What are some ubiquitous indie grocery items?
August 17, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I just saw the Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox documentary (great stuff!) and was amazed that they haven't been bought out by a conglomeratated foodstuffs megacorp.

I was wondering what else I might find on my shelves with an origin like Dr. Bronner's. A big company to be sure, but independent and focused on a single brand. I looked in the pantry and also found Tabasco, which appears to be independently produced.

The question is: What else is there in the grocery category like this that is easily found on the shelves of many large supermarkets throughout the US?

NOT looking for regional specialties, fresh foods/produce, or faux indie stuff like Ben and Jerry's (they may still be in VT but are owned by a giant conglomerate).
posted by quarterframer to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Tom's of Maine
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2010

In 2006, a controlling 84% stake in Tom's of Maine was purchased by Colgate-Palmolive for US $100M. The Chappells kept a 16% share in the company. The terms of the purchase stipulate that Tom's of Maine's policies will be retained.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:06 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Threeway Handshake - the Wikipedia article you linked points out that Colgate-Palmolive bought an 84% of Tom's of Main in 2006. I'd say that qualifies as "faux indie".

Still good toothpaste though.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:09 AM on August 17, 2010

Whoops, sorry spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:10 AM on August 17, 2010

Bob's Red Mill?
posted by neushoorn at 10:14 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

How would you classify marketing co-ops? I love Cabot Cheese, which is part of a much larger farmers co-op. Dairy cooperatives seem to be relatively common - Tillamook, for one.
posted by muddgirl at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

At the polar opposite of the Ben & Jerry's "faux-indie" example, many people are surprised to learn that Yuengling is independently (and privately) owned, and not widely available outside of the East coast.

On the same page, up until last month, the entirety of Aldi was owned by two guys, one of whom also owned the entirety of Trader Joes.
posted by schmod at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seventh Generation seems to be privately held.

Ecover was solely owned by Jörgen Philip-Sörensen, at least until he died this past January. Don't know who owns the company now.
posted by The Michael The at 10:25 AM on August 17, 2010

You do know that Bronner was kinda an eccentric dude (with a rather tragic history) , right?

Also...the Tabasco company in LA has their own island and there are some families who haven't left the island for generations.

I think what you need to search for are weird non-financially-motivated things that companies do, and you'll find what you're looking for.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:30 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by candyland at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2010

This may help you parse the faux from the real.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:34 AM on August 17, 2010

Many agricultural marketing co-ops are privately held, such as Blue Diamond, Sun-Maid, Ocean Spray, and Land O'Lakes.
posted by bgrebs at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2010

These are great so far, thank you!

Tom's is exactly the faux-indie type I want to avoid. Majority ownership by a conglomerate disqualifies. Same with Stonyfield.

@schmod, delicious, yes, but falls under regional. Good point though, a lot of independent breweries and vineyards are widely available.

@hal_c_on, yes, the aforementioned documentary makes that pretty clear! Not to mention all these decades reading the labels.

FWIW, I'm not making a value judgement on any of these companies or indie-ness in general, but I find it amazing that some survive and even thrive against the grain and I would like to explore what they have to offer.
posted by quarterframer at 10:43 AM on August 17, 2010

I would look for regional dairy goods. Milk can't transport too far, of course, especially when it's only minimally treated. So look for funky labels and glass bottles from local family farms. Once you find the milk brands, cheese is an easy jump. Easiest way to find them would be to google "independent creamery <state_name>".
posted by Alt F4 at 10:50 AM on August 17, 2010

Zatarain's? Is that available US wide?

The company would have to be large enough to supply across the US, but small and/or focussed enough to remain independent and under the radar-- a tough combination.
Good question!
posted by travertina at 11:01 AM on August 17, 2010

Niman Ranch was like this until 2007, when Bill Niman left the company.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:05 AM on August 17, 2010

Tom's of Maine was bought out years ago. Bragg's of the apple cider vinegar, methinks is still family run.
posted by watercarrier at 11:35 AM on August 17, 2010

Only one of these is a food item, but:

King Arthur Flour!

Tom Bihn bags!

The original L.L. Bean Maine hunting boots!
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:36 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Zatarain's? Is that available US wide?

World Wide actually, especially after being bought out by McCormick spice company.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2010

Tony's on the other hand is a different story.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:40 AM on August 17, 2010

Newman's Own is still family run.
posted by watercarrier at 11:43 AM on August 17, 2010

Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha
posted by brand-gnu at 11:52 AM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

How about Hershey? It's a publicly traded company but a controlling interest is held by the Milton Hershey Trust (for the benefit of the Milton Hershey School for underprivileged kids;) it has bought other companies but isn't exactly a conglomerate. And, they do only candy (the other Hershey-named things, like the themepark, are all separately run by the Hershey Entertainment and Sports Company.)
posted by SMPA at 11:54 AM on August 17, 2010

Chick-O-Stick! Since 1932! (Note: notionally a food, but since nobody eats them, this remains technically unverified.)
posted by Skot at 12:00 PM on August 17, 2010

Lots of well-known candy companies are still independent - Ferrara Pan (Lemonheads), Just Born (Mike and Ikes, Peeps), and Jelly Belly, to name a few.
posted by theodolite at 12:55 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The history of Penzeys Spices might interest you. Their own website is here.
posted by trip and a half at 3:39 PM on August 17, 2010

I'll put together a shopping list and see what I can really find on the shelves.

For any new contribs that come along: Non-food items are OK if they sit on grocery shelves. Clothing items are not. A bunch of the regional items here get the buzzer because they're regional.

@bgrebs, that is awesome. Not initially what I was interested in but listworthy as a subcategory.

@The 10th, very cool chart for that particular category of foods. Somewhere I bet there's a giant one that shows all the brands of the last 50 years and which companies "ate" them. I wish I could find it, I feel like I've seen it...

Seventh Gen, Newman's, Hershey's are decent suggestions but I'm really looking for companies that are primarily known for one signature item, not entire product lines. I'll admit that is not entirely clear in my post. These are giant companies that make a lot of stuff, and some of them are things that are available at Whole Foods but probably not at the Hi-Vee in Davenport, IA (for example).

Thanks all.
posted by quarterframer at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2010

New Hope Mills pancake mix has a great history and great quality. I grew up on the stuff. Every Saturday Dad would make (and still does make) big piles of New Hope Mills pancakes. They're located in central NY but have decent distribution.
posted by carlh at 7:18 PM on August 17, 2010

Tootsie Roll Industries.
posted by bwanabetty at 10:18 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does Fresherized Foods count? They make Wholly Guacamole (and Salsa and a few other things) but I'm not sure how to find out more about their ownership or whatever.
posted by pyjammy at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2010

Peace Cereals
posted by invisible ink at 5:17 PM on August 18, 2010

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