The news broke a week ago: General Mills will buy Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million. This is no big deal, figuratively speaking. Yes it’s a close to billion dollar deal, but companies get bought and sold all the time.
If you’re unfamiliar with Annie’s Homegrown, it makes “all-natural,” “healthy,” organic, GMO-free packaged foods like pastas, cookies, crackers and frozen meals. They’re considerably pricier than their counterparts, and marketed to parents that buy into an all-natural lifestyle. Fair enough. I certainly won’t pay a premium for boxed foods purporting to be “healthier” than other boxed foods, but I certainly don’t knock a business for capitalizing on a demographic that will.
I should have been surprised (but wasn’t) over the raving commotion on social media about Annie’s selling out to a supposedly uncaring, pro-GMO conglomerate. I can’t possibly include all of the hubbub in this post, but here’s a representative Facebook thread.
I broadly categorized much of the backlash after perusing the uproar. I can only broadly categorize because the sheer volume of hostile comments is astounding. I’ll discuss a typical comment from each category. I’m not going to post the screen caps, but feel free to pore over the Annie’s Facebook page, you’ll see them.
- Buying “all-natural,’ organic food is part of my carefully crafted image
“Sadly, you are missing the bigger picture. We purchased your products as a way to show the world we were anti-GMO…Even if you want to stay true to your mission, you no longer have that control. You gave that up, along with your consumers that chose you over General Mills.”
Of course, nobody openly admits s/he buys certain products to sustain a high-end image. Still, the above demonstrates how important it is for some people to “show the world” their stance. Clearly, for some people it’s not only important to choose so-called healthy foods, but to show that they are connoisseurs of elite brands.
- GMOs are bad
“GM DOES support GMO harmful ingredients in their foods.”
“I will not support ANY organic food company which is owned by a large corporation intent on killing GMO labeling and killing us with all of the additives in what they have the nerve to call food. Luckily for me, I have a Whole Foods near by and their Mac n Cheese and kid snacks are just as tasty as Annie’s and they have pledged to keep GMOs out of their stores.”
Here we go again with the “GMOs are dangerous” theme. I thought the public was starting to see the light, but apparently Annie’s most outspoken fans still haven’t. I’ll say it again: GMOs are inherently harmless. Here is one of my posts on why GM tech is safe. I also encourage everyone to check out this resource on GENERA (GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas), demonstrating that a whopping half of all research showing the safety of genetic engineering is independently conducted and not industry-funded.
- General Mills is against GMO labeling, and is therefore evil
“They use their money to try to stop GMO labeling at every opportunity and that is in direct opposition with my beliefs. Sorry Annie’s, I’m gone.”
Ah, the old label GMOs argument. The Annie’s Facebook page comments were saturated with the “label GMOs, let the consumer decide” refrain. In my opinion (a rather conventional opinion in the pro-GM camp), labeling GMOs would prove problematic at best. Genetic modification of food is necessary to sustain and nourish the world’s population with the resources at hand. At worst, mandatory GMO labeling will hinder or halt the GMO technology needed to achieve these goals. As anti-GMO advocate and hawker of pricey organic products Dr. Mercola has stated,
“I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market.”
Far from supporting consumers’ so-called right to know, pro-labeling advocates hope to play on stigma of GMOs and effectively prey on the scientifically illiterate subset of the American public to wipe out demand.
- Annie’s is selling out
“It’s really sad to see your company ended up folding to money and greed. 25 years of higher standards and caring about others health all gone for the old mighty dollar. Yet another customer lost here. I can’t, for my health and the health of my family, ever purchase from General Mills.”
“We will NO longer purchase your products BECAUSE you SOLD OUT! We will be letting our friends and family of the awful choice to partner with General Mills”
Wait, am I to believe that for-profit companies conduct business to…wait for it…maximize profit?! The nerve.
The selling out themed comments are the most ubiquitous on the page as of the writing of this post. I hate to break it to you, but most pro-organic, anti-GMO companies like Annie’s are in it for profit. They know that a subset of consumers will pay an unnecessary premium for organic, non-GMO food that is no more nutritious and no safer than its non-organic counterparts. Companies like Annie’s and Whole Foods capitalize on the “natural is better” mentality to the tune of tens of billions of pure, unadulterated organic bucks per year.
Stay calm folks. If what you care about is elite image, you can go on believing that whichever organic, all-natural brand you choose next is inherently better than Kraft Mac and Cheese or Teddy Grahams.
The bottom line is, people will always fleetingly protest over a company “selling out” until it’s yesterday’s news. It’s no big deal. In all likelihood, Annie’s deal to be purchased by General Mills for close to a billion dollars will pan out, and they’ll probably thrive. The loudest protesters are undoubtedly merely a sliver of Annie’s customer base. They’ll continue marketing to the same “all natural” demographic, GMOs will remain inherently safe, and the world will keep on turning.
This post originally appeared at Grounded Parents.
Kavin Senapathy is a contributor at Genetic Literacy Project and other sites. She works for a genomics/bioinformatics R&D in Madison, WI. She is not a scientist, but loves all things genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics. Her interests span the human and agricultural realms. Opinions expressed are her own and do not reflect her employer. Follow Kavin on twitter @ksenapathy and Google +