark? Growing up as a kid each type of crisps represents a different company in your head, Quavers, Skips, Doritos, Pringles etc, but in the real world, this is of course not the case. The main point of the article is to highlight how few companies in their industry, own the majority of brands and the problems that come with that. This is not a comprehensive detailing of all sections of the supermarket, just certain subsections, however, if you went into a smaller shop like One Stop, Premier or Co-op, they represent a lot of products. Products you may have thought were competitors, are actually owned by the same companies.

PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company (US)

PepsiCo is of course most well known for its drink Pepsi, the competitor to The Coca-Cola Company's, Coke. What most people do not know, is that both of these corporations own far more drinks than you may have thought, and ones you probably assumed were direct competitors to both these drinks. They both also go beyond soft drinks. We will start with PepsiCo, created in 1965 after a merger with Frito-Lay but its origins go back to 1898. The corporation has grown enormously over the years, with net revenue of $79,474 Billion in 2021 and a net income of $7,679 Billion. (Page 10)

PepsiCo owns two subsidiary companies that make many renowned products in our supermarkets, Frito-Lay and Quakers Oats Company. The first subsidiary makes Lays, Walkers, Doritos, Cheetos, Ruffles and more. This is where you can get lost further in subsections of brands, as Walkers who UK readers are extremely aware of, make Walkers standard crisps but also, Wotsits, French Fries, Bugles, Monster Munch, Squares, Quavers and Max. It is strange to believe that such beloved British Crisps, sponsored by English Footballer Gary Lineker, is a brand inside of a subsidiary of a company most people only associate with the drink Pepsi. Another subsidiary of PepsiCo, Quakers Oats Company, is most notorious for its porridge oats, but they also make Granola, Chewy Granola Bars, Rice Cakes and Gatorade. PepsiCo is also partnered with Unilever on the ready-made Lipton Drink and with Starbucks for drinks like Frappuccino's, Doubleshot espresso and more. PepsiCo also sells the Smoothie, Naked and owns 7up everywhere except the US, where Keurig Dr Pepper Inc own it.

The Coca-Cola Company was created in 1892 and the drink was formulated in 1886 making it older than Pepsi and PepsiCo. Although is older than PepsiCo, it is financially smaller by net revenue ($38.7 Billion) in 2021 but has a bigger net income of $10.3 Billion. The Corporation operates in over 200 countries and territories, with over 200 brands, which is remarkable. Where most people might have thought 7up was a rival to Cola drinks, it is instead owned by them, much like Sprite and Fanta are owned by Coca-Cola. This is alongside other drinks, such as Appletiser, Coca-Cola, Fresca, Powerade and Schweppes. Again much like PepsiCo owning Naked, the Smoothie brand, Coca-Cola owns Innocent (Smoothies), they also own Ades (Soy Milk), and Glaceau (Vitamin Water, Smart Water). Coca-Cola Company also owns ready-made alcoholic drinks like Jack Daniels Old time Coca-Cola and owns the company Topo Chico (Mexican), which makes Topo Chico Hard Seltzer. If this was not crazy already, they also one up PepsiCo's partnership with Starbucks, by outright owning the Costa Coffee Chain, the biggest coffee chain in the UK. They bought them in 2019 from Whitbread PLC, the owner of the UK’s biggest hotel chain, Premier Inn, as well as restaurant brands, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Table Table and Bar + Block.

Where Coca-Cola has Costa, Innocent, Coke, Sprite, Fanta and Powerade, PepsiCo has Starbucks drinks, Naked, Pepsi, 7up and Gatorade, on top of the massive reach into other brands, all between just two Corporations. They almost replicate each other for each section, Cola, Lemonade, Coffee, Smoothies and Energy drinks.

Mondelez international And Mars Inc (US)

Although Mondelez International routes go back to 1923, its current form began in 2012 after Kraft Foods split its company into two, a snack-food company and a grocery company. The Corporations net revenue in 2021 was $28,720 Billion and a net income of $4.56 Billion (Page 1,2), it operates in over 80 countries and has products in over 150 countries around the world. Some of its biggest brands and subsidiaries are Cadbury, Toblerone, Oreo, Belvita, Barni, Philadelphia, Ritz, Tuc (India) and LU. Owning Cadbury is again a spiderweb of products most people would not expect to go further than a UK company, to a US Corporation and much like Walkers, just how many products that brand sells. Cadbury sells of course Dairy Milk, but also Fry, Turkish Delight, Boost, Bournville, Chomp, Crunchie, Curly-Wurly, Double Decker, Flake, Fudge, Picnic, Twirl, Wispa, Brunch, Freddo, Dairy Milk Oreo, Marvelous Creations and the selection box Roses. How many people knew Turkish Delight, which is made by J. S. Fry & Sons, Ltd is owned by Cadbury, which is owned by Mondelez? With Whispa and Twirl, you may have picked up it is Cadbury by the purple, or even on Fudge and Crunchie the slither of purple, but I am sure a few on that list, you were not aware of. Of course, the selection box you might get at Christmas, could have led you to know already.

Although Mondelez owns a lot of products down the snack aisle, Mars Inc is much bigger. Mars's history goes all the way back to 1910 when the founder was making and selling butter cream candy from his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington. Mars Inc is not only a snack-producing company but also a pet product and a manager of Animal Hospitals, through their 2017 acquisition of VCA. Mars Inc annual sales in 2021 were $45 billion beating Coca-Cola and Mondelez. Some of Mars's biggest and maybe unknown brands are Milky Way, M&M, Skittles, Snickers, Twix, Bounty, Celebrations and Galaxy, a rival to Dairy Milk. Their showcasing of their hand in the product is much more hidden and I do not think most people or UK citizens realise how big they are. Mars owns the Wrigley Company, which existed before Mars, making gum products like Hubba Bubba, Extra, Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, Winter Fresh and Orbit. Other Mars and Wrigley food products include Mars, Maltesers, Starburst, Bens Original and more. Its pet products include Whiskas, Banfield Pet Hospital, Cesar, Pedigree and many more.

Nestle (Swiss)

Nestle in its current form goes back to 1905 but its history begins in 1866, with the foundation of the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company. Similar to Mars it is involved in cereals and chocolate but also pet care. Its net revenue for 2021 was $87.1 Billion and a net income of $7.2 Billion (Page 6), making it one of the most profitable corporations in its industry. It has many renowned names like Nesquik, Cheerios, Lion Cereals, Aero, KitKat, Milkybar, Quality Streets, Smarties, Nescafé, Nespresso, and Starbucks Coffee at home, Hot pockets, and Haagen Daaz. Its pet food products are under the subsidiary Nestlé Purina Petcare (US) and have well-known brands like Felix, Fancy Feast, Bakers and many more. It also has a 20.1% Stake in L'oreal, a Hair and Beauty Company that sells many well-known brands and is the world leader in Beauty.

Kellogg's (US)

In the year 1889 when William Keith Kellogg, and his brother, Dr John Harvey Kellogg, accidentally flaked wheat berries creating the household name Kellogg's. W.K kept experimenting until he flaked corn, and created Corn Flakes. The company was started in 1906 and has grown massively over the century, reaching a net revenue of $14.2 Billion in 2021 and a net income of $1.5 Billion (Page 56) and operates in 180 countries. Notable brands by Kellogg's are Coco Pops, Corn flakes, Crunchy Nut, Frosties, Crunch Nut, Nutri grain, Pop Tarts, Eggo (Waffles), Rice Crispies, Rice crispy squares, Special K, Pringles, Club, Groot Loops, Krave and All Bran. Kellogg's bought Pringles from Procter & Gamble for $2.695 billion, making Kellogg's the world's second-largest savoury snacks player in 2012.

Unilever (UK)

Unilever is one of the biggest corporations in Britain, with dozens of brand names you find in your house, from the kitchen to the bathrooms. In 1929, Unilever was formed by a merger of the Dutch Margarine Unie and British soapmaker Lever Brothers. Unilever's net revenue in 2021 was £52.4 Billion and its net income was £6.6 Billion, making it another massive corporation in this industry. The most well-known food brands are Ben and Jerry, Carte d'Or Ice Cream, CIF, Coleman's, Magnum, Marmite, Cornetto, Hellman's, Pot Noodle, Vienetta and Walls. Its personal care and beauty products include Comfort, Domestos, Dove, Lifebuoy, Lynx, Persil, Radox, Simple, Sure, Surf, Tresemme and Vaseline. In both sections of the supermarket, it owns massive names and has brands in over 190 countries, operating over 400 brands, with just 13 brands earning them over 1 billion in 2021. It made 7 billion in ice cream sales alone.

Other mentions of big companies that have many brands in our supermarkets are Danone (French) who sell bottled water brands such as Evian and Volvic. They are also well known for their yoghurt-based brands like Actively, Activa, Danone, Silk and Actimel. Associated British Food (UK) are a massive company that sells brands such as Abbotts Bakery AB Sugar, Blue Dragon, Kingsmill, Mazola, Pataks, Ploughmans Bakery, Ryvita, Trident and British Sugar. As well as products you find in your house, they also own Primark, making them a force in the retail industry. General Mills (US) produces many kinds of cereal and brands seen in the UK, but especially US Isles, such as Bugles, Cheerios, Coco Puffs, Cookie Crisps, Haagen Daaz, Monster Cereals Count Chocula, Old El Paso, Frankenberry, Lucky Charms and Trix.


You might wonder why this matters, and what is the big deal. The issue is, that these companies keep growing because they own so many of the big brand's shoppers buy and it becomes a game of hungry hippos, where every time a brand or company starts to grow, they are eaten up by a much bigger one. Meaning it becomes harder for smaller, or family-grown businesses to make their mark on the market, as our stores are dominated by a very small amount of companies. Such few companies having a near monopoly on certain markets can lead to things like price fixing, to artificially inflate prices in a cartel-like fashion. Consumer product giants Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G) were fined 315m euros (£280m, $456m) for fixing washing powder prices in eight European countries. The BBC said, "The fines were discounted by 10% after the two admitted running a cartel." The Autorité de la concurrence France's national competition regulator also fined them for concerted practices. The companies "met regularly and secretly to coordinate their commercial policies and discuss their pricing policies." If there were not such few companies that dominate certain product areas, this would not have been possible. It becomes a game of monopoly where the market is further consolidated by fewer companies, who operate on a multinational level, with multinational shareholders, with little care for the common consumer. Often many of the big corporations actually have the same shareholders, which raises big problems, but that will be discussed later in the series. You do not want a small number of companies, with such reach to influence medical advice, governments, regulations, pricing and people, through constant advertising. The bigger corporations get, the bigger leverage they have over governments to limit criminal cases and to cover their records when it comes to worker maltreatment. Naturally, the bigger the network of the company and the more countries it operates in, makes it significantly harder to keep oversight of local producers in other countries, who may have questionable laws on workers' rights. You also may not want to fund certain companies for ethical reasons, but without knowing it, in a completely different product area, you are still buying from the same company. I believe everyone should have the choice to eat or drink these products, but much like cigarettes, advertising, constant promotion and sponsorships make it all too easy to end up buying the product, as it is implanted in your mind.

An Oxfam investigation found "most cocoa farmers and workers live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day" and many "cocoa-growing areas have high rates of hunger and malnutrition." Nestle's website even states "cultivating cocoa presents numerous challenges, like deforestation, child labour risks and a lack of living incomes for cocoa farming households." I am under no illusion that any company would have similar issues, as Cocoa is only grown in certain countries and needs to be imported, however, the massive influx of money these few giants make from their cocoa-based products, means they should put much more pressure on local farmers, or have employees stationed their to oversee operations. I understand it is extremely hard to manage local farmers, of a completely different culture but at the end of the day, that amount of cocoa is being imported to produce their products, which is plastered in every shop and TV, which increases the demand, which in turn increases the supply need. Each company will have marketing teams, who do everything they can, to make sure people and children are pushed to buy their product, whether it is the packaging, the name, colour, seasonal twists and advertisements by channel and time. This in turn leads to an increased need for more workers, who are then underpaid to produce most likely an over-supply demand, especially in the US and UK, where Obesity is a normal passing of life. I am sure the problem is much harder to solve, than my simplified and limited suggestions, but the companies should feel responsibility to minimise these problems, as much as they realistically can. (Which they say they are trying to do through certain initiatives)

Of course, you can choose who you want to buy from and do your homework on the owners of common brands, but until you realise just how many brands these companies own, you will most likely be unaware. You may also see no problem with it, which is fine, it is not evil in nature, but knowing the depth of their products causes concern for the continued practice of such few companies having so much market power, earning billions a year. As much as most people want to buy from local producers, such low prices from massive companies, make it hard not to buy from them, myself included. A lot of these companies and brands started as local, family businesses but were either bought up or became the ones buying up companies they used to be. It is virtually impossible for a new company wanting to grow, as the players are already set and understandably they will want to cash in, if they are made an offer, who wouldn't? The great thing about small companies or sellers is the main focus is on the quality of the product, rather than the product purely being about profit for them or their shareholders. It is also easier to track the product, it benefits the local community, rather than foreign multinationals and encourages a trend of local buying. The next articles will mostly be a continuation of showing how most brands or thought of companies, are owned by a handful of multinational corporations in most industries. Due to a lot of these brands being sugary ones, some of the issues will differ. I eat and drink some of these companies products, like 99% of people and will most likely continue to, but at least it might make me think to try an alternative, or minimise my use of them where not needed. You cannot always buy local, or from a small business and just because they are a big company, does not make them inherently bad, or offer no good, but knowledge of them is always useful in your future decision making.

Some of the below brands are out of date as this is an Oxfam Infographic from 2014. The article was called "These 10 companies make a lot of the food we buy. Here’s how we made them better. "December 10, 2014, By Anna Kramer. The infographic was the reason I decided to do this series.


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