5 Authentic Products That Are Secretly Made By Corporations
People trust small companies for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we want to support the little guy. Sometimes we want quality that can only be produced in small batches. Personally, I'm just looking for more things to feel superior about. Whatever your reasons, it is annoying to find out that your artisanal pizza rolls aren't actually made by Mama Totino; they're made by a multinational corporation that goes to great lengths to make their mass-produced, robot-built products look handcrafted.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of that going on. It's like you can't even trust product marketing anymore. Take, for example ...
Most Popular Craft Beers
Craft beers exploded in the last decade, largely in response to the fact that Budweiser is so watery that it should be handed out in little paper cups to marathon runners. Pro tip for you: Researchers at MIT found that you can improve it by adding a couple drops of vinegar. Pro tip for Budweiser: Stop it.
Regardless, people wanted something that had been thoughtfully made to be appreciated, so craft beer took off like one of those toy rockets you fill with water and then pump up. Except filled with beer. Apologies to all college campuses and funeral homes for the fraternities who just adopted that as a new method for shotgunning booze.
"CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!"
There's a perception that most craft beers are owned by bearded hipsters trying to engineer a beer so hoppy it can start nuclear fission. While that may be true of the 1,700 small breweries cataloged by the Brewers Association, you haven't heard of 1,697 of them. That's because you (understandably) don't want to sample hundreds of beers made in the basements of Linkin Park fans in order to find one good one. You just want to go to the grocery store and grab a six-pack that will make your brother-in-law respect you.
Gigantic beer companies are aware of this, so they've tried to get into niche markets. Budweiser tried making more specific types than simply "beer," but got lackluster results. So instead they have been buying up the competition, turning once-beloved breweries into pod people versions of their former selves.
Today, most craft beers that get distribution are drone brands controlled by one of the beer giants. For example, Anheuser-Busch InBev owns 200 brands and has a controlling share in many of your favorites. They're a company so big that they categorize Busch as a "local brand." The only way Busch is a local brand for you is if your address is "every frat house in America."
What you don't see is that all that ice is packed in a bathtub.
These companies are fighting such an uphill battle with their image that when they acquired Elysian, they had them keep the slogan "Corporate Beer Still Sucks." Budweiser is like an unpopular kid who pays a cool kid to hang out with them. But Bud can't even tell them to ease up on their sick burns, because it would look suspicious.
Cute Cleaning Products
A lot of the time, our desire for products made on a small scale is rooted in a distrust of large corporations. With all those moving parts, who knows what cost-cutting carcinogens they're putting in our hand soap? That's why customers are attracted to brands like Method. It isn't some big, faceless corporation. It's just two unsupervised guys messing around with industrial chemicals. Wholesome!
A good example is Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products. They have done very well marketing themselves as an eco-friendly, independent supplier of cleaners without the harsh chemicals. Their branding is so good that even the name brings to mind a sweet old lady who uses homemade vinegar to clean everything. Plus, they have an endearing retro label with bright colors and too much text. It looks like a cleaner made by a quaint, kindhearted person who really cared about making the world a better place.
It seriously looks like a middle school consumer ed final project.
By that, I don't mean it looks like it was made by a hypothetical whimsical do-gooder. I mean it looks like a ripoff of an actual soap made by a real whimsical do-gooder:
The number-one rule to make your product look homemade: shitty packaging.
If this were an article about a TV show, we'd clearly be on the verge of a really obvious reveal that Dr. Bronner and Mrs. Meyer are siblings. Instead, this is an article about how Mrs. Meyer's and Method and the like are trying to insinuate that they're like Dr. Bronner's. They aren't. They're owned by SC Johnson and Ecover, respectively.
These companies are trying to use sleight of hand to trick us into thinking that's what they're selling, as though we're a bunch of idiots. Well, I've got news for them: We are a bunch of idiots. Too idiotic to realize that treating us this way is perfectly reasonable.
The inside of an egg carton may contain eggs, but the outside reads like they're selling you weapons-grade "aw shucks." They've got handwritten fonts and cartoons of chickens that look they were drawn by the horse-damaged Wilson boy from down the road. And this goes along with our picture of the organic egg farm as a small, local, rustic operation. The very idea of having an organic egg farm on an enormous scale is hard to picture. Why, it'd take up all of these here United States!
In truth, odds are that if you're buying organic eggs, they are coming from a large-scale farm with legions of layers. It can be tough to verify how big an individual egg producer actually is, because they are protected like military research facilities. That's why a nonprofit watchdog group used aerial photos to estimate that there are about 100,000 birds house in this facility, and that the farm is licensed for one million (note the semi-trailers in the foreground for scale):
And if eggs ever go out of style, the buildings can be used to make actual semis.
Egg farms are doing everything they can to seem like mom and pop operations, but they are actually secretive, amoral, coldly efficient entities ... actually, I take it back, that very much reminds me of my mom and pop.
If there's one thing in your life that absolutely must be handcrafted in small batches, it is your healthy juices. Healthy juices like Naked or Zico coconut water are life-extending tonics gifted to us by Mother Nature. Any sins committed against the temple that is your body can be cleansed with enough juices sold by manic pixie dream girls. But one must beware, for there are evil, mass-produced juices, like Minute Maid or Tropicana. These are abominations before juice, and will cause the drinker to wither up like the guy who chose the wrong cup in Last Crusade. Or worse, they may make you fat.
If you think you've figured out the pattern to this article and that I'm going to tell you that Naked and Zico are actually owned by Minute Maid and Tropicana, you're dead wrong. Both Minute Maid and Zico are owned by Coca-Cola, while both Tropicana and Naked Juice are owned by Pepsi. Sometimes, life can surprise you by being slightly worse than you expected.
In America, we call this "cow juice."
It isn't just these two. A lot of little boutique juices are owned by huge beverage companies (as you'd expect, because they are huge beverage companies), but have somehow convinced people that they are made only from fruit plucked only by singing virgins and cold-pressed only by sages whispering the eightfold path. In fact, they are sugar water, and therefore are mostly controlled by America's largest sugar water purveyors: the soda companies.
Burt's Bees has as humble a beginning as you might expect. Beekeeper Burt Shavitz picked up a hitchhiker named Roxanne Quimby, they read a book about old-timey beeswax remedies, and they started selling skincare products guaranteed to leave your skin as silky smooth as a bee's. Their story is laid out on the company site, along with their commitment to taking care of their fellow man, making the world a better place, and never selling out so that people use their company in comedic listicles. Over all of it is old Burt's face, looking peaceful but like he knows some hidden, deep truth.
"The bees ... they can impregnate your mind."
By all accounts, Burt was never in it for the money and wanted nothing more than a little house, some land, and peace and quiet. That's good, because when he was forced out of his company, which was later sold to Clorox, he got less than half a percent of the sale. In retrospect, that gives a different read to his face on the label:
"I've made a huge mistake."
As much as Clorox would like to imply otherwise, after 1994, Burt had as much say in the company as the bees. He didn't use the products or have a high opinion of Clorox. His company and his face are just a mask that Clorox is allowed to do anything they want with.
I'm not saying that just because a larger company buys a smaller one, they're necessarily going to ruin it. Cracked got bought by Scripps, and it hasn't changed in any way because of their incredible news coverage or the way their thriving broadcast business work side by side with emerging digital brands. My point is just that the fake homemade aesthetic is a particularly odious type of bullshit. I don't want to be lied to about whether or not hippies made the product I'm buying. I want to be lied to about how handsome I look while buying it.
Aaron Kheifets is an occasionally mustachioed comedian, writer, and director. You are allowed to follow him on Twitter and look at his website.
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