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

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…


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)

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.