A Kit Kat

Who rules your plate? The world’s biggest food companies and what they produce

Food glorious food. The bounty of the Earth. True, but did you know that just a few big companies control a large proportion of what we eat. Dale Shaw looks at eight of them and finds out just what they produce (um, everything?)

Food. We all eat it, we all like it. But where does it come from? Well there’s the ground, trees, farms, animals… and huge, massive multinational conglomerates. In fact, just a handful of companies produce the vast majority of the world’s food and create a baffling array of brands. Here are eight of the biggest hitters in the food world and the familiar consumables they make.


You think of Nestlé, you think of lovely, lovely delicious chocolate. And that was true when the company was founded in the late 19th century. But since then it’s expanded into the world’s biggest food producer, making favorites such as Kit Kat, Nescafé, Shredded Wheat, Aero, Vittel bottled water, Carnation milk, Smarties and Purina dog food. With 447 factories and 333,000 employees in 86 countries around the world, it is a humongous global player. 13.2 billion Kit Kats are sold annually worldwide and 418 are eaten every second. Every. Second.

Coca Cola

A Coca Cola coupon from the 19th century
The real thing... apparently

Invented by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton in 1886, Coke is as ubiquitous as Christmas or Kim Kardashian. You just can’t escape it. In terms of brand penetration, the folks at Coca Cola pretty much wrote the book. For instance, of the 55 billion beverages consumed every day (apart from water), 1.7 billion are Coca Cola drinks. Which is bonkers. And it’s not just the classic red and white can we’re talking about. There are 3,500 beverages (and 500 brands), from water to energy drinks. If a person wanted to drink a different one every day, it would take nine years to sample them all. But we don’t encourage you to give it a go.

Pepsi Co

Beyonce drinking a can of Pepsi
Beyoncé loves it

And, of course, if you’ve got Coke, you have to have Pepsi. It’s main bugbear and rival was also created by a pharmacist in 1893 and originally called ‘Brad’s Drink’ which isn’t very catchy at all. While Coca Cola have kept their world domination in the soft drink market, Pepsi have diversified, snapping up other snack companies such as Walkers crisps, Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, as well as Lipton Teas, Quaker Oats and Mountain Dew. And they love to advertise. Over the years stars such as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé and even Joan Crawford have shilled for the company.

Unilever Group

Posh Noodle (Image: © Hornall Anderson)

Unilever make EVERYTHING. Whatever you have on you, in you or you happen to be looking at is probably made by Unilever. Which makes sense when you realise they were formed by the merger of a margarine and soap company in 1930. As well as cleaning (both domestic and personal) products, they also make or own Brooke Bond tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Flora, Pot Noodle, Marmite, Bovril, Chicken Tonight and even I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Fourteen of their brands have sales of more than $1.3 billion a year. Over 150 million Pot Noodles alone are sold every year. All to students.


Three bottles of Budweiser
The king of beers. Really?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Budweiser? The self-styled ‘King of Beers’? Well the parent company, Anheuser-Busch, has its corporate fingers in so many more alcoholic pies. As well as all the variants of Bud (Lite, Ice, Extra etc) it also makes Michelob, Rolling Rock and Landshark. And now it’s turned its financial sights on all those ‘craft’ and micro’ brews that you love. It has bought (or has investment/distribution deals) with Goose Island, Elysian, Four Peaks, Red Hook and a slew of others. That magical independent craft beer you’re slurping may actually be owned by one of the big boys. Soz.

Mondelez International, Inc.

Three bars of Dairy Milk chocolate
95% coco. No thanks.

It may not be a household name like Coke or Nestlé, but Mondelez has grown to be a major player in recent years. Gruesomely, the name is a combination of the words for ‘world’ and ‘delicious’ in various Romance languages. Right. However, it used to be Kraft, which began as a door-to-door cheese sales business over 100 years ago. Kraft still exists, owning Heinz, Maxwell House, Grey Poupon Mustard and Vegemite. Mondelez just takes care of the snacks, looking after Cadbury, Ritz crackers, Toblerone, Philadelphia cream cheese and those Belvita breakfast things. Around 350 million bars of Cadbury Dairy Milk are sold every year. That’s nearly a million a day.

Associated British Foods Plc

Three packets of Silver Spoon sugar
A spoonful of sugar...

Enough of all this Mondelez nonsense. Back to a company with a proper company name. Associated British Foods. Does what it says on the tin. Or does it? In fact, it makes a large chunk of its money making the stuff that goes INTO food: sugar, yeast and enzymes as well as owning clothing giant Primark. It’s food division produces Dorset Cereals, Jordans Cereals, Kingsmill bread, Ryvita, Ovaltine, Silver Spoon sugar and Twinings tea as well as many others. The company has the capacity to produce a staggering 5 million tonnes of sugar annually. Sweet.

Mars Inc.

A Mars bar
Helps you work, rest, play... and participate in the enrichment of a global food conglomerate

Mars right? They own Mars. Plain and simple. Let’s move on. Ah, but hold on a minute. As you may have guessed, Mars is responsible for so much more. Mars Inc. is one of the largest privately owned companies on the planet (Earth not Mars) though it’s owned by the Mars family. The backbone of the company is confectionery items such as Mars bars, Milky Ways, M&Ms, Skittles, Snickers, and Twix. But they also own Wrigleys gum, Dolmio pasta sauce, Uncle Ben’s rice, Combos crisps and Pedigree pet food. In 1981, M&Ms became the first sweet to be eaten in space, when they were included on board the Space Shuttle. On their way to Mars indeed.

And if all that's got you salivating, check out the BuzzFeed video below where Americans give their verdict in a Marmite vs Vegemite (or Unilever vs Mondelez) showdown.

Check out the rest of Economy Explores: Food

Recent articles

Reader Comments