Over 40 years ago, Michael J. Potter founded a small “whole earth” grocery store that eventually turned into a large organic foods producer and wholesaler, Eden Foods. However, last May he set out to challenge what organic food has become today. With organic food becoming more popular in today’s age, it has attracted large corporations to take part in the highly profitable niche. Unfortunately, with big money coming into the sector, it has pushed out the small players and left it up to the corporations to change the game.
Naked Juice? Owned by PepsiCo. How about Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi? All three owned by the cereal giant Kellogg’s. And behind Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is Hain Celestial, previously affiliated with Heinz.
Those are just to name a few of the large corporations who have purchased most of the nation’s organic food industry. Others include Coca-Cola, Cargill, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars. Are locally farmed and produced ingredients coming from these giants? Regretfully not.
The industry has changed significantly since Michael Potter started his grocery store 40 years ago, and that’s exactly why he set out to speak out at a meeting to decide which ingredients should be allowed as “organic.” For instance, carrageenan, which is a seaweed-derived thickener with a controversial health record. Also on the list, synthetic inositol, manufactured using chemical processes.
A few days later, the board voted to keep carrageenan on the increasing list of non-organic ingredients which can be used in foods and products with the “certified organic” label.
“The board is stacked,” Mr. Potter says. “Either they don’t have a clue, or their interest in making money is more important than their interest in maintaining the integrity of organics.”
In fact, Potter refuses to place the certified-organic label on Eden’s product, claiming it a fraud.
“As soon as a value-added aspect was established, it didn’t take long before corporate America came knocking,” Mr. Potter says. Usually he receives an email every week with an offer to buy his company. “Companies, private equity, venture capital, even individuals,” Mr. Potter says. “The best offer I ever got came from two guys who had money from Super Glue.”
“People keep telling me that all the work we’re doing with organic farming and agriculture and processing, some of that could be deemed charitable work,” he says. “Maybe we should start a church.”