Nutrition Business Journal

Grocers Not Happy With Dean Foods Decision to Change Organic Silk Offerings


Back in March 2009, Nutrition Business Journal wrote about a decision by WhiteWave Organic Foods to change a number of its Silk branded soymilk products to deemphasize the organic labeling. The move didn’t receive much publicity, in part because WhiteWave did not change the SKU or packaging—instead opting to subtly remove the organic seal from its packaging in January 2009. The company moved to include a larger number of natural, non-GMO products in place of some of its more expensive organic offerings as a cost savings measure. Silk quietly re-launched its organic line with new packaging and SKUs, though the organic products are not as widely available as its natural offerings.

SunOpta—one of WhiteWave’s chief competitors in the soymilk category—addressed the move in a conference call with investors back in March 2009. “We hope that [the decision by WhiteWave to offer natural products in place of organic] will provide an opportunity [for SunOpta],” President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Bromley said. “Ninety-five percent of soymilk is organic. Our belief is that the consumer wants organic; they are used to getting organic.”

Over the summer the Organic Consumers Association launched a boycott of the Silk brand over the labeling issue, which appears to be irking some natural food retailers as well. In a November 9 piece published by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, writer Barry Shlachter talked with a number of grocers who felt misled by Dallas-based Dean Foods, the parent company of WhiteWave. "We don’t want to be part of customer deception," Erika McCarthy, operator of two Sunflower health food stores in Texas, told the Star Telegram. "Did we miss something? Our concern is that if it’s going from 'organic’ to 'natural’ we need to be informed. But we only found out about it now."

"I think the proper way to do it was to say, 'Hey, we’re coming out with an all-natural line since organic soybeans are hard to find, cost too much,’ or whatever they choose to tell us," Bob Gerner, Natural Grocery’s founding general manager, told the Texas newspaper.

According to the Star Telegram, Dean defended itself by saying it saw no need to change bar codes on the soy milk items since using a different type of bean didn’t constitute a major reformulation. Further, the new soymilk does not violate government labeling regulations because Dean rewrote its ingredient list and removed any organic reference.

Related NBJ Links:
Dean Foods Reports Strong 2008 Sales, Despite Q4 Softening
SunOpta Thrives at the Bottom of the U.S. Organic Food Chain
SunOpta Posts Q1 Loss, Despite 46th Consecutive Quarter of Revenue Gains

Related Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine links:
Target Accused of False Advertising

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