Not quite four years ago, somebody made a chart called the “Illusion of Choice.” It demonstrated that a majority of the world’s best-known and most popular brands are owned, produced and sold by just ten very large corporations. Kraft, for instance, owned Maxwell House (coffee), Toblerone (candy) and Ritz (crackers). Nestlé owned Ralph Lauren (clothes), Gerber (baby food) and Purina (cat food).
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Kraft was an American company established in Chicago in 1903. Twelve of its brands, including Maxwell House, Nabisco, and Cadbury, each earned $1billion dollars globally. In March 2015, Kraft announced that it was merging with Heinz. The result, Kraft Heinz Company, is the fifth largest food company in the world.
Unilever began life as two separate companies: Margarine Unie in Holland and Lever Brothers in Britain. They merged into Unilever in 1930. As of 2012, it was the third-largest consumer goods company in the world. In 2014, it had a revenue of €48.436 billion ($52.900 billion). Unilever owns over 400 brands, and 14 of those, including Hellmann’s, Knorr and Lipton, each generates $1 billion dollars worldwide.
Nestlé is a Swiss company that was established in 1905 by the merger of two smaller companies. When measured by revenues, it is the largest food company in the world. Twenty-nine of its brands, including Nescafé, Kit Kat, and Stouffer’s, each earns over a billion dollars per year. Nestlé operates in 194 companies and owns 447 factories.
7. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is an American purveyor of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and consumer goods. It was established in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1886. Johnson & Johnson’s revenue in 2014 was $74.331 billion.
Kellogg’s is an American company that was established in 1906. Its founder, Will Keith Kellogg, was an early proponent of health food who followed the tenets of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. While the company makes sugary breakfast cereals like Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes, it also sells vegetarian products like Morningstar Farms’ meatless hamburgers.
5. Proctor & Gamble
Proctor & Gamble dates back to 1837, and it makes personal care products and cleaning agents. In 2014, it decides to streamline its operations and dropped 100 brands while keeping the 80 most profitable. Twenty-six of these, including Tide, Crest and Bounty, each earns $1 billion dollars in sales per year.
4. The Coco-Cola
The Coco-Cola company was established in 1892 while its namesake drink dates back to 1886. Coco-Cola is the top-selling soft drink in most countries. It offers 350 brands in 200 countries including Fanta, Sprite, Minute Maid and Capri Sun.
PepsiCo, Inc. is the baby of the group; it was created in 1965 when Frito-Lay and the Pepsi-Cola Company merged. Most of its products are foods and drinks. It is the second-largest food and beverage company in the world and the largest such company in North America.
2. General Mills
General Mills was founded in 1928 when 27 flour mills merged into one company. It originally produced different types of flour, but eventually diversified into different types of food. It brands include Green Giant, Yoplait, and Cheerios.
1. Mars, Inc.
Mars, Inc. was founded in Tacoma, Washington in 1911. It started off as a candy business but eventually diversified, and its brands now include pet food like Whiskas and Pedigreed and pasta sauce like Dolmio as wells as candies like Milky Way, Snickers, and M&Ms.
Buying organic doesn’t always enable the consumer to evade these companies’ dominance. Kellogg’s owns Kashi, and Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s.
The same trend towards a few huge corporations controlling everything can be seen in media and banking. In 1983, 50 companies produced 90% of the world’s media; today, six companies that same 90%. Since the 1990s, 37 banks have merged into four giants: Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.