Ten Corporations Control Most Things We Buy

Check out this interesting chart. It shows how many of the products we regularly buy at grocery/department stores all come from one of ten corporations.

I know what some of you are thinking: “This isn’t interesting. It’s unfortunate that ten mega-companies are in control of all that commerce.” The author of the website I where I found this image thought so as well.

This chart does indeed tell a story of conglomeration. But aside from the interesting family tree aspect of these brands, the conglomeration which concerns people isn’t inherently bad. It creates large entities which people fear, but it also signifies streamlining and teamwork which leads to efficiency, higher productivity, lower prices for consumers, and higher standards of living for people in the United States. But many people miss this, and will simply deflect any benefit by pointing out the potential harm in this arrangement.

It doesn’t have to be so dramatic.

Teaming up for survival is human nature. Just as small companies gravitate toward large ones, so, for example, do citizens in small towns gravitate toward larger area towns. My hometown of Blackduck, MN used to have its own car dealership, drive in restaurant, and clothing store. Now everyone from Blackduck (and Walker, Cass Lake, Kelliher, Northome, and other small regional communities) goes to the hub, Bemidji. Because of this centralization, Bemidji now offers more retail options than ever before: Target and Walmart, Menards and Home Depot, and with these come countless dining and entertainment options–many new restaurants, a renovated multiplex movie theater, a new bowling alley, etc. And just like Bemidji can now offer more to the area residents because of the conglomeration of local commerce, so can these companies do more by pooling their resources. Would it be bad if these ten corporations in this chart were merged into one? Sure. But to only see conglomeration as a threat is missing the whole picture: the bad and the good.

And just like there are these natural processes that encourage consolidation, so are there ones fighting it. Many people in Blackduck don’t want to travel a half hour for groceries, so there’s Blackduck Family Foods. People will decide how far they will go for what they want and need, and the result are the options provided. More related to the chart, while corporations are benefited by their size, they are also simultaneously plagued by waste and inflexibility. When you’re driving a battleship, you can’t divert course very easily. So you maintain direction, and when change needs to be made, it’s the small and independent and the start-ups that have the advantage like a speedboat dodging icebergs–which sometimes the titanic companies hit.

In summary, there’s an equilibrium that both encourages consolidation, but also rewards maneuverability. This can get out of whack, but it’s a lot easier to gauge when this equilibrium is out of whack when you recognize both sides of it. So look at the chart again with objective eyes and enjoy.


2 Responses

  1. Ali N

    brandon why do you think has that this shift occurred?
    and How does it impact marketing for these larger companies?
    how does this affect consumer behaviour, purchasing decisions, targeting and/or segmentation?

    1. I think it’s occurred because large companies like to buy little one to expand their portfolio of offerings. Little companies usually don’t turn down a generous offer unless they think they can make it on their own and don’t want to dilute their control, brand, direction. (i.e. Redbull) I’m not sure how is affects marketing. What did you have in mind? Your last question is a biggie, but I some consumers prefer the lower prices that come with conglomeration while others don’t like “corporate” food.

What say you?