Vigilant Citizen – April 15, 2011
Not many people realize that most of the processed foods available on the market, whether they be in groceries or fast-food chains, all come from the same few companies. Even less people realize that these companies are major actors in elite organizations who decide health, social and economic policies around the world. We’ll look at the big three companies who feed the world, their many brands and the tactics they undertake to make people crave their products.
If one were to carefully study the labels on packaged products in an average grocery store, one would probably notice that the same company names appear repeatedly: Nestlé, Kraft, General Mills and a few others. Many brands offering good ol’ fashioned homemade or all-natural/organic foods are nothing more than subsidiaries of these few world-wide mega-companies. The major difference between the main brand and the subsidiaries is packaging and advertising, which are targeted to reach different markets. In order to preserve the carefully crafted image surrounding a product, connections to the mother company are often conveniently hidden. Imagine an advertisement for bottled water going like this: “Drink pure, clear, refreshing Aquafina water, bottled with care from remote natural sources in the Himalayas … BROUGHT TO YOU BY PEPSICO, THE MAKER OF TACO BELL AND CHEETOS MIGHTY ZINGERS!” That would probably spoil the healthy, natural image they are trying to create for the product.
That is the reason marketing and branding are the most vital part of the food industry. Each product must live in its own “world”, separate from its mother company and similar products. Advertising is so powerful that two similar brands of cereal, made from the same basic ingredients, can be targeted to entirely different markets. For example, are Special K and Rice Krispies so different? From a strictly rational viewpoint, these products are nearly identical in shape, taste and ingredients. From an irrational (marketing) viewpoint however, they are in two different worlds. Advertisements for Rice Krispies revolve around colorful cartoon characters and played during Saturday morning kids’ shows while Special K tends to show fit women doing yoga (or on their way to or from yoga). Rice Krispies boxes have games and toy giveaways, while Special K‘s box gives access to a “weight loss challenge” website. All of this is smoke and mirrors, however, because at the end of the line, whether you choose one, the other or pretty much any other cereal in the grocery store, you’re eating the same thing and your money ends up at the same place.
The processed-food industry can be considered a true oligopoly. Together, the three leading food companies, Nestle, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo, achieve a dominant proportion of global processed-food sales. In fact, these three companies are often used as an example of “Rule of Three” in business schools, since they are a real-life example of a market being dominated by three gigantic actors. Their position as worldwide food providers has made these conglomerates extremely powerful, and they are represented in most elite organizations such as the Council of Foreign Relations. This not only allows them to provide their preferred policies on nutrition and health issues across the globe, but on economic, political and social issues as well. Such prominence also allows these companies to ensure their continued market dominance, through policy-making, access to insider information and the intimidation of potential competitors. If considered objectively, the oligopoly of major companies like these are a direct threat to free market theories.
Today, if a small food company were to create a new revolutionary product, it would find it difficult to obtain distribution without giving up its rights to one these conglomerates. In addition to dominating the shelves, the Big Three control most of the worldwide channels of distribution, to the point that up-and-coming companies cannot reach the consumers without dealing with them. The only way small business owners can avoid years of struggle and rejection to obtain shelf-space in supermarkets is to strike a licensing deal with one of the giants, where the owner cedes the ownership and the rights to the product in exchange for royalty checks (which are usually a small percentage of the sales). Each licensing deal consolidates these companies’ position and eliminates threats from any potential competitor who creates game-changing products.
Here are the top three companies and a summary list of their multiple brands:
Nestlé is the world’s largest food company. It has 6,000 brands, with a wide range of products across a number of markets including coffee, bottled water and other beverages, chocolate, ice cream, infant foods, performance and healthcare nutrition, seasonings, frozen and refrigerated foods, confectioneries and pet food. In 2009, consolidated sales were close to $120 billion USD and investments in research and development were $2.24 billion USD. The chairman of the company, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe, is on the Board of Directors of Credit Suisse Group, L’Oréal and ExxonMobil. He is also a member of ERT (European Round Table of Industrialists) and a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum (an important actor in the push for a world government). Products sold by Nestlé include:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Cheerios (outside US, Canada and Australia)
Honey Nut Cheerios (outside US, Canada and Australia)
Nestlé Corn Flakes
Pure Life/Pureza Vital
Nestea (Joint venture with Coca-Cola, Beverage Partners Worldwide)
Enviga (Joint venture with Coca-Cola, Beverage Partners Worldwide)
Growers Direct Organic Fruit Juices
Ski up and go
Nestlé Omega Plus
Häagen-Dazs (North America and the United Kingdom)
Hjem-IS (Denmark & Norway)
Gerber (the world’s largest baby food company)
Carnation Instant Breakfast
California Pizza Kitchen Frozen
Chocolate, confectioneries and baked goods
100 Grand Bar
Bertie Beetle (Australia)
Big Turk (Canada)
Bon Pari (Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary)
Chips Ahoy! (Canada)
Hercules Bars (with Disney)
Kit Kat (Hershey’s in the US)
Nestlé Alpine White
Nestlé with Almonds
Nestlé Crunch Crisp
Nestlé Crunch with Caramel
Nestlé Crunch with Peanuts
Nestlé Crunch Pieces
Nestlé Crunch White
Nestlé Milk Chocolate
Nestlé Wonder Ball
Oh Henry (except US)
Rolo (Hershey’s in the US)
Pick & Mix
Nestlé has faced ongoing resistance around the world for its promotion of breast milk substitutes (infant formula), especially in third world countries. According to campaigners, Nestlé contributes to the unnecessary suffering and even deaths of babies, largely among the poor.
Advocacy groups and charities have accused Nestlé of unethical methods of promoting infant formula over breast milk to poor mothers in developing countries. For example, IBFAN claim that Nestlé distributes free formula samples to hospitals and maternity wards; after leaving the hospital, the formula is no longer free, but because the supplementation has interfered with lactation, the family must continue to buy the formula. IBFAN also allege that Nestlé uses “humanitarian aid” to create markets, does not label its products in a language appropriate to the countries where they are sold, and offers gifts and sponsorship to influence health workers to promote its products. Nestlé denies these allegations.
2- Kraft Foods
A subsidiary of Philip Morris (the maker of Marlboro cigarettes). Kraft Foods is the largest confectionery, food, and beverage corporation headquartered in the United States. It markets many brands in more than 155 countries; eleven of its worldwide brands each earn more than $1 billion annually. Like Nestle, Kraft has consolidated its status in the food oligarchy by buying gigantic brands such as Nabisco (Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Fig Newtons, Ritz, etc.) and Cadbury (Ferrero Rocher, Dairy Milk, Caramilk, etc.).
Kraft’s CEO Irene Blecker Rosenfeld was rated the “2nd most powerful woman in the world” by Forbes. Not surprising since most of the world consumes Kraft foods. Before joining Kraft, Rosenfeld was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo (another of the “Big Three”). Kraft’s brands include:
Toblerone chocolate bars
A1 Steak Sauce
Back to Nature
BullsEye Barbecue Sauce
California Pizza Kitchen (grocery store items)
Calumet Baking Powder
Capri Sun (juice drink)
Chicken in a Biskit
Chips Ahoy! (cookies)
Christie (Canadian division of Nabisco)
Club Social (crackers)
Cool Whip (non-dairy whipped cream)
CornNuts (snack food)
Côte d’Or (Belgium)
Country Time (powdered drink mix)
General Foods International
Grape-Nuts (breakfast cereal)
Grey Poupon (mustard)
Jell-O (gelatin dessert)
Kenco (United Kingdom)
Knudsen (dairy products)
Kool-Aid (flavored drink mix)
Kraft BBQ Sauce
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Kraft Dinner (Canada)
Kraft Peanut Butter (Canada)
Kraft Singles (pasteurized prepared cheese product)
Kraft Sandwich Spread
Maxwell House (coffee)
Miracle Whip (salad dressing spread)
Nabob (coffee) (Canada)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Philadelphia cream cheese
Premium (a Nabisco brand of saltine crackers)
Pure Kraft Salad Dressings
Royal baking powder
Seven Seas (salad dressings)
Sanka (decaffeinated coffee)
Shake ‘n Bake
Simmenthal (canned meat)
South Beach Living
Starbucks (grocery store items)
Stove Top stuffing
Taco Bell (grocery store items)
Tassimo (single-serve coffee machines using pods branded as T-Discs)
PepsiCo Incorporated is a global Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in Purchase, Harrison, New York, with interests in the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of beverages, grain-based snack foods and other products. If you hadn’t guessed it, its main product is Pepsi Cola, but soda pop is not the company’s only product. In fact, a teenager with the munchies could easily leave a convenience store with three or four PepsiCo products without realizing it (or caring).
PepsiCo is a “Premium” member of the Council of Foreign Relation and of the Brookings institute, two of the most important organizations for the world’s elite (as seen in the article Naming Names: Your Real Government). The chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, is part of the World Economic Forum. Within these organizations, executives from PepsiCo and other mega-corporations like Sony (the largest label in the music industry), Nike (the largest shoe seller in the world), Rockefeller Group International, and Lockheed Martin (the largest defense company in the world), work alongside various heads of state (including past US presidents), policy-makers (such as current US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton) and image makers (like Tom Brokaw and George Clooney), to develop political, social and economic opinions and recommendations affecting entire countries. The policies favored by these organizations are collectively steering the world towards a unified world government and a single world currency, in what is often referred as a “New World Order”.
PepsiCo brands include:
Lipton Ice Tea
No Fear Energy Drink
Propel Enhanced Water
Starbucks (retail products)
Frito Lay Dips
El Isleno Plantain Chips
Maui Style Potato Chips
Yep, even the good ol’ trustworthy Quaker guy is part of PepsiCo.
The Spin-Off Company
PepsiCo also feeds millions daily through its spin-off company, Yum!, which owns restaurant chains including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Hot ‘n Now, East Side Mario’s, D’Angelo Sandwich Shops, Chevys Fresh Mex, California Pizza Kitchen and Stolichnaya.
Many of the products listed above have existed for decades, some for over a century. What is the secret of such enduring success? First, the recipe has to be just right. As mentioned above, Nestlé spent more than $2 billion dollars in 2009 alone for research and development, which is mostly used to pay people in lab coats to create the most appealing, taste-bud satisfying, addicting and, of course, cost-effective products possible. The addictive properties of salt, fat, sugar and other chemicals are well known to the $2 billion-per-year researchers. Processed foods contain a carefully calculated mix of chemicals and additives that send “satisfying” signals to the brain, which the brain then continues to seek out in the form of cravings.
However, there are countless companies selling similar products. So in order to keep consumers coming back to their specific brand, corporations invest billions of dollars in the second secret of success: “brand loyalty” achieved through marketing and advertising.
While the ultimate goal of an advertisement is to sell a product, PR firms will tell you that they are seeking to go way beyond the cheap sell. Their mission is to create an emotional attachment to a product, a concept that is totally irrational, yet extremely effective. They don’t just want you to like their product, they want you to identify with it. They want you to define yourself by it. They are looking to create loyal, life-long customers by creating an image, a lifestyle and even a philosophy around a product. Let’s take this Miracle Whip commercial as an example.
By showing people partying and running on the beach, the advertisement attempts to create an association between the product and being young, cool, hip and rebellious. Although the ad is a bit heavy handed, I do agree that there’s nothing more rebellious than stuffing one’s face with a sandwich full of mayonnaise substitute. Rock on.
Advertisements like these are meticulously calculated to reach a particular demographic population and to generate specific emotions within these viewers. To achieve these aims, they rely on extensive research on human behavior.
“No group of sociologists can approximate the ad teams in the gathering and processing of exploitable social data. The ad teams have billions to spend annually on research and testing of reactions, and their products are magnificent accumulations of material about the shared experience and feelings of the entire community.”
- Marshal McLuhan, The Extensions of Man
To sell brand loyalty to a viewer through a television advertisement, rational/logical arguments have limited effects. The most effective and successful ads are able to bypass rational thought (where an argument can either be accepted or rejected) and tap directly into the viewer’s subconscious, through their instincts, fears or insecurities.
“It is with knowledge of the human being, his tendencies, his desires, his needs, his psychic mechanisms, his automatisms as well as knowledge of social psychology and analytical psychology that propaganda refines its techniques.”
– Propagandes, Jacques Ellul (free translation)
To illustrate this, let’s look at two typical food advertisements aimed at an important market: mothers.
Irrational Advertisement: Selling to Mothers
For marketers, mothers are a dream. They have an enormous weak spot: children, especially their own. This love for kids is not rational: the maternal instinct is one of humanity’s most primal and hormonal reflexes. To tap into it is to directly tap into a mother’s internal hard-wiring. Through the use of research and focus groups, advertisers have learned the most effective ways to get reactions out of mothers, and create targeted ads that make mother’s feel worried, moved, scared, angry or unsettled. Once the target is in the intended emotional state, the product is presented as the answer to everything. Here’s a flour advertisement specifically directed at mothers:
So this advertisement sells flour. A big ol’ bag of white powder. If it was rational, it would had described the flour’s above-average performance (which is true) or perhaps its advantageous cost per pound. It doesn’t. It goes straight to the emotions.
To effectively reach its audience, the ad does not talk about flour at all, but about loving one’s children and “baking memories”. Behind the cutesy, heart-warming feel, the truth is that the ad taps into mother’s visceral fear of being considered “a bad parent”. To do so, the marketers have conceived a cleverly phrased, psychologically manipulative speech given by a cute animated girl that sends non-baking mothers into a mega-guilt trip. The ads is basically says this:
“By refusing to bake muffins for your children, you are robbing them of happy, licking-batter-off-a-spoon memories. And since memories are all we have in life, you are robbing them of THEIR LIVES. How can you do this to them? Do you want your children to become broken and empty individuals? Do you? No? Well, stop being such an incompetent mother and buy that bag of flour and make some muffins. Maybe then your children will remember you as a ‘Good Mother’. Maybe. If it’s not too late. You might have messed everything up already with your outrageous non-baking ways. Shame!”
Here’s another advertisement aimed at mothers.
Did you cringe a little watching this? Nothing about it makes sense. Good thing rationality is not necessary to sell things. First, let’s point out the obvious: If this happened in real life, most college students would be PISSED. This would be a more realistic conversation:
“Hi mom. I got your package …Why did you send me peanut butter? I don’t get it … You’re aware that I can buy peanut butter out here, right? So why did you send this? Do you know what Jenny’s parents sent her? Three hundred bucks. What do I get? A G*D DA*MN JAR OF PEANUT BUTTER?!”
Okay, but seriously, as stated above, marketers bypass rational arguments where one would consider peanut butter to be a jar of crushed peanuts. In the world of marketing, peanut butter needs to be more than peanut butter. Through its advertisement, Jif is no longer a mass-produced jar of low-grade peanuts and sugar, but a symbol of maternal warmth in an otherwise cold, cruel world. Advertising replaces ignorance or indifference toward a product with a bunch of mushy feelings that have nothing to do with peanut butter. And in case you didn’t get the message, the ad goes ahead and spells it out for you, too: “It is more than just that great peanut taste, choosing Jif is a great way to show someone how much you care”.
Why should one care about which company sells which product? Primarily, it is a question of health. Almost all of the hundreds of products cited in this article contain toxic ingredients, from excessive amounts of saturated fat to additives like MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), mercury and/or aspartame. These substances, and many more like them, are poisonous to the body, the nervous system and the brain (as discussed in the article Dumbing Down Society: Food, Beverages and Meds). Processed foods are making the entire world fatter, sicker and dumber, even though only a few companies produce them. It is vital to know and recognize them … so you can avoid them. It is also important to recognize the basic marketing tactics that are being used to push consumers to buy processed foods.
The issue is much larger than individual health, however. To be aware of the companies selling your food is to be aware of important actors of the world elite. As the saying goes “control the food and you control the people”. If you believe it is important to know the truth about the world’s power structure, it is fundamental to know about these companies and understand their extensive reach throughout all areas of our global society. They might “only” sell food, but their power and position gives these conglomerates an active role in world governance, including economy, politics, law-making and even the military (who do you think supplies military mess halls?). The Big Three and globally dominant corporations like them are part of policy-setting “think tank” organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group, which serve as the true motors behind global change. Should PepsiCo have a say in the invasion of a country such as Iran? Well, it does. And every time you buy a Pepsi or a bag of Doritos or jug of Tropicana, you are helping them become richer and more powerful. Luckily, however, there is an easy way to stop supporting these companies: Simply replace the processed products you buy from these companies with fresh foods bought from local businesses. You’ll improve your health and your local economy, but most importantly, you’ll also become the elite’s worst nightmare: a rational consumer.