On Monday, General Mills announced that it would be buying Berkeley's Annie's, the organic food company that makes the macaroni and cheese that you ate literally every weeknight during your parents' 1998 contested divorce proceedings. If you happen to own stock in Annie's—congratulations. The 51% premium that General Mills paid in the $820 million deal sent shares of Annie's into the stratosphere.
But what about you, the tragically hip, environmentally-minded, leaning-in consumer? Can you still with a clear conscience serve up purple box after purple box to your own children while your "conscious uncoupling" proceedings are ongoing? Or would that be a capitulation to the capitalist war-machine?
There’s certainly a case to be made in favor of going off the grid after the sale. Annie’s—and maybe we’re reaching a little far here—always felt like it stood for something. Non-GMO. Organic. A cute little bunny. General Mills—not so much.
That explains much of the online backlash, with consumers writing on Twitter and Facebook things like: “They’ve sold their souls to the devil.” As the New York Times points out, even though Annie’s will be keeping its CEO (for at least the next year) and Berkeley headquarters, “the weight of General Mills is likely to be felt eventually.”
It all depends on how heavily that weight falls. For example, Annie’s has already said that it won’t be changing its non-GMO position. In its press release, the company spokesperson wrote, “Powerful consumer shifts toward products with simple, organic and natural ingredients from companies that share consumers' core values show no signs of letting up.”
If that’s true, buying Annie’s would be a way to signal to General Mills that you’d rather buy something halfway decent instead of Green Giant’s Sugar-Blasted Industrial Vat Grown Frozen Peas. It wouldn’t make much sense for General Mills to vacuum up Annie’s only to turn it away from what consumers value it for. That would no more sense than Green Day leaving Lookout! for a major label and making a rock opera.
After all, the Annie’s is hardly the first time that a faceless mega-corporation hid itself behind some hippie front group. Ben and Jerry’s is owned by Unilever, a Dutch conglomerate. Burt’s Bees just rents Burt’s face and name on behalf of Clorox. Tom’s of Maine? Try Colgate-Palmolive. We hate to have to tell you this, but Brooklyn Without Limits is owned by Haliburton. None of those may be perfect of purists, but they let you have your crunchy granola and shop and Trader Joe’s too. For now, we’re going to put Annie’s in that camp.