The big names behind your food brandsWho owns whom? The ethical brands with big owners

25 January 2011

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You may be familiar with Copella juice or Green & Black's chocolate, but new Which? research shows few people know the multinational corporations that are behind many ethical food brands. 

Who owns ethical brands?

Many ethical-sounding brands are owned by large companies, but our research shows that the parent's name is rarely displayed on products from these ethical brands. 

We surveyed 2,110 Which? members about 10 popular ethical brands, and they knew only about one in 10 of the brand owners. When we told them the parent companies, there was a mixed reaction. Some didn't mind, but others felt 'conned' or 'tricked'. One member said: 'I feel consumers are being misled'.

People feel differently towards ethical brands than they feel about the parent companies. In our poll, 71% associated Seeds of Change chocolate with environmental responsibility - in comparison with only 15% for its parent company, Mars. See if you can match the other parent companies to the brands with our quiz, right. 

Test your knowledge

The lure of ethical brands

In our survey, two thirds rated environmental and ethical issues as important when deciding which brands to buy. But of the 10 brands we looked at, eight didn't display their parent company's name on products. 

This is lack of clarity is repeated on the websites of these brands, which focus on the origins of the brand. Examples include Copella, launched in 1969 as a Suffolk-based family business that is now owned by PepsiCo, but Copella's website didn't mention PepsiCo anywhere when we checked.

According to retail expert Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick; 'Taking on a brand that's already established, with a strong image and customer base, can be an easy option for a large company - all the hard work's been done.'

Small brands can benefit

While many people feel tricked, parent companies can give brands stability. Professor Craig Smith, chair of  Ethics and Social Responsibility at Insead Business School says: 'Parent companies can give ethical brands the resources they need to expand their business and promote ethical products and environmental issues to a wider audience.'

But some members were worried that large companies might be more concerned with profits than ethics. 

Of the brands we contacted, all said that since the parent company's involvement their products, ethics and values have remained unchanged, and that their parent company supported the ethical values of the original brand. 

Tell us what you think about ethical brands and ownership by joining in Which? Conversation.

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