Right around the time that Nestle acquired Garden of life, I applied for a wholesale account with them. I hadn’t heard that the company had changed hands and we had spent the last six months or so overwhelmed by constant customer demands.
Everyone was talking about Jordan Rubin and how to heal Chron’s and IBS and so much more with the nutrient rich vegan lifestyle that the GOL products supported. Honestly, 2016 -2017 was such a vibe.
It took a while for our store to be approved for the wholesale account, and now, well into 2018 we were able to stock a small selection of their line.
However, once the goods were on the shelves, customers – at the same volume that they had once been demanding Garden of Life when it was independently owned – were now bashing them as sell outs.
I decided to wait a year to see what actually happened to the company. I was vocal with customers about this plan and most of them accepted it.
During the following months, I surfed chat threads and blog posts and found that people were complaining mostly about the abhorrent behavior of Nestle but also, a lot of small changes that GOL had made since being acquired.
For instance, some glass packaged products were moved to plastic, ingredients in protein powders were altered and ‘after tastes’ were cropping up all over the place.
But I also learned that Garden of Life is a B-Corp, short for Benefit Corporation. A B-Corp is a company dedicated to taking steps forward towards the betterment of their employees, their community and the environment through their operations as a for profit business.
They were even recognized for ‘Best for the World’ awards by the B-Lab in both 2018 and 2019 – that’s post Nestle.
B-Corps themselves don’t get graded negatively though, B-Labs only recognize positive momentum. I couldn’t help but wonder if they did have a section for negative grading, would the sins of the father cost Garden of Life their ranking?
But then I dug a little deeper, and wondered if maybe too many consumers did the opposite, and used only a negative grading system, or point deduction to shape their opinions.
I kept googling and this is what I learned.
Garden of Life is not a direct Subsidiary of Nestle.
In fact, the parent company of GOL and a dozen other popular nutrition companies (Pure Encapsulations, Vitamin Packs, Living Matrix, Miami Nutrition Health and more) is Atrium Innovations.
Atrium Innovations is a subsidiary of Nestle Health Science S.A. which is in turn, a subsidiary of Nestle.
Nestle also parents Blue Bottle Coffee, Gerber Baby, San Pellegrino, Perrier, Poland Springs and Nespresso. (I’m including this to give you an idea of how massive the network of parent and subsidiary companies really is. Most household name products are owned by something else.)
Blue Bottle stood out to me on this list because they work mostly with certified Fair Trade Coffee growers but also with a handful that are uncertified but have agricultural and operational practices that are sustainable for the land, the product and the employees.
Global Citizen ranked Blue Bottle among their 10 Ethical Coffees To Drink along with Equal Exchange and Grounds for Change, which are more notably vetted as being ethically sound.
Big companies like Nestle were able to build their wealth without ever once being asked to ‘do better’ by consumers. The blind consumerism of the 90s and Naughties didn’t ever stop making chocolate chip cookies long enough to demand ethical sourcing or transparency.
Their use of chocolate harvested and manufactured using forced and free labor from children and slaves is something that I don’t think anyone would attempt to defend, and I know I certainly won’t try. But it is a problem systemically present in the chocolate industry, not just their house, and it’s what makes purchasing ethical and Fair Trade Certified products so important.
But now as we lean heavily into making better choices and practicing ethics at the grocery store, we have adopted the habit of viewing every company associated with Nestle as sharing in their evil practices.
Is Nestle just an amorphous blob of immorality devouring once bright spots of life and light, dragging them down to the pits?
Or is this a way that Nestle is trying to drag itself up? By investing money, time and infrastructure more and more frequently into companies that are dedicated to bettering the world they very well may have had a hand in ruining?
I’m inclined to believe it’s a bit of PR stunt for Nestle. After the backlash they have faced in the last few years, they need to be able to say, “Well what about this?”.
Their behavior is not completely driven by a moral awakening, but with 300,000 current employees, if they want to make a change, they need to do it gradually. As consumers, we will have to wait and see if the changes they make in the coming years are done to highlight surface level bullshit, or if they reflect a change in infrastructure and a pivot towards earning with more of a conscious.
In this New York Times Article higher ups at Nestle talk about the changes that Nestle has begun making internally, as a response to pressure from investors and modern consumers who want to see social purpose in addition to positive figures.
These actions included creating, marketing and supplying more accessible vegan options to grocery stores and restaurants and small scale test runs of safer water stewardship practices that they would like to implement in the coming years world wide.
It is also worth mentioning what an enormous source of relief and support Nestle has been for Flint, MI over the course of the last few years.
As a follow up note, I am no longer able to stock Garden of Life at work. I was delusional to ever think that the choice was up to me, and “research”. The customers didn’t stop yelling at us until it was gone.
**I learned about Nestle’s surprise withdrawal from the FairTrade Cocoa Market about an hour after posting this. I was surprised to learn that Nestle had been such a huge Fair Trade customer in the first place, and will have to write another post on their transition from Fair Trade Chocolate to Rainforest Alliance Certified Chocolate another day, because although the conversation is relevant to this one, it is too large to tack on.