Quantcast
Food

How Big Food Creates an Illusion of Choice at the Supermarket

A new analysis shows that the top four or fewer food companies control a substantial majority of the sales of each item, and they often offer multiple brands in each type of grocery, giving consumers the false impression they are choosing among competing products.

The in-depth analysis, released by Food & Water Watch on Thursday, illustrates the consolidation of the grocery industry and the range of impacts it has on the food chain.

Grocery Goliaths: How Food Monopolies Impact Consumers examines 100 types of grocery products and found that as food companies and supermarket chains have consolidated over the last few years, the illusion of choice among brands has coincided with increasingly expensive grocery bills.

“You might think you’re a savvy shopper, supporting independent businesses when you buy a product from the organic foods aisle of your grocery store, but chances are you’re really being duped by a small handful of grocery industry Goliaths hiding behind an array of brands and pretty packaging,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.“The largest mega-retailers and manufacturers control more of what we eat than you thought. And they’re not only costing shoppers, but farmers and small food companies too.”

Report findings came from the latest available grocery industry data (primarily from 2011 and 2012) and accounts for mergers, acquisitions and spin-offs through October 2013. Highlights include:

  • In 2012, 53.6 percent of the money that Americans spent on groceries went to the four largest retailers: Walmart, Kroger, Target and Safeway. Walmart alone sold almost a third (28.8 percent) of all groceries in 2012.
  • The top four or fewer grocery manufacturing companies controlled, on average, 63.3 percent of the sales of 100 types of groceries. For 32 grocery items, the biggest firms controlled more than 75 percent of sales and for six items, the top companies accounted for more than 90 percent of sales in things like infant formula and microwave dinners.
  • Consumers are led to believe they are choosing among competitors, when many different products are actually made by the same firm. For example, ConAgra sells six varieties of popcorn. This is true even for healthful foods; Kellogg’s owns both Kashi and Bear Naked brands, though their packaging and websites make them seem independent.
  • Some major retailers charge food producers a fee to place their products in the most profitable shelf locations, making it almost impossible for small food producers to compete.
  • Top food producers are manipulating the shopping experience. In 2012, the top four grocery retailers spent $4.4 billion on advertisements and the top food manufacturers spent $8.4 billion. Ninety-one percent of the foods advertised on children’s Saturday morning television programs were high in fat, added sugars and sodium, and low in nutrients, based on federal nutrition standards.

Intense consolidation throughout the grocery industry limits not just where consumers can shop, but what they can buy, according to Food & Water Watch. The number of mergers and acquisitions has increased as the economy emerges from the recession. The report contends the growing and significant consolidation puts small competitors at a disadvantage and denies shoppers transparency and consumer choice.

The analysis points to the ripple effects of grocery consolidation across the food chain. While grocery prices are rising and the share farmers receive is decreasing, the profits of major food retail companies and food manufacturers remain strong.

Food & Water Watch suggests that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency responsible for protecting the grocery industry from mega consolidation, should enact a national moratorium on grocery chain mergers and reject mergers of food companies and brands. Food & Water Watch further demands Congress grant the FTC proper authority to effectively regulate food marketing.

“This isn’t a problem we can just shop our way out of. These mega-mergers encompass so much of the food chain that it’s extremely difficult to always know who produced what we buy and where our dollars are going,” Hauter said. “People are fed up with not having real choice and transparency when they are trying to feed themselves and their families. It’s time for the FTC to prioritize protecting shoppers over protecting the profits of a shrinking handful of corporations.”

The analysis of grocery industry data builds upon Hauter’s book, Foodopoly: The Future of Food and Farming in Americawhich examines big business of the food supply and the increasing amount of control monolithic food companies have over consumers and small food producers.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic. 

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
vimeo.com

Video Shows Oil Company's Plans to Drill Arctic From Artificial Island

The Liberty Project has posted a video about its proposal to build the nation's first oil production platform in federal waters in the Arctic.

The video was quietly uploaded two months ago and shows Hilcorp Alaska's plan to build an artificial gravel island and undersea pipeline for its offshore drilling project in the Beaufort Sea. Frankly speaking, the five-minute clip—with its all-American voiceover and electric guitar riffs—is something you'd expect from a pickup truck commercial.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

Scientists Discover Sea Levels Rose in Sharp Bursts During Last Warming

By Rice University

Scientists from Rice University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi's Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies have discovered that Earth's sea level did not rise steadily but rather in sharp, punctuated bursts when the planet's glaciers melted during the period of global warming at the close of the last ice age. The researchers found fossil evidence in drowned reefs offshore Texas that showed sea level rose in several bursts ranging in length from a few decades to one century.

The findings appeared Wednesday in Nature Communications.

Keep reading... Show less
Gemasolar 15 MW Parabolic Power Plant in Spain / Greenpeace

Quitting Coal: New Global Survey Names the Companies, Countries and Cities

More than a quarter of the 1,675 companies that owned or developed coal-fired power capacity since 2010 have entirely left the coal power business, according to new research from CoalSwarm and Greenpeace. This represents nearly 370 large coal-fired power plants—enough to power around six United Kingdoms—and equivalent to nearly half a trillion dollars in assets retired or not developed.

While many generating companies go through this rapid makeover, the research also shows that a total of 23 countries, states and cities will have either phased out coal-fired power plants or set a timeline to do so by 2030.

Keep reading... Show less
Roderick Eime / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Evidence Suggests Ancient Egypt Was Brought Down By Volcanoes and Climate Change

Ancient Egypt is often described as an exotic place—pyramids, hieroglyphics, lavishly worshipped kings and queens.

But in many ways, it has a lot of parallels to modern life. It was an economically diverse, culturally vibrant and unequal place.

The millenniums-old society also struggled with a phenomenon that people today know all too well: climate change. And it may have ultimately led to the civilization's demise, according to a new paper by a team of researchers at Yale University.

The team of researchers studied the tail-end of ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty between 305-30 BCE.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Portuguese youth plaintiffs, from left to right: Simão and Leonor; Cláudia, Martim and Mariana; André and Sofia. Global Legal Action Network

Kids Harmed by Portugal Fires Reach Key Crowdfunding Goal for Climate Lawsuit

As Portugal reels from its worst wildfires on record, seven Portuguese children have met an important crowdfunding goal for their major climate lawsuit against 47 European nations.

More than £20,000 ($26,400) was pledged by 589 people, allowing the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)—the nonprofit coordinating the lawsuit—to identify and compile evidence to present to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. GLAN now has a new stretch target of £100,000.

Keep reading... Show less
Flying insects such as bees are important pollinators. Flickr / M I T C H Ǝ L L

German Nature Reserves Have Lost More Than 75% of Flying Insects

A new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE adds more evidence that insect populations around the globe are in perilous decline.

For the study, researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, alongside their German and English colleagues, measured the biomass of trapped flying insects at 63 nature preserves in Germany since 1989. They were shocked to discover that the total biomass decreased dramatically over the 27 years of the study, with a seasonal decline of 76 percent and mid-summer decline of 82 percent, when insect numbers tend to peak.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics

Pushing Toxic Chemicals and Climate Denial: The Dark Money-Funded Independent Women’s Forum

By Stacy Malkan

The Independent Women's Forum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has taken money from tobacco and oil companies, partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, denies climate science and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations.

IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group now says it seeks to "improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."

Keep reading... Show less
Mladen Kostic / iStock

Toxic Toys? After Nine Years, a Ban on Harmful Chemicals Becomes Official

Phthalates are a particularly harmful type of chemical, used, among a range of other ways, to soften plastic in children's toys and products like pacifiers and teething rings. In response to mounting concern about the serious health impacts of phthalates—most notably, interference with hormone production and reproductive development in young children—Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to outlaw the use of a few phthalates in these products and ordered the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to assess the use of other types of the chemical in these products. After much delay, the CPSC voted 3–2 Wednesday to ban five additional types of phthalates in kids' toys and childcare products.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox