Grocery Goliaths: Who Really Controls Your Food Supply?

ShopperWant more transparency into your food supply? Take Food & Water Watch’s Foodopoly quiz to see what you know. Then read its new report Grocery GoliathsAfter taking the quiz and reading the report — which examined sales in 100 grocery categories over the last few years — I must admit I’m astonished.

The Truth About Food Manufacturers

The study shows that a few companies dominate the sales of most grocery items. For example, almost 80% of breakfast cereals in 2012 were sold by only four companies: Kellogg Co., PepsiCo, Post Foods, and General Mills. Only three companies controlled the cracker market with 76.5% of sales. It’s jaw-dropping to realize the dozens of different brands you see lining the grocery store shelves are owned by a few large corporations.

You think you have choices. Do you?

These large suppliers can sell higher volumes of food at lower prices, keeping smaller food companies off the grocery store shelves. And they buy out smaller brands, incorporating them into their portfolios to increase market control. They often sell multiple brands of the same product (which are frequently made in the same factory) giving you the illusion of having choices. This applies to organic and healthful brands too: Kashi and Bear Naked brands are owned by Kelloggs, but you can’t tell that by reading their labels or looking at their consumer-facing web sites. Buyer beware.

The Trouble With Supermarkets

Our food system issues don’t end with the suppliers. We used to shop at small, regionally-owned grocery stores — until the big supermarkets started snapping them up or forcing them out of business. Now, most of the money we spend on groceries goes to stores owned by a few mega-companies, including WalMart, Kroger, WalMart, and Safeway. Again, buyer beware. The Food & Water Watch report reveals: “Chains like the second largest grocery retailer Kroger still display the old regional store names like Dillons, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, King Soopers and others. Many shoppers may not even realize that their supermarket is owned by a national or even foreign grocery store chain.”

Large supermarkets buy lots of food, which drives food manufacturers to get bigger. This lowers the number of companies supplying the retailers. And the shopper pays the price with fewer choices and higher prices.

The Bottom Line

This is just U-G-L-Y ugly. We buy our groceries from giant, national supermarkets that support giant, multi-national food manufacturers. These mega-corporations control the supply, quality, variety, and price of the food we eat every day. Farmers make less money, small food producers don’t stand a chance, and we’ve lost the warmth of the family-owned corner market. If you want to learn more, go to the Foodopoly web site. Take the quiz, and read the report. Want even more? Read the book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, written by Food & Water Watch’s executive director, Wenonah Hauter.

A Personal Note

In the early 70s, my sister and I walked down the street to DiMaio’s market which was owned by our neighbors in Wayne, Pennsylvania. We’d buy Wacky Packs, Chick-o-Sticks, and other treats. It was an awesome little corner store. I was back in the area in the late 90s, and it was still there. In fact Bobby DiMaio — who is about my age — was manning the meat counter on that visit. I hope it’s still thriving.

Please, please, please support your small, local food and farm businesses.

Image Credit: Shopper via Shutterstock

5 thoughts on “Grocery Goliaths: Who Really Controls Your Food Supply?”

  1. I try to avoid the bigger brands even the natural brands that are owned by big companies. I’m a member of my local food coop and order almost all of my meat from there and some other things as well.

    I’ve even gotten to know a lot of the producers of the food I eat and it’s so nice. The family that raises my beef and eggs was in the homeschool group I was in and all I have to do to get some beef or eggs is email them and set up a time to meet to get it. It’s really nice to know where your food comes from!

    1. Lisa – you’re a few steps ahead of me for sure! I buy local when I can but haven’t built those relationships which I think would add a completely new depth to your eating experience. Where are you geographically? It sounds like you’ve got some great options for local foods!

  2. I have read your article and I totally agree with what’s going on with the Goliath companies. But, I have to say what I think and know. The reason places like the Super Wal Marts do so well is because money is very tight. With their lower prices, ad match and coupons, people can actually feed their families. I, myself, shop at Wal Mart for groceries and cleaning products. I am on disability with a limited income. I was laid off from a corporation in 2002, making decent money. I was over 50 and no one would hire me. Wal Mart did. I know how they treat their employees, but they hire people no one else will. Also, while working there I learned that their product(Great Value) are made by the big companies without the fancy packaging. I buy their products all the time over the big brands. It saves me money. So, I understand where your view is coming from but remember the times we live in. I’m just saying..

    1. I hear you, Robin; I think your point goes to the breadth of the problem of wealth inequality and corporate oligarchy. We’ve allowed the corporate ‘people’ (who are disproportionately sociopaths, btw!) to set up a system by which they first create poverty, and then exploit it. I don’t think the grocery goliaths should be considered separately from the broader issues — our economic system needs revision, to facilitate success among its actual citizens vs. the corporate ‘people’ who exploit their labor. The grocery issues here are a zoom-in, on a much larger problem.

      Laws that facilitate corporate exploitation rather than workers’ rights CREATE ‘the times we live in,’ and that’s the system we need to fundamentally change.

      That’s how it looks to me, anyway. Thanks for your input!

    2. Thanks so much for your comments Robin. I understand what you’re saying. And to be honest, I shop all the time at Target and Tom Thumb (owned by Safeway). I just wish some of this were more transparent, you know? At least then we could make clear, well-informed decisions versus thinking something is healthier or greener or better for our communities based on false pretenses. Seems like you’ve done your research and have made the right decisions for you. That’s what it’s all about IMHO. I’m happy you take the time to read the blog and weigh in. Please continue – you added a great perspective here!

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