Dairy producer WhiteWave Foods has announced plans to pay about $600 million to purchase Earthbound Farm, the largest organic produce brand in the U.S.
Earthbound Farm was the producer behind the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 200 people and killed three. Following that outbreak, the company redesigned its food safety practices to become an industry leader in growing safe produce, developments highlighted in a Food Safety News article from February 2012.
WhiteWave owns a number of dairy brands, including Silk, Horizon Organic, and Land O’Lakes. This latest acquisition is an attempt to capture a greater share of the growing organic sector of the food market.
“With Horizon Organic and Earthbound Farm, WhiteWave will now provide the two most popular gateways for consumers to enter into the organic category – produce and dairy,” said WhiteWave CEO Gregg Engles in a statement.
Critics of WhiteWave are not as optimistic about the purchase. The company does much to stretch the definition of “organic” food, said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at agricultural organization the Cornucopia Institute.
“This is the same management that built the Horizon dairy label in its early years, with virtually all their milk coming from giant ”organic’ factory farms, with as many as 10,000 cows living in their own filth,” Kastel said in a statement.
Kastel also said that, after buying the Silk soy milk product line, WhiteWave converted the brand’s 100-percent organic products to virtually no certified organics, replacing the “organic” claim with “natural.”
“WhiteWave CEO, and former Dean Foods CEO, Gregg Engles knows as much about vegetables as he knew about dairy when he orchestrated a global feeding frenzy in that market to build Dean Foods,” Kastel said. “The end result was the destruction of dozens of independently owned regional dairy businesses and thousands of jobs.”
WhiteWave said it did not expect the acquisition to significantly affect operations at Earthbound Farm, which would continue operating under its own brand name.© Food Safety News