10 Friendly Faces of Corporate Giants

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NEW YORK MainStreet -- What's the matter, big corporate behemoth? Upset because the local/organic crowd doesn't like you?

Well cheer up, because you can always buy your way back into their good graces. Ask fans of Seattle's Best Coffee, many of whom still prefer it to Starbucks despite the fact Starbucks bought its Seattle neighbor nearly a decade ago. The same holds true for Leinenkugel drinkers, who'll still visit the Leinie Lodge in Chippewa Falls, Wis., instead of visiting the Miller caves in Milwaukee even though SABMiller bought Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing close to 25 years ago.

There are a bunch of other earthy, mom-and-pop brands serving as fronts for far bigger companies these days. The following 10 are just the most well-hidden examples:

Friendly brand face: Burt's Bees
Looming corporate masters: Clorox

Burt Shavitz's bees helped produce the all-natural honey-based health care products that grew into Burt's Bees, but his lover/business partner Roxanne Quimby grew those products into a $43.5 million business by 2002 after buying Burt out in 1999. The next year, Quimby sold 80% of the company to a private equity firm, which then sold to Clorox for $925 million in 2007. Those "all-natural" products are now made by the same folks who produce Pine-Sol and Liquid-Plumr.

Friendly brand face: The Body Shop
Looming corporate masters: L'Oreal

Anita Roddick prided herself and her cosmetics chain on the use of all-natural ingredients, a commitment to social activism and fair trade and adamant opposition to animal testing. That stance became somewhat shakier in 2006, when Roddick sold the Body Shop to L'Oreal for more than $1 billion. Roddick's personal share was estimated at $211 million, but she died in 2007 before L'Oreal began paying for animal testing in China this year.

Friendly brand face: Naked Juice
Looming corporate masters: Pepsico

Naked Juice may have been all-natural and earthy when it was founded in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1983, but getting bought out by a private equity firm in 2000 and by Pepsico for $450 million in 2006 made Naked about as alternative as a bottle of Sierra Mist. Don't get all smug over there, Odwalla drinker: Your juice was sucked up by Coca-Cola for $181 million more than a decade ago.

Friendly brand face: Tom's Of Maine
Looming corporate masters: Colgate-Palmolive

Tom and Kate Chappell started their company in Kennebunk, Maine, in 1970 with $5,000 in seed money and made toothpaste, soap and deodorant without animal testing or animal product. Sure, they sold an 84% share in the company to Colgate-Palmolive for $100 million in 2006 for an 84% stake in the company, but they kept the remaining 16% just to ensure the products and formulas would remain intact.

Friendly brand face: Kashi
Looming corporate masters: Kellogg

Back in 1984, Kashi's seven whole grains and sesame became a status symbol for self-aware but easily stereotyped consumers. By 2000, Kellogg wanted a little more of the "natural foods" market in their bowl and bought Kashi outright. Now only box art and a sorting bin separate Kashi from Cracklin' Oat Bran.

Friendly brand face: Nantucket Nectars
Looming corporate masters: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group

A couple of Brown University grads named Tom (First and Scott) opened a floating convenience store and juice bar in Nantucket, Mass., in 1990 and turned it into a $60 million company by 2002, when Cadbury Schweppes bought it. The brand eventually ended up in the hands of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and, while the Toms' Juice Guys Juice Bar still stands on Nantucket and their voices still grace the product's commercials, the drinks and their organic counterparts are brewed and bottled in containers similar to Snapple's at the Snapple facility in Rye Brook, N.Y.

Friendly brand face: Stonyfield Farm
Looming corporate masters: Groupe Danone

Roughly 30 years ago, Stonyfield Farm was just a little organic farming school in Wilton, N.H. By 2003, Groupe Danone -- makers of the Dannon yougurt and Evian water brands -- had acquired 85% of the company. Stonyfield tries to maintain its eco-cred by donating a 10th of its proceeds to environmental causes and maintaining a pesticide-free 130,000 acres of family farmland across America, but in 2008, Stonyfield took a multinational stumble when it voluntarily recalled several batches of blueberry yogurt after consumers complained about finding bits of plastic and glass in the mix.

Friendly brand face: Schwinn
Looming corporate masters: Dorel Industries

Once an iconic American bicycle brand, Schwinn doesn't have one model made in the U.S. After declaring bankruptcy in 2001, Schwinn was sold to Pacific Cycle, which was then bought by Dorel Industries, a Canadian company that also makes furniture and baby products. The Schwinn bikes consumers see today at Wal-Mart , Target and elsewhere are built in Taiwan and China.

Friendly brand face: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
Looming corporate masters: Unilever

It's been nearly 10 years since Unilever basically bought out Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and no amount of Barack Obama-themed Yes Pecan or the gay marriage-supporting Hubby Hubby can return the brand to its freewheeling Vermont roots. Two years ago, Ben & Jerry's vowed to stop referring to its ice cream and frozen yogurt as all-natural when the Center for Science in the Public Interest found corn syrup and other less-than-natural ingredients in its Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey, among other varieties. That's just harshing the mellow.

Friendly brand face: Goose Island
Looming corporate masters: Anheuser-Busch Inbev

Goose Island was part of the Craft Brewers Alliance and still makes people line up for hours to get their hands on its Bourbon County Stout, but is about as small of a beer brand as Michelob after being bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev last year. Quality hasn't dropped off, but it's tough to entrust craft beer fans' notoriously fickle taste to a company famous for luring drinkers with flatulent horses and beer bottles playing football.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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