The Soya Milk and the Mega Dairy: why parent companies matter
Why you wont find some familiar soya brands on our shelves and the products we recommend instead.
Soy milk has long been an affordable plant-based staple of the non-dairy milks section of any wholefood shop worth its coarse sea-salt. In recent years we’ve also seen the rise of a dazzling array of other grain, nut and seed-based milks derived from almonds, rice, oats, hemp and the unstoppable rise to global dominance of all things coconut. Whilst not without its own controversies, soy milk is always there as on of the most affordable staples amongst the other non-dairy milk cartons.
If you are a soy milk consumer, or a keen brand enthusiast, you might have noticed that there are a few familiar soy milk brands which are not available on our shelves. These include the big hitters of the soy milk world: Alpro, Provamel and budget brand Soya Soleil.
But why so?
If you trace these products back through the corporate supply chain, they all come back to one parent company: Dean Foods. And Dean it turns out, is America’s second biggest dairy company, owner of mega-dairies and has been the subject of consumer campaigns regarding labour standards, animal welfare and questionable adherence to organic standards. For us, looking at the parent company of a seemingly benign brand is important stuff, and is the reason you wont find these products in our store. After all, the profits ultimately head towards this parent company and its owners / shareholders, so it does matter what that parent company gets up to. By buying up dairy milk alternative brands like Provamel, companies like Dean can dominate the entire milk market (dairy & non dairy), squeezing out smaller, local producers and lessening the power of checks on labour, animal welfare and environmental standards. This practice of acquiring smaller niche brands means that corporations are able to play the green, cruelty free or organic card- without applying this consistently across their ranges.
UPDATE 12th August 2016: Apparently Alpro and Provamel’s parent company is in fact no longer mega-dairy owning Dean Foods, but they are now subject of a $12.5 takeover bid from corporate food giant Danone. This still highlights the importance of close attention to parent companies when considering ‘alternative’ brands.
So who do we recommend?
Well, in looking for an alternative product for our range, we are looking for a soya milk that’s affordable, good quality, with a good soy bean content and a better ethical track record. We like to recommend Sojade as our brand of choice. This is because we love the taste, the unsweetened variety retails at only £1.05, and they are a French company, with all of their organic soya beans grown in France- and therefore not contributing to rainforest devastation. This isn’t a perfect solution, and according to the Ethical Consumer magazine, they still don’t report sufficiently on their sourcing or environmental impacts, and they are also a dairy company, albeit a much smaller one than Dean Foods. So there we are, we don’t live in a perfect world, but there’s often a better option out there, even if it’s not the one we recognise from our supermarket shelves.