(Logo: Creative Commons; illustration: Lauren Wade)
A six-ounce box of Annie’s Homegrown macaroni and cheese runs about $2, if you’re buying it online. Yesterday, General Mills bought the 25-year-old company for the equivalent of 410 million boxes of its signature product—the second-best-selling boxed mac and cheese in the country. The $820 million purchase put Annie’s in the food giant’s ever-growing portfolio of organic brands, including Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen. It’s a trend that, as the infographic below shows, is echoing across the industry.
The Annie’s Homegrown brand has long been seen as a healthier version of the corporate, chemical-orange alternative; it has been a big business in its own right. But it has balanced multimillion-dollar sales figures—$204 million in 2013, up 20 percent from the previous year—with a mission “to cultivate a healthier, happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet,” as a 2012 filing with federal security regulators, ahead of its IPO, read.
“So much of Annie’s appeal was its ethical flavor,” Jesse Doris wrote at Slate last October. “Buying the bunny meant supporting small farmers, and macaroni and cheese became an act of subversion—sticking a fork into pasta was sticking it to The Man!” She goes on to tell of a more grassroots investor campaign the company launched in 1994, when Annie’s included “notices of the direct public offering alongside the sauce packets and shells in all the bunny’s boxes.”
Throughout the years, the company increased its social commitments as its sales boomed. While General Mills did recently announce new measures to limit its carbon emissions, it’s not known for championing causes other than the bottom line. So while the ingredient labels on a box of Annie’s mac and cheese will surely remain the same—the company’s CEO tells KQED it will continue to support organic and sustainable farms—the philosophy behind the purple bunny box is likely to change.