The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Strategic CSR - Organic food

This will be the last CSR Newsletter of the Fall semester.
Have a great holiday season and I will see you in 2013!

The article in the url below charts the evolution of the organic food industry in the U.S. from the perspective of one of its founders—Michael Potter, founder of Eden Foods ( The article reports that, in many respects, the terms “organic” and “big food” are becoming synonymous:

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

Many of the small and local brands, which many consumers probably believe remain ‘small and local,’ are now ‘big and remote’:

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup. Over the last decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.

The result of all this consolidation and commercial interest, according to Potter, is the dilution of the meaning associated with the organic label and all the health benefits that he believes stem from good, wholesome food. One example of how the influence of agri-business is affecting the final product is in the compilation of the National Organic Standards Board ( (increasingly corporate) and the Board’s list of what substances can be included in organic foods and still continue to call the final product ‘organic’ (increasingly long):

As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List. At first, the list was largely made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread. Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.

Take care

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Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?
By Stephanie Strom
July 8, 2012
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final