Dean Foods announced in a press release that it has acquired organic juice company Uncle Matt’s Organic, prompting concerns about just how “organic” their beverages will remain moving forward.
According to the press release, Uncle Matt’s Organic is the oldest organic juice company in the U.S. Their offerings include juices such as orange, grapefruit, apple and lemonade, along with fruit-infused waters and probiotic-infused juices, and their products are popular among health-conscious consumers.
The Dean Foods press release says: “Uncle Matt’s Organic is committed to producing the highest quality juices, using only premium 100% organically grown fruit that is free from GMOs, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”
It’s a commendable stance, but how long will that continue to be the case? If Dean Foods Company’s track record when it comes to acquisitions is any indication, fans of Uncle Matt’s products had better stay on their toes.
Dean Foods’ bait-and-switch history
When Dean Foods Company acquired the Silk brand soy milk, they engaged in some very deceptive practices that left a lot of consumers so angry that many continue to boycott them to this day. Silk’s soy milk had been made using organic soybeans until early 2009, and customers who sought organic products at that time knew this milk was a safe bet.
However, after taking over the brand, Dean essentially employed a “bait and switch” tactic that left a lot of consumers with a very bad taste in their mouths. They started to use conventionally grown soybeans rather than organic ones, but they continued to use the same bar codes on their products and only slightly shifted the wording on their label to make it say “natural” instead of “organic.” Many consumers believed it was still organic, not realizing that “natural” is not a word that is regulated and that any product can claim to be natural regardless of whether it has been sprayed with toxic pesticides, as many soybeans are.
Adding insult to injury, they kept selling it for the same price, which meant people were paying organic prices for toxin-laced milk.
The deception was so underhanded that even retailers didn’t realize what was happening at first, with watchdog groups calling out Target for misleading shoppers by continuing to advertise the product as “organic” even though it no longer was.
This was more than just a one-off incident. Dean Foods has long shown a lack of honesty when it comes to organic food. They are the parent company of Horizon Organic, whose milk was once the subject of a boycott for not being legitimately organic. Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, once called the company “the Enron of the food industry” on account of its lack of ethics. Dean also contributed more than $250,000 in an effort to defeat the GMO labeling initiative Prop 37 in California in 2012 – something that Uncle Matt’s, on the other hand, supported.
It’s hard to say whether Uncle Matt’s juices will pull a similar trick on the public. There are some positive signs, such as the fact that Uncle Matt’s will become a subsidiary of Dean Foods but will continue to operate from its current offices in Clermont, Florida.
In addition, the company’s founder, Matt McLean, will continue to lead the brand. According to Uncle Matt’s website, he became passionate about an organic way of life in 1995, which he said is akin to the way his grandfather and great-grandfather grew their fruit. He believes in making soil healthy to nurture trees that can defend themselves naturally against disease. One can only hope that he will be able to convince his higher-ups to adopt the same philosophy.