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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Jeff & Sabrina Nelson | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

White Wave & Chocolate Silk
by Jeff & Sabrina Nelson

September 18, 2001 -- People have written to us asking about White Wave recently, the company that makes Silk soymilk, and we'd like to give our perspective.

Our view boils down to this: We feel that White Wave is a terrific company that makes great products, and they deserve every bit of success they've garnered.

We have met the president, Steve Demos, and a number of people who work for White Wave, and we feel these are decent, honest people. We have never received any advertising dollars from Silk, by the way, or any consideration from White Wave in any form.

We had a few conversations with an executive with White Wave about certain issues people have recently written to us about. We found White Wave to be credible and truthful. We are sharing our opinions on this issue because we believe that if you're evaluating or criticizing a company, vegetarian or otherwise, being fair is of crucial importance.

Specifically, we investigated five issues surrounding White Wave:

  • their investors
  • a voluntary product recall last year
  • OSHA fines from February 2000
  • the source of their chocolate, and
  • allegations that White Wave lied in a press release last year.

Investors

A company called Dean Foods, which produces dairy products, is an investor in White Wave. A large company called SUIZA, which also markets dairy and soymilk products, wants to merge with Dean. This possible merger is currently before the US Justice Department. White Wave has said they do not want their stock to be transferred to SUIZA, and they have a clause in their agreement with Dean Foods which gives them the right to repurchase their stock if Dean were to merge with a company which has a competing soymilk product, as SUIZA does.

In any case, we find it in no way offensive that a dairy company like Dean Foods has opted to diversify into soymilk products like White Wave. This could be a good sign when a dairy business is investing in what they perceive as a growing market -- non-dairy soymilk beverages. In fact, we WANT dairy companies to change their ways. We also want their distribution capabilities to be put to work for good veg products, making them more readily available to consumers. After all, consumers can't try it if they can't buy it.

So this is a non-issue for us.

Voluntary Product Recall for Silk

In August of 2000, White Wave issued a recall of a batch of soymilk in Canada because White Wave's own stringent testing procedures had discovered traces of dairy in the product. The dairy contamination was caught by the company itself as part of its standard quality assurance practices, prompting the company to issue an immediate voluntary recall of that batch. We feel their conduct in this instance was exemplary.

The reason there were traces of dairy in this particular batch is that White Wave uses equipment to process its soymilk which is also used by another company to process dairy products. The machines are cleaned and tested before White Wave uses them, and the product is tested to insure there is no trace of dairy. In the 12 months since the Canadian recall, White Wave has had no other recalls.

How do we feel about White Wave sharing processing equipment with dairy producers? It's clean. That's main thing that matters to us. It also makes it affordable for White Wave to put out a great product to many outlets, and at an affordable price for consumers.

It is not unusual for veg companies to share equipment with dairy processors, since many can't afford to own this kind of equipment on their own. Moreover, we eat out at restaurants, especially vegetarian restaurants. Although we're vegan, we use the silverware, plates and glasses which may have been used by other customers to eat dairy products or eggs. This is not a problem for us because the dinnerware has been cleaned before we use it. The same goes for the pots and pans which our vegan food may be cooked in at a restaurant. The same pot may have been used to cook something with dairy products, but since it's been cleaned before it's used to cook our food -- just as White Wave cleans its equipment before making Silk -- it's not a problem for us.


 



OSHA Fines

We were also told that White Wave had been fined $100,000 for "willful" and "serious" violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

On investigation we found that the cited OSHA violations (for such things as not inspecting a hoist for defects and failing to have proper electrical circuit breakers in certain areas or required hearing or eye protection for some employees) were remedied by White Wave within 7 days of OSHA's inspection (OSHA had given them 15 days to fix the problems).

White Wave also appealed OSHA's findings, and the OSHA fine was reduced from $100,000 to $33,750, and the violations which had initially been listed as "willful" were downgraded to "serious." The violations in question took place in February of 2000, about 19 months ago.

This information is publicly available on OSHA's website, which shows no violations by White Wave since then.

If being cited by OSHA is grounds for boycotting a company, then we would have to call for boycotts of Morning Star, Whole Foods, Earth's Best vegan organic baby food, and Jamba Juice -- all of which appear from quick searches on OSHA's site to have been cited at one time or another.

In fact, most veg and vegan companies have never even been inspected by OSHA because they are too small an operation or no one has made a complaint which could trigger a worker safety inspection.

Source of Silk Chocolate

We received a few emails from people claiming that chocolate used in Silk is grown on slave plantations on Africa's Ivory Coast. However, no one has provided a shred of evidence that this is true. It appears to be little more than a baffling Internet rumor no one can substantiate.

We asked Silk about this rumor and they said that they are very concerned about the issue of slave labor, and would never knowingly purchase chocolate produced under such conditions. They said this accusation is false, that this would be the opposite of everything their company stands for.

We will soon be featuring a fascinating article on VegSource on the slave labor issue, but as far as White Wave purchasing slave labor chocolate, they say it is simply not true. Just as we would do for anyone, we give White Wave the benefit of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. And again, we were unable to find any evidence whatsoever that White Wave uses chocolate produced by slave labor.

White Wave Lies in Press Release?

There is also a rumor apparently circulating that White Wave put out a false press release. The press release is reported to have stated that in a consumer test, White Wave was preferred to Hershey's chocolate cow's milk by 100% of consumers. This is claimed to be a lie, apparently, because allegedly the test was not administed on "consumers" but on a group which is employed by Good Housekeeping. In other words, White Wave was not preferred by "consumers" but by an independent testing team at Good Housekeeping.

However we are unable to confirm that White Wave *did* lie, because no one has been able to provide us with a copy of the allegedly false press release and the other infomation which would show it to be false.

All we were able to find was this quote from an article about White Wave: "...the Silk chocolate soymilk brand beat Hershey's chocolate milk in a taste test conducted by Good Housekeeping magazine earlier this year."

So at this point we can't confirm or even evaluate this Internet rumor.

Frankly, even if this were be shown to be true, if this were the most grave "lie" that could be dug up on White Wave or their PR company, this is clearly not on the scale of the kind of lies put out by Monsanto, the dairy or beef industry. This seems to us to be making a mountain out of a molehill. There is no comparison to the puffery of this alleged White Wave "lie" (that "consumers" preferred the taste when it was actually "Good Housekeeping consumer testers" which preferred it) and the dangerous, nefarious deceit of some of the food and chemical industry.

This accusation against White Wave sounds more like an argument about semantics than any real issue. But again, even on locating the source of the rumor, we were unable to obtain any documentation to evaluate or confirm it.

The irony of leveling specious allegations against White Wave is that the truth appears to be this is a company which operates with integrity and is trying to improve life on the planet, not harm it.

Here is some interesting background about White Wave, from their website:

In 1977, after traveling through India and other parts of the east for three years, and spending eight weeks meditating in California, Steve Demos founded White Wave. He began by making tofu in a bucket and delivering it to local stores in a little red wagon. Really. But making soyfoods that actually taste great, coupled with Steve’s entrepreneurial talents and his belief in "business without guilt," has made White Wave one of the largest manufacturers of soyfoods in the country, and we’re growing at an annual rate of 20 percent.

In 1996, we introduced Silk (the first nationally distributed, refrigerated soy beverage) on the hunch that Americans were thirsty for a healthy, great-tasting milk alternative. We thought that if people were able to buy soymilk in a convenient carton, right from the refrigerated section of their regular grocery store, they would. And once they tried it, they’d see just how good it tastes and how easy it is to incorporate soy into their diets. Silk is now the fastest-growing soymilk on the market and the top-selling fresh soymilk, proving that playing a hunch sometimes pays off!

 
 

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