Organic food advocates have turned against a once highly-embraced brand, Silk soy milk, after the company that owns it quietly altered the products' label from government-regulated "organic" to the practically meaningless "natural" without properly notifying customers.
The silence surrounding the label change has fueled a public battle between the farm policy research and advocacy group Cornucopia Institute and dairy giant Dean Foods, which owns White Wave, the maker of the Silk line of soy milk products. Organic devotees say products that are not organic can be grown with pesticides and other chemicals without running afoul of the virtually unregulated claim of being "natural."
Making matters worse, consumers have been doubly irked to find out that they were paying the same pumped up prices organic commands for the new, less-than-organic version.
Cornucopia elevated the dispute's profile recently by filing government complaints against Target for continuing to promote the line in advertisements as organic. However, its possible that Target may not have even have known about the change.
Erika McCarthy, a member of the family that operates Texas health food grocer, Sunflower Shoppes, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the way the change happened -- with consumers left in the dark and the prices still marked up on packages that carried the same bar codes as the organic variety had -- was just plain wrong.
"We don't want to be part of customer deception," McCarthy told the newspaper.
Dean was not immediately available to comment on the furor over the change. But Dean, on its web site and in other public pronouncements, has said that it does not import soybeans from China for the Silk line and that the product still does not contain any artificial ingredients.
UPDATE (11/18): A spokesman for Dean's WhiteWave Foods division sent a statement disputing how the issue has been portrayed. Here's what Jarod Ballentine sent to WalletPop:
"We absolutely shared information with our customers prior to the introduction of our natural products, Months before products hit the shelves; we provided updated information about the new lineup of Silk product offerings to retailers and distributors. All retail customers and distributors were given the option to carry both products.
"We also communicated proactively with thought leaders in the natural and organic space, as well as with consumers who signed up to receive news from Silk. We developed the new, green packaging you mentioned in your post to help consumers and retail customers easily spot the organic option on the shelf.
"Recent news articles have also raised some questions about the prices of our products. We decided to offer natural products to provide more options and greater value for our consumers. Unfortunately though, retailers set the final price on the shelves. "
Dean is now offering several varieties of Silk in organic versions. Yet, even this is confusing and angering customers: The non-organic version is being sold in the well-known traditional Silk packaging and, the new organic version is in newly-designed green containers.
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