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More Plastic Packaging and Less Product–Are Wallaby and O Organics Simply Greenwashing?

Scott Cooney | Thursday January 7th, 2010 | 6 Comments

When an organic food retailer markets a product that looks and tastes similar to its competitors, but offers a lower price, one has to wonder, how do they do that?  In the organic yogurt field, where pioneers such as Stonyfield and small, local producers like Straus Family Creamery offer products side by side with lower cost competitors, such as Wallaby and O Organics, health conscious consumers are faced with a choice.  Pay 30 cents extra for Stonyfield, or pay 30 cents less for Wallaby?

So what’s the catch?  A cursory inspection of the Wallaby and O Organics labels shows all the right certifications.  They’re organic, and each promotes commitment to sustainable agriculture, sourcing locally, and offering healthy products.  Wallaby is even Kosher.  And when you’re holding a Stonyfield product in your right hand and a Wallaby product in your left, you’d never notice, unless you look really, really closely, that with Wallaby and O, you’re paying MORE per ounce of actual product, and in fact, what you’re buying is more plastic packaging, and less product.

At 27 ounces per container, Wallaby organic yogurt costs you 11.44 cents per ounce.  At 32 ounces per container, Stonyfield’s yogurt only costs you 9.44 cents per ounce.  (Calculations are based on shelf-research, with Wallaby at $3.09 and Stonyfield at $3.39 at my local store).

The question becomes, why would Wallaby and O Organics market a 27 ounce container at all?  With the market standard having been a 32 ounce container for as long as I’ve been buying yogurt, why would Wallaby and O Organics rock the boat and market a product that looks and feels almost identical, but offers less product and more plastic packaging?  Isn’t that counter to everything Wallaby puts on its label?  Not really.  As it talks about sustainable agriculture and sourcing from local farms, it says nothing about reducing its use of petrochemical packaging material.

Wallaby’s website contains a list of FAQ’s, and somehow, I didn’t see any that tasked: “Why do you sell your yogurt with more plastic and less product, and charge more per ounce than your competitors?  Aren’t you simply screwing other organic producers as well as your customers?”  One comes close, but seems to purposefully dance around the issue:

Does Wallaby Organic Yogurt come in a large size?

Yes, we currently offer four 27 oz size products…

(from WallabyYogurt.com)

Take a look at the container size/shape, proportions, lid size, and you’ll notice it very much resembles its 32 ounce competitors.  Is that a coincidence?  I’d be hard pressed to believe it.  I can picture the staff meeting at Safeway (O Organics is Safeway’s private label generic organic line) where a young go-getter suggested they create a 27 ounce package that looked and felt like one of the 32 ounce competitors it would sit next to.  Smiles and nods all around.  What happened at Wallaby?

It’s a nice reminder that social responsibility is more than offering an organic product.  Stonyfield Farms has a long track record of sustainable practices.  You’d be hard pressed to even fathom CEO Gary Hirschberg considering offering a product that has less product and more plastic, much less implementing such an unsustainable change.

Scott Cooney is co-founder of Green Business Village, a green business incubator, and author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill)


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  • Jen Boynton

    cool post! The Consumerist calls this “Grocery Shrink Ray”

  • http://www.WallabyYogurt.com/ Ava

    Dear Scott,
    Thank you for your comments on our product. We pride ourselves on being responsive to our customers and welcome all feedback, both praise and constructive criticism. The dialogue helps us to make a better product and to become a more responsible company.

    We started making the large size yogurts early on in our history, when we were a very small company. At that time, with our low volume production, we could not get any assistance or attention from US cup suppliers. So we bought our cups from a Canadian supplier who was much more willing to work with start-up companies. The most common large size cup yogurt in Canada (and actually in the rest of the world), is the 750g cup (26.5oz). That is why we ended up with a 27oz large size yogurt rather than the traditional 32oz size. Since that time we have grown, and are now able to buy cups from a U.S. supplier, which has reduced the shipping distance.

    Your point that the 27oz size can be deceptive to the consumer is well taken. That was never our intention. We have recently been taking steps to change our processes, so that we can produce a 32oz size. We are close to having completed these adjustments and in the coming months will convert our 27oz products to 32oz sizes. Wallaby should be available in 32oz sizes by this summer.

    Thank you again; we appreciate your feedback and hope you will reach out to us in the future, should you have any comments regarding our products.

    Sincerely,

    Jerry Chou
    President
    Wallaby Yogurt Company

  • Kurt

    I'm impressed with Wallaby's reaction, posted in the comments here. In this instance, I'm willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt and applaud their efforts. Thanks Wallaby!

  • Kurt

    I'm impressed with Wallaby's reaction, posted in the comments here. In this instance, I'm willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt and applaud their efforts. Thanks Wallaby!

  • Scott Cooney

    Dear Wallaby,
    This response is terrific, and I do see 32 oz varieties of Wallaby on my store shelves. I’ve resumed buying Wallaby, and this experience has taught me that companies like yours are great ones worthy of our support. (plus, you make a darn good yogurt). 

    I’m actually using this example in my class. I teach sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and teach workshops across the state for business leaders. http://www.GBOGroup.com/workshops/  Kudos to you… you’ve earned this positive recognition. 

    -Scott Cooney

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  • amleo

    Wallaby is a company that doesn’t compromise ethics just to shave pennies off the products. What you’re paying for their product is what you SHOULD be paying for yogurt. Don’t forget that Stonyfield is owned by Danone.