Ben & Jerry’s, maker of quirky ice cream flavors and well known for it eco-friendly messages recently announced it will be switching to non GMO ingredients for its product lineup by the end of the year. Sweet!
But when you think about it for a minute, you may be ask yourself how a Vermont company with hippie roots ever came to source GMO ingredients in the first place.
The answer is simple. Ben and Jerry’s was acquired by food industry titan Unilever in 2000, for over $300 Million. One of the first things that happens when a giant company swallows a smaller one is cost savings through a unified procurement system. Unilever could source sugar and milk for a much cheaper price than Ben and Jerry’s because of the sheer volume of its business. And so, over the last 13 years, Ben & Jerry’s became just another brand in a large portfolio mix.
Large food corporations cannot, for the most part, work outside the GMO realm, because GMOs account for a majority of staple crops grown in the US – soy, corn, beets. And because of that, many of these companies spent millions of dollars in November to defeat California’s GMO labeling initiative. And that put many of their organic/natural daughter companies on the spot (think Honest Tea and parent company Coca Cola). The small company firmly believes in transparency and consumers right to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients. But the parent firm requires all brands to stand by the party line.
Unfortunately for the large corporations, the California ballot has now sprouted similar initiatives in other states, including Washington, and even Missouri, home of GMO godfather Monsanto. It’s getting to a point where the industry is reconsidering its position on GMO labeling, according to the New York Times. This is not a new of course. When industry smells federal regulation coming, it rallies to preempt harsh rules and invents its own solution to stave off the government. Examples include the nutrition label wars of the early 1990′s before the nutrition label as we know it was standardized, as well as industry created guidelines for marketing to children.
But we digress. The current thinking in larger corporations might be that GMO labeling is inevitable. And therefore there is an opportunity for the daughter brands to capitalize on consumer interest and get back in the green with non GMO speak that was censored for oh so long. And that could be the reason we are hearing from Ben & Jerry’s now, and not when it could have made a difference 3 months ago in California. How they will actually move sourcing back to non GMO will be interesting to follow.