Opinions

Conglomerates make it difficult to know who your money is really supporting

Photo Illustration by Mico Mazza

Picking a single bag of junk food among the seemingly endless options at the grocery store can be a challenge. But your options are much more limited than you think.

Whether you settle on a bag of Doritos, Fritos, Ruffles, Munchies, Smartfood, Rold Gold pretzels or SunChips, you will have purchased a product by the Frito Lay Company.

Even more surprising is that Frito Lay is only one of several brands belonging to PepsiCo. The conglomerate also owns Tropicana, Quaker, Gatorade, and Pepsi-Cola. Explaining just how many products PepsiCo sells is nearly impossible, but I’m alarmed that I’ve unknowingly shown my unflinching loyalty to PepsiCo for years.

Consumer choice has become nothing more than an illusion fed to us by the world’s largest companies. It’s a problem that should concern us as consumers and one that we should be keen to address.

The illusion of choice gives us a false sense of empowerment. We believe we can enter a store and choose a product based on criteria that are important to us, such as price, origin, and quality. It also allows us to favour companies we believe act responsibly and shun the ones we view as immoral and profit-driven. But what happens when the lines between these companies disappear?

The Dove and Axe brands are both owned by a multinational consumer goods company called Unilever. While Dove appeals to women in commercials like its Real Beauty Sketches, which ends with the line, “You are more beautiful than you think,” Axe targets men in its highly misogynistic commercials that typically include a dozen half-naked women chasing after a single man.

Consumers can’t make educated choices regarding these products when they don’t know how closely knit companies are.

But choice does more than simply empower consumers. Capitalists claim market competition benefits us because it drives prices down, while ensuring product quality remains high. That makes sense in a truly competitive market, but in today’s world it’s a joke. Whether it’s Doritos or Tostitos having a sale, the bottom line profit is going to PepsiCo who establish the price and quality of both.

This problem is likely only going to get worse, as demonstrated by the recent acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart by Loblaw Companies. The battle for the market is no longer between David and Goliath. Goliath now owns David.

In a Globe and Mail article from earlier this year, Sylvain Charlebois explained that Loblaw’s $12.4- billion purchase of Shoppers would help it ward off its biggest menace: Wal-Mart. Loblaw already owns several stores, including Zehrs, Valu-Mart, Fortinos and NoFrills, and is considered the largest food company in Canada.

The fact that a chain grocery store is so overwhelmingly successful it feels threatened by a department store is bad news for local stores trying to compete and consumers looking for the lowest price.

I’m no economist, and the relationship between a parent company and its subsidiaries is complicated. But next time you’re in the junk food aisle at a grocery store, think about how little personal choice comes in to play.