When Locally Owned Biokleen Sells to Global Equity Firm

Abigail R. Harris
February 10th 2020

by Abigail Harris – Executive Director, Provender Alliance

I heard big news the other day that Pacific Northwest-based Biokleen sold to The Carlyle Group (via their subsidiary Weinman Products), one of the world’s largest equity firms with over $200 billion in assets.

I use Biokleen laundry powder and Bac-out stain remover. I first heard of their products from my cashier at the Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson when I lived there years ago. She was a mom and said the spray got baby food stains out like no other natural product. I’ve been using it ever since.

The news reminds me of when Unilever purchased Seventh Generation in 2016 for an estimated $700 million. My heart sank; I switched toilet paper brands.

A Provender survey of members in 2018 showed considerable concern about competition from the mega-corporations. This unease comes from both our manufacturers and natural food stores & co-ops.

These feelings make total sense; our members are like-minded in their commitment to the shared values of integrity and independence who are competing against corporations whose priority is stockholder profits.

Many of the visionary companies in the natural foods movement may want to sell, but they don’t want to “sell out”.

Is it inevitable that Big Food buys out and takes control of these companies and the natural products industry as a whole?

Not necessarily. Facing this dilemma are Larry and Sandra Jacobs; they run Jacobs Farm, the largest supplier of organic herbs in the U.S. and Del Cabo, a cooperative that produces tomatoes with nearly 1,000 small organic farms in Baja California.

In a search for a solution, last November they attended the first annual stakeholder meeting of the groundbreaking new business structure in the form of a Perpetual Trust (as reported in Civil Eats). The model, adopted by Provender member Organically Grown Company, sets out to “separate profit from purpose.”

Additional alternatives about how to thrive while sustaining purpose were presented by three Provender members speaking at the EcoFarm Conference in California:

Their voices demonstrate authentic leadership in our industry. This inspiration, education, and nourishment are what being part of the broader Provender community is all about.

When Provender members work together, the shared efforts, values, and kinship create momentum and a more substantial impact on our trade.