by Marion Nestle
Jul 1 2009

Horizon organics alert: here comes “natural”

Horizon, the commercial organic milk producer, is introducing  its first new non-organic products for children.   These will be labeled “natural,” not organic.   Horizon’s press people say the products “don’t contain growth hormones and will be easier on the pocketbook…These are our first natural offerings in the marketplace, and Horizon always tries to provide great-tasting products for moms and for families.”  Really?

“Natural” is an odd term.  It has no regulatory meaning.   Meats that are “natural” are supposed to be minimally processed and if their labels say they were produced without antibiotics or hormones the statements have to be truthful and not misleading.  As I discussed in What to Eat, meat retailers can’t tell the difference between “natural” and organic and neither can a lot of consumers.  Retailers are happy to charge the same high prices for the “natural” products and consumers think they are buying organics.  This is not a good situation.

So why would a company ostensibly devoted to the principles and practice of organics suddenly decide to start marketing “natural” products?  For the answer, I defer to Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute who sent this message today:

The rumors have now been confirmed.  Dean Foods’ WhiteWave division has now announced that they will bring out “natural” (conventional) dairy products under the Horizon label.  This at a time when organic dairy farmers around the country are in financial crisis due to a glut of milk.

They are in essence creating a new product category, “natural dairy products,” that will directly compete with certified organic farmers and the marketers they partner with.

This move comes on the heels of the recent decision by Dean/WhiteWave to switch almost the entire product offerings of their Silk soymilk and soyfoods line to “natural” (conventional) soybeans.  They made the switch to conventional soybeans, in Silk products, without lowering the price.  Sheer profiteering.

The likelihood is that they will create this new category and enjoy higher profits than they currently realize having to pay those pesky organic dairy farmers a livable wage.

The news story below, from the Natural Foods Merchandise quotes Dean Foods/WhiteWave officials saying these products will be “easier on the pocketbook.”  Yes, they will be designed to undercut certified organic on price.

Horizon is the largest, in terms of dollar volume, organic brand in the marketplace.  Silk holds the leading market share in soyfoods and was once, prior to Dean Foods’ acquisition, a 100% organic company and brand.


Stay tuned.  Dean Foods has just declared war on the organic industry.  Although the first shot has been fired it will not be the last.

The organic farmers, consumers and ethical business people who built this industry did so in effort to create an alternative food system with a different set of values.  We will all work hard to defend what so many good people spent so many years to create.

Mark A. Kastel

Senior Farm Policy Analyst

The Cornucopia Institute

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  • This is a shame. I am doubly disappointed in Silk for not even informing customers that they were changing from organic to natural. They have a “responsible harvest” promise on their website…but it doesn’t have any real regulations. And with the prevalence of genetically modified soybeans growing in the US, I might have to start paying more for some organic soy milk…

  • brendalynn

    Just fyi: For Internet Explorer users, this page ends at “who sent this message today: ” Something funny with the code?

  • Marie

    Not Shame on Dean Foods/Horizon … but Shame on Consumers if they are confused. It is every person’s responsibility to be informed about what they are purchasing. All dairy farmers are hurting due to the glut of milk on the market. We can vote with our dollars by purchasing those products we want the market place to provide. I am willing to pay whatever it takes to get the products I want, even if I have to make cuts elsewhere in my budget. I have lived in other countries and that is why I believe in Capitalism! It works and it is what has made this country great! We have CHOICE in what we buy. Think about it. Vote with your dollars. And Shame on Us if we allow any company to ‘use’ us.

  • Marie

    and wait a minute! … saying “Dean Foods has just declared war on the organic industry.” …whoa! Now, I am a big Fan of the Sustainable Table, sustainable living, sustainable farming, organics, eating locally, yada yada… but that is a huge leap. “Delare War!”? Hmmm. I invite you to look at it this way ….Mother Teresa said that she would never go to an anti-war rally. Invite her to a Peace rally, and she said she’d be there. Take it another step…Ghandi said something like “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So, instead of participating in what you call a ‘war’, I choose Peace. I’ll continue to buy organic, sustainable products. And I’ll continue to search for information to help me make informed choices. Please step back from this ‘reactionary’ reporting and just give us the facts. Your readers are intelligent and can come to their own conclusions.

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  • Janet Camp

    Well, Marie, sorry to upset you, but I am all for fighting (peacefully) for what I believe in and I don’t think that large corporations that buy up small dedicated companies and then turn them into profit machines while they try to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes best reflects capitalism. Capitalism may be better than whatever you have experienced, but that is no reason to let it run amok. If you are new to this country, read up on the early 20th century and the “robber barons”.

    Also, the “war” comment was from someone else’s comments that Marion added to her own.

    As for Horizon, I have never bought their products as I never saw them as participating in the spirit of the organic movement, but rather trying to ride the wave. I live in Wisconsin, home of Organic Valley Coop, so the choice for me is simple. Horizon was involved in a bit of a scandal a while back involving treatment of their cows and that was the last straw for me with them–I used to buy them once in a while when it was on sale, but no more. I think this report just confirms what I already has surmised about Horizon, but I appreciate the news anyway.

  • In a perverse sense, this may be good. The industrialization of “organic” is being taken to its logical conclusion — and overtly. Horizon and Dean Foods have now made it abundantly clear that they do not care about organic. Whatever it is that will re-establish the original principles of organic food will surely be hastened as a result. Maybe that something will involve a greater role for co-operatives.

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  • Rachele

    Dear Marion,
    I just came across this article from the Washington Post:
    and I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.
    Thanks for keeping us up-to-date, I love your blog!

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  • Eliza

    I have a question about this Horizon development, which I find very disappointing. The company’s name is “Horizon Organics.” The logo says “Organics” on a bright yellow banner. Is the non-organic milk still going to say “Horizon Organics” on it, because I find that highly misleading.

    I want our food labels to be regulated enough so that people can be pretty sure they know what they are getting without having to do research on what a commonly used word, like “natural” means. Any other system further victimizes the less privileged among us. Schemes that involve tricking people into buying a product because they think they are buying something else are wrong, period. We can’t blame the average Joe for not reading this blog and not knowing that “natural” means nothing about what is in a food product.

  • Jon

    This just goes with what I’ve said about supermarket organics.

  • Henry

    I have one question. Does this mean that they will have a “Natural” option in ADDITION to Organic?

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