The baby food market is staggeringly huge. In 2019, the global baby food market was valued at $67.3 billion, and is projected to reach $96.3 billion by 2027. (source)
A recent congressional investigation of seven of the top baby food brands found that all of them had levels of toxic heavy metals higher than recommended standards. (source)
It’s no surprise that the biggest baby food companies are owned by huge corporations. Even newer, organic baby food brands are being bought up by large companies. But who owns what?
Let’s take a closer look at most popular baby food brands and the companies that own them.
Gerber (owned by Nestlé) – Gerber was purchased by Nestlé in 2007 for a staggering $5.5 billion USD. Nestlé is a company with a history of controversy and unethical business practices.
In the 1970s, they launched a huge campaign to push their baby formula in impoverished countries, getting them hooked on a product that’s less healthy and more expensive. This lead to widespread issues such as contamination, because the formula needs to be mixed with clean water, a rare resource in 3rd world countries. Many poor mothers would also dilute the formula powder to make a container last longer, leading to malnourishment. The entire story is outside the scope of this article, but read Business Insider’s story on the issue to get the full picture.
Beech-Nut (owned by Hero Group) – Hero group is a private consumer goods company based in Switzerland.
Happy Family (owned by Danone) – Danone purchased a 92% stake in Happy Family in 2013 for an undisclosed amount. Danone owns brands such as Evian water, Activia yogurt and Silk milks.
Plum Organics (Campbell Soup Company) – The Campbell Soup Company purchased Plum Organics in 2013. Campbell’s is famously known for their canned soup products, but the company also owns brands such as Pepperidge Farm, Snyder’s of Hanover, V8, and Swanson.
Earth’s Best (owned by The Hain Celestial Group) – Hain Celestial is an American company that also owns smaller organic baby food company Ella’s Kitchen.
In 2013, Hain Celestial was targeted in an ongoing class action lawsuit for misleading labeling. In particular, their Celestial Seasonings brand was labeled as “organic” when it actually wasn’t. In 2015, they paid out $7.5M in compensation after allegations that their products contain high levels of pesticides, exceeding federal limits in the US.
Parent’s Choice (owned by Walmart) – Parent’s Choice is an in-house brand of Walmart. Walmart is a heavily criticized company over issues such as their wages, working conditions, allegations of using Chinese sweat shops and prison labor for production of their clothing and more. (source)
Baby food is a huge, global business. Independent brands are rising to compete against the huge, established companies, but those huge companies are noticing. Plum organics and Happy Family were both independent brands snatched up by giants for millions.
If your goal is to support ethical and eco-friendly brands, It’s important to be aware of who owns what. Large corporations often have unethical practices, as we illustrated above.