This week, processed food kingpin ConAgra announced an $11 billion takeover of Pinnacle Foods, capturing Pinnacle’s well-known brands like Birds Eye, Hungry-Man dinners, Celeste frozen pizza, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Vlasic pickles and more. This proposed deal is just another example of the mushrooming Foodopoly, where fewer food companies control more and more of the supermarket shelf space.
The gluttonous corporate takeover of the food system has been accelerating since big business began to rebound from the Great Recession, but the Trump tax cuts are now supercharging merger-mania. Companies are using their huge cash windfall from the tax cut to take over their rivals — the ConAgra-Pinnacle deal includes over $8 billion in cash.
These food mergers conceal corporate ownership behind a sprawling thicket of brand names, including many natural, organic and independent brands that consumers increasingly prefer. Pinnacle has already bought Boulder Brands, whose portfolio includes the Evol, Udi’s and Gardein brands, and ConAgra snapped up Blake’s All-Natural Foods.
Families have a harder time figuring out which big food companies own which brands, and whether they are getting a good deal when the same company sells the same product under many brand names. For example, ConAgra sells one-fifth of U.S. margarine under its Blue Bonnet, Parkay and Fleishmann’s brands, and this deal would snap up Pinnacle’s Smart Balance and Earth Balance healthier margarine alternatives.
These food and agribusiness mega-mergers are heating up: there is a rumor that Kraft-Heinz is considering buying Campbell Soup, which would be one of the biggest food deals in history. Farmers and eaters need a break from this takeover tear. It’s time for Congress to put a stop to this wave of agribusiness and food mergers by establishing a moratorium on mega-mergers in the food system.