earthbound farm

Earthbound Farm, the California-based produce brand best known for creating the organic bagged salad category, has sold to WhiteWave Foods for $600 million.

WhiteWave is the parent company of Silk brand products including soymilk and yogurts. Its umbrella also includes Horizon Organic, and Land O’ Lakes. Beyond its bagged salads, Earthbound Farm, which is expected to achieve sales of more than $500 million in 2013, also sells fresh, frozen and dried fruits, vegetables and snacks.

“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,” WhiteWave Chairman and CEO Gregg Engles told the Associated Press.

“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,” says Mark Kastel, codirector of organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute.

Kastel notes that the purchase will do to produce what Horizon did to organic milk, “from giant ‘organic’ factory farms, with as many as 10,000 cows living in their own filth.” Adding that this is the “same company and management that, after buying ‘organic’ soybeans from China, took over the Silk soymilk product line and converted it from 100% organic to virtually no certified organic products/sales volume—replacing organic with ‘natural’ products.”

Dairy and produce are key categories in the organic sector, but Kastel asks whether or not the organic industry participants can view these brands as “trustworthy.”

Consolidation of organic brands have led to controversy in recent years, particularly as it pertains to the debate over labeling genetically modified foods. Campaigns that succeeded in preventing voters from passing labeling laws in California and Washington state saw huge financial contributions from parent companies of some major natural food brands.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Michaela Garfield