Sunday, April 21, 2024

Choices, choices but not really

OUR grocery stores seem to have an abundance of all types of foods, skincare, and cosmetics, from seemingly hundreds of different brands. Lucky us?

Well, it might scare you a little to know that most of what you buy from the supermarket is mostly funnelled into 10 different food companies. A bit of a monopoly isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Let me show you what I have found.

Let’s start with Nestle.

Nestle owns more than 2000 brands — in over 186 countries. For example, it owns over 50 different types of bottled mineral water. In Bolivia and Venezuela, it practically owns the chocolate retail with over 10 different chocolate brands in stores under its name. Their range of products goes from beverages to chilled and frozen foods, to cereals, baked goods, seasonings, petcare, performance nutrition, healthcare nutrition, instant food and much more.

Fun fact, did you know Starbucks is owned by Nestle, which also produces over 20 different types of instant coffee?

Another fun fact, Nestlé also owns 23.29 per cent of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company, whose brands include Garnier, Maybelline, Lancôme and Urban Decay.

While we have government agencies tasked with stopping monopolies amongst local businesses here in Malaysia we allow giant monopolies to slip in and dominate our stores.

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It gets worse. There are nine more such giant monopolies on FOOD.

The merger of a margarine producer and soap maker is today Unilever, one of the world’s largest and oldest consumer goods businesses, producing personal care, home care … and food products, with a portfolio of over 400 brands available in 190 countries.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez are the other eight companies that have the lion’s share of the food market in all cities around the world.

See, when you start living in a city, you are cut off from all sources of food and water except what you get from supermarkets. We have no clue how to grow even a tomato or rear chickens, which we did when I was a kid. Today, only folks in faraway farmlands get to grow their foods, vegetables, poultry and dairy and so they are the ones who have the best choice. We city folks aren’t that lucky.

Every human being has a basic fundamental right to access clean, good food of our choice with healthy competition so that food does not become exorbitant nor restrictive to just whatever monopolies put out there for us to eat.

Monopolies like these are why junk food gets cheaper while quality organic food farmed by private local farmers becomes so expensive. It’s almost as if authorities are encouraging bad eating habits to help giant multinationals make us sicker and make us pay higher and higher insurance for higher and higher medical bills for problems created by sugar and bad food monopolies.

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But join me as we go down the rabbit hole, to understand that all of these 10 companies have two main shareholders that seem to keep popping up, which makes the monopoly even more worrying.

PepsiCo’s three main shareholders are Vanguard at 9.4 per cent Black Rock at 8 per cent and State Street at 4.2 per cent.

Nestle’s main shareholder is Vanguard at 3.54 per cent with Black Rock Fund Advisors coming in at a collective 2.2 per cent.

The largest shareholders in Unilever are Black Rock and Vanguard too.

The third largest shareholder in Danone at 3.225 per cent is The Vanguard Group. The highest shareholder is Danone itself at 5.34 per cent.

The Vanguard Group collectively with its subfiler, own most of Coca-Cola with a collective 16.3 per cent, with Berkshire Hathaway (owned by Warren Buffet) a close second at 9.252 per cent. State Street which is also one of Nestle’s third largest shareholders, owns the third largest shares in Coca-Cola.

The largest shareholders in Mondelez include Vanguard Group Inc, BlackRock Inc., State Street Corp, VTSMX — Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Price T Rowe Associates Inc /md/, VFINX — Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares… so yes, Vanguard stands out as the main shareholder there too.

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Blackrock Inc. is the largest individual General Mills shareholder, owning 56.48M shares representing 9.94 per cent of the company.

The second largest equity holder in Kellogs is The Vanguard Group at 8.837 per cent.

Associated British Foods also sees Blackrock and Vanguard as its top 10 major shareholders.

Only Mars seems to be privately owned by the Mars family.

When you have most of the food products you buy from your supermarket owned by 10 companies and then you realise that 9/10 of these companies have two companies as their major shareholder, you start to realise that you are now living at the mercy of monopolies.

Now the big guys also buying up farmlands all over the world, forcing farmers to sell their lands, give up old but gold ways of personalised farming, culling cows ….

I highly doubt this bodes well for us, the consumer.


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