Crossposted at The Cornucopia Institute.
CORNUCOPIA, WI It's not often that family-scale farmers can go toe-to-toe with a $12 billion agribusiness and come out victors. But organic soybean producers, and a modestly scaled but powerful ally, The Cornucopia Institute, are claiming victory over Dean Foods in the organic marketplace.
Dean Foods, the manufacturer of Silk, the top-selling soymilk drink, was first "outed" in Cornucopia's May 2009 report, Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry, for switching its soybean sourcing from American farms to cheaper organic beans from China. Later in 2009, Cornucopia revealed that Dean Foods had then largely abandoned organic soybeans altogether, stealthily changing the soybeans in their core Silk product line from organic to less expensive conventionally grown soybeans that the company was calling "natural."
The shift away from organic outraged many loyal consumers and alienated retailers across the country that were not informed of the change and continued to inaccurately merchandise Silk products as "organic."
Now leading natural/organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market has decided to shift its soymilk offerings back towards organic. Saying that its relationship with Dean Foods had "chilled," Whole Foods indicated it was bringing in a new branded organic soymilk partner, Earth Balance. The national retailer also told the Denver Post, in an August 27 story, that it wanted Earth Balance's soymilk products to contain only domestically grown soybeans carrying the organic label.
"Dean Foods has been roundly criticized for taking the organic out of Silk, and now the marketplace and consumers are passing their judgment," said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia's senior farm policy analyst. "They took what once was a pioneering 100% organic brand, before they acquired the company in 2003, and cheapened the product at the expense of American farmers and consumers. Now they are paying a price for their naked profiteering," Kastel added.
Dean's purchase of Silk initially excited American farmers who had been selling organic soybeans for use in Silk soymilk. Many thought that Dean would use its marketing prowess to further grow the Silk brand and expand demand for domestic organic soybeans. Instead, the company turned the screws on its farmer-suppliers and demanded that they compete on pricing with Chinese imports something they were unable to do.
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