A question about GMOs for Naked Juice, Silk, Cascadian Farm, Kashi and Honest Tea: Which side are you on, boys?

Naked Juice says it doesn’t use ingredients produced using biotechnology as a matter of principle.

Silk, the company that put soymilk on supermarket shelves, says:

We’re proud to participate in the Non-GMO Project, a no a nonprofit, multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers and providing verified non-GMO choices.

Cascadian Farm (“We were organic before organic was a trend”) assures consumers that “you can know when you see the “certified organic” USDA seal on the front of our package that GMO crops have not been used.”

You’ll hear much the same from Kashi (“seven of our foods are now officially Non-GMO Project Verified“) and Honest Tea, which says:

Honest Tea doesn’t use any Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOS) and supports the idea that more transparent labeling will help consumers make clear choices.

The thing is, each of these upstart brands, which tout their commitment to natural or organic product, and to transparency, is owned by a big food conglomerate that opposes GMO labeling.

Think of it this way: Naked Juice (PepsiCo.), Silk (Dean Foods), Cascadian Farm (General Mills) Kashi (Kellogg) and Honest Tea (Coca-Cola) are like kids who don’t agree with their parents.

These, though, are family arguments with big consequences for food shoppers. Big food and agriculture companies funding a campaign which has raised more than $23 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients on food packages. PepsiCo, for example, has donated $1.7 million to defeat Prop. 37, while Coca-Cola has spent more than $1.1 million. Kellogg ($612,000), General Mills ($520,000) and Dean Foods ($253,000) are big donors, too. Biotech companies Monsanto and DuPont have given even more — $4 million apiece — according to data compiled by public TV station KCET. [click to continue…]

The elusive green consumer

I’d like to believe that we can shop our way to be a better world.

It’s unlikely.

If our economy is going to become more just and sustainable, change will have to come from the top down, not from the bottom up.

This roll of toilet paper helps explain why.

Called Moka, this bathroom tissue comes from a company called Cascades, which is headquartered in Montreal. It’s made from 100% recycled paper, and it has a lower carbon footprint than conventional toilet paper. Moka costs less to manufacture than ordinary white toilet paper and uses less bleach. And it works fine. Trust me–the company sent me a sample roll.

“It’s beneficial for us, for consumers and for the environment,” says Isabelle Faivre, US Marketing Director for Cascades.

The trouble is, you can’t buy Moka in a store.

That’s because Moka is being, er, rolled out exclusively in the away-from-home market. That is, it’s being sold to distributors who supply office buildings, schools, colleges, hospitals, restaurants and hotels. “Companies have that need to look green, to make them feel better about themselves,” says Faivre. But consumers aren’t ready to accept off-color bathroom tissue. [click to continue…]

Fair Trade: Even in tough times, growing fast

The proliferation of labels and claims at the grocery store can befuddle even the most conscientious consumer. What to buy? Organic produce? Locally grown vegetables? MSC-certified fish? Fair Trade coffee or chocolate?

Paul Rice, the president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, isn’t worried by the clutter. All the labels, he says, reflect a big trend–the growing appetite of food shoppers for  more “transparency and traceability.”

Says Rice: “Consumers want to know where their stuff is coming from. They want to know if it’s safe. They want to know if it’s healthy. They want to know what the impact is on the environment.”

“Consumers are increasingly using their purchasing decisions to express their values,” he says.

Of course, we’ve been hearing for decades that consumers are voting with their dollars; the trouble is, too many of us vote for crap too much of the time. But–and this is important–there’s good news when it comes to Fair Trade: Despite the sluggish US economy, it’s growing fast.

Sales of Fair Trade Certified products at mainstream grocery stores grew by 87 percent in the second quarter of 2011 over the previous quarter, according to recent data from  SPINS, which tracks the natural foods industry. Sales in the specialty and gourmet channels grew by 32 percent, for an overall growth rate of 63 percent.

What’s more, the range of products that are Fair Trade certified is expanding rapidly to include not just coffee, tea, cocoa and bananas, all which are grown in the tropics, but also sugar, flowers, honey, herbs and spices, beans and grains, wine and, most recently, apparel and sports equipment.

[Disclosure: After I’d begun writing this story, the people at Fair Trade USA, which is the leading independent certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S., sent me a basket of goodies that included coffee, tea, chocolate bars, honey, Honest Cocoa Nova, Pink Guava Drizzle and a soccer ball. Let me know, please, if you’ve got a great recipe that calls for Pink Guava Drizzle.]

I spoke via Skype the other day with Paul Rice and Robert Grgrurev, a brand manager at Green & Black’s Organic chocolate which is going 100% Fair Trade, to learn more about Fair Trade and its impact. [click to continue…]

Honest Tea CEO: Small isn’t beautiful

Seth Goldman, the president and Tea-e-0 of Honest Tea, made it official today:. The Coca-Cola Co. will exercise its option to buy all of Honest Tea, the Bethesda, Md., maker of organic, healthy beverages.

Coke bought 40% of the firm for a reported $43 million in 2008, a controversial move at the time for the upstart company that positioned itself as a challenger to the conventional way of doing business in the beverage industry.

Seth broke the news in a letter to his shareholders last night, in a blog post this morning and in an interview today with me at the State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, arguing that his mission to “democratize organics” will be supported by Coke..

In an unusual twist to the deal–one that amounts to a vote of confidence in Seth’s leadership–Coca-Cola will allow him to repurchase most of his own equity stake in the company. His name will remain on the bottle, along with that of his co-founder, Yale prof Barry Nalebuff, and the company will continue to operate out of its offices in downtown Bethesda, a short bike ride away from Seth’s home. [Disclosure: I’ve known Seth for years and we attend synagogue together.]

“This is absolutely still my baby,” he said. [click to continue…]