Category Archives: nestle

Nestle Greases Sacramento Skids: Hires Top Mayoral Advisor

In yet another example of Nestle’s penchant for moving quietly into town and recruiting advocates (long before the public’s aware of anything), the company has apparently – in a fairly naked display of influence buying – hired one of the Sacramento Mayor’s top advisors (found in the Chico News & Review):

Michelle Smira, one of Kevin Johnson’s top volunteer advisors, is leaving city hall, and going to work as a consultant for Nestle.

Smira gave her resignation last week, on October 22, and you can read her resignation letter below.

She told SN&R that she’s giving up her role as an official volunteer advisor to the mayor in order to work on Johnson’s strong mayor initiative. She also said that she was not leaving her City Hall role because of any legal conflict of interest, but because she would not otherwise have time to run her public relations business, MMS Strategies.

It just happens that MMS was hired, over the weekend, by Nestle Waters, to help win hearts and minds, and building permits, for its controversial water bottling plant in South Sacramento.

With the Sacramento mayor being one of the biggest boosters of the Nestle project – apparently willing to trade unlimited amounts of water for a handful of jobs (many of which are going to people outside of Sacramento) – it’s clear that Nestle knows whose skids need to be greased (they certainly did in McCloud & they’re certainly doing it right now in Fryeburg).

via Sacramento News & Review > Blogs > SNOG > Revolving door: One of the Mayor’s top advisors goes to work for Nestle > October 28, 2009.

Bad Public Process Follows Nestle Water Bottling Operation to Sacramento

While their claim to “good corporate citizenship” seemingly doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, it is true that Nestle Waters of North America certainly knows how to slink into town and cut a deal before the public is aware of anything.

It’s happened in almost every small town situation (and we’ve certainly mentioned it before) – and it’s happened again in the case of their Sacramento plant.

Not only was the economic development director apparently aiding the company in keeping their project secret, Nestle also took advantage of a (possibly illegal program) that allowed them to begin work on their plant before the necessary permits were issued (via the Sacramento Bee):

For three years, the city of Sacramento has allowed developers to start work on their projects before receiving formal permits.The practice, covered by the controversial Facilities Permit Program FPP, is now part of an expanding city investigation into the operations of its Community Development Department.

That investigation was launched after city officials said the son of a city councilman improperly allowed new homes to be built in the Natomas flood zone – months before permits for those homes were issued.

Questions about the permit program surfaced this week after city officials determined that construction of a new Nestlé water bottling plant was permitted to start with a verbal approval and authorization letter – and not a formal building permit.

You can read the whole post at Sacramento let developers get jump-start before formal permits – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee.

Nestle “Penchant For Secrecy” Questioned By Sacramento Residents

Nestle’s somewhat sorry reputation is dogging it wherever it goes – resulting in what a Sacramento economic development official called “a penchant for secrecy.”

This quote from a story in the Sacramento Bee nicely sums up a key part of the Nestle playbook:

In one e-mail in May, city Economic Development Manager James Rinehart refers to the company’s “penchant for secrecy.” In another, shortly after the signing of the lease in July, Rinehart wrote that the company still didn’t want its name revealed because it was “working on a press release that takes into account that there are some people opposed to bottled water firms.”

First, let’s be clear: it’s not simply bottled water that’s drawing the ire of activists; it’s Nestle’s predatory behavior elsewhere that is creating across-the-board opposition to the company.

Nestle’s “penchant for secrecy” is a direct result of the company’s “penchant” for doing the wrong thing (whether that’s suing a tiny town, or fighting to keep pumping water even after it’s clear they’re damaging the watershed, or attempting to subpoena the private financial records of opponents, or…)

That Nestle fought so hard to keep their project a secret isn’t a surprise – they’ve followed that practice from the very beginning, and if there’s any justice in the universe, they’re suffering the consequences of their prior actions.

After all, they have nothing to hide beyond that which they’ve done in the past…

Nestle Sacramento Project Served With “Stop Work” Order

Nestle Waters of North America should probably be looking for the “kick me” sign taped to its back; the warm reception it initially received in Sacramento has turned chilly, and in fact, questions about the project and the permits have turned into a “stop work” order issued to the company (via the Sacramento Bee):

The city of Sacramento has ordered food giant Nestlé to stop work on construction of a new bottled water plant in south Sacramento while the City Council decides whether to impose new planning requirements on such facilities.

The council is scheduled to vote tonight on whether to require special permits for beverage bottling plants – which means they would have to go through public hearings before the Planning Commission and council.

Whatever the outcome, Nestle now has to wonder if its reputation – which is not exactly sterling – will continue to dog it even when chasing plants in formerly Nestle-friendly locations. It’s likely, and if anybody’s earned it, its the predatory Nestle.

StopNestleWaters Taking a Monthlong Break

It’s a coincidence that a new adventure in my life dovetails so neatly with Nestle’s withdrawal from McCloud, but I’m going to be largely unavailable for several weeks, so I’m going to take a little hard-earned, 30-day break from this blog.

When StopNestleWaters.org began life, it was focused on a couple key goals:

  • Provide rural activists with access to information about Nestle Waters of North America’s tactics in other towns, so they knew what to expect – and what to watch for
  • Hold Nestle Waters of North America accountable for its actions, hopefully undermining the “every community likes us” and “we’ve never harmed an aquifer or watershed” spin that’s constantly broadcast by PR staff and on-the-ground operatives
  • Generate excellent search engine placings, so those searching for information about Nestle’s bottling activities will find more than Nestle’s corporate Web sites on the first page of Google’s organic search results

Through the nearly 450 articles I’ve posted, I’ve succeeded at the latter, though the first two goals have only been partially met.

That’s a function of a lack of time, though I am gratified that we had a hand in making Nestle’s actions in other communities a real issue in Chaffee County and (hopefully) Cascade Locks.

Still, fighting a multinational like Nestle – and its surrogates, including the CEI and the International Bottled Water Institute – is a lot like putting your head in a vise, turning the handle until everything goes black, then waking up and doing the whole thing again.

At some point, you need a break, which is where I’m at now.

In addition, my business is changing – as are my priorities around my time – and so I’m taking a break from StopNestle Waters until (possibly) the end of October. At that time, I’ll evaluate the site, the effort needed to sustain it, and make some decisions.

I want to thank everyone who provided information, links and alerts, and wish everyone the best of luck in their efforts. In addition, I fervently hope that Nestle stops playing games with rural communities and the people who live in them. The divisive tactics and demonization of opponents has left a trail of broken communities in Nestle’s wake, and truly wish they’d start to become the “good corporate neighbor” they pretend they are.

Fight the good fight,

TC

Sacramento Citizens Not Uniformly Happy About Nestle (SaveOurWaterSacramento.org)

Opposition to Nestle’s zero-public-input, no Environmental Impact Report water bottling operation in Sacramento, CA, is coming under increasing scrutiny.

First, a group has formed to ask the tough questions that apparently the city staff didn’t ask, like how does this fit into the city’s Sustainability Master Plan?

To find out more, visit SaveOurWatersSacramento.org.

Cosmo Garvin of the News & Review riffs on the project, identifying a whole host of issues:

It’s been two months since Nestlé Waters North America announced they plan to build a new bottling plant in Sacramento, where they’ll suck up millions of gallons of delicious Sacramento tap water every year, in order to sell it back to us in plastic at 1,000 times the price (see “Something in the water,” SN&R Bites, July 30).

Well, unlike some mayors that Bites knows, not everybody thinks this is such a great deal for Sacramento. Meet Kristie Harris, spokeswoman for Save Our Water, dedicated to, well, saving our water from corporate takeover. Or, barring that, she at least wants city leaders to ask some basic questions before selling out.

“Giving Nestlé access to unlimited amounts of our water in the third year of a drought is completely unacceptable. There’s been no public forum on this, no environmental impact report, no critical analysis at all.”

via SN&R > Columns > Bites > Going against the flow > 09.24.09.

Nestle’s Chaffee County Water Extraction Project Represents Bad Public Process

Everywhere Nestle’s water bottling operations go, bad public process seems to follow – as evidenced by this brilliant summation of the damaged approval process just concluded in Chaffee County, CO (found in the Salida Citizen news site, written by Lee Hart).

This excerpt from her lengthy post details the travails of citizens who waited hours to speak while Nestle received preferential treatment, broken promises, and a willingness to accept the unwritten promises of a multinational with a demonstrated inability to keep its good neighbor promises:

Over nine months of public hearings, hundreds of citizens passionately voiced their unambiguous opposition to Nestle. This, in the face of a hearing format that seemed biased in favor of giving Nestle every courtesy and consideration while on more than a few occasions showing visible irritation at testimony by local residents. In packed meeting rooms in Buena Vista and Salida, taxpaying voters waited patiently through inhumanely long meetings for their turn to speak out.

The commissioners allowed Nestle to run beyond their allotted agenda time by – on some nights – hours, yet when citizens went a few seconds over their 3-minute allotment of time at the microphone, Commission Chair Holman threatened to forcibly remove the speakers. The bias was apparent again today when in the waning moments before they unanimously agreed to approve Nestle, the commissioners haggled over language pertaining to a Nestle-funded community endowment.

In refusing the quantify – at all – Nestle’s annual programmatic contributions to the fund, the commissioners left it to Nestle – rather than the community – to define the dollar amount of philanthropic giving that constitutes being a “good neighbor.”

Face to face with a cadre of Nestle lawyers and high-priced experts, campaign promises by Giese and Holman, made less than a year ago, melted away as quickly as butter in August. Holman pledged that on his watch, no more water would leave this valley. How then could he sign a resolution permitting 65 million gallons to be sucked and trucked beyond county lines?

Giese famously said that green is the color of the future of this valley. How could Giese possibly interpret as good for green all the warnings thrown up by the county’s own consultants and referral agencies warning that Nestle could have negative impacts to surface water quantity and quality, groundwater quantity, air quality, wetlands and the plants and critters that depend on the riparian habitat.

Public opposition to Nestle boiled down to several key themes: Incontrovertible evidence prior to their arrival in Chaffee County and even during the public hearing process made it hard to believe Nestle could, without very specific legally binding stipulations, be the “good neighbor” they purport to be; the intentionally weak and sugar-coated science Nestle presented during its testimony belies lurking danger to surface and groundwater resources as well as riparian habitat that is bad for the longterm sustainability of the environment, as well as future economic development prospects for the valley. Even the county knows this as implied in the Special Land Use Permit where the county writes “Future development outside the subject parcels may impact the quality or quantity of spring water related to the Project.”

It would be naive to think Nestle won’t assign some of its vast resources to block any future housing or commercial development upgradient of its Bighorn and Ruby Mountain springs. It’s hard to imagine any small developer or business person being able to prevail against a fight waged by the world’s largest food and beverage maker.

You can read the rest of Hart’s original post here: Nestle in Chaffee County: Goliath 1, David 0; end or extra innings?.

Why Did Nestle Leave McCloud? Nestle’s “Truth” Isn’t Necessarily Mine

On a nice blog run by a seemingly very nice Nestle employee, the writer suggested he was “surprised” at some of the reasons he’d read as to why Nestle Waters of North America pulled their proposed water bottling operation out of McCloud.

In an effort to air the “truth” he offered up Nestle Waters CEO Kim Jeffries’ letter, and while I agreed that Jeffries’ letter was true as far as it went, I also said that it was far from the whole truth. My response to the gentlemen’s post is below.

I always get a little nervous when I see the word “truth” in relation to anyone’s press materials.

For what it’s worth, I believe that Mr. Jeffries’ letter is largely true – that fuel costs and changing market conditions made the switch to a Sacramento plant largely seamless.

Still, it’s far from the “whole” truth, and I think asking us to accept it as such is a little disingenuous.

I don’t know which of the theories and speculation surprised you, but I’d guess you’re referring to the “locals send Nestle packing” stories and posts.

You might feel that’s not true, but I think it’s an entirely factual statement to say that Nestle would be pumping, bottling and trucking water out of McCloud right now if a group of committed local residents hadn’t challenged Nestle’s first contract with the McCloud Services District in court.

That same group pointed out that Nestle’s first environmental impact report was entirely bereft of flow studies downstream of the water extraction point, and therefore didn’t measure a key environmental impact at all – which largely forced Nestle to abandon the first (and incomplete) EIR.

This is a simple truth.

I appreciate your willingness to entertain comments on your post, and I recognize I can’t know your perspective on this issue. For example, I can’t know if you experienced this whole process from a distance or from ground zero.

I’ve seen it unfold firsthand, and feel there are several other “truths” at work here that aren’t mentioned in Mr. Jeffries’ letter.

First, it’s true that Nestle is leaving the tiny town of McCloud in a divided, polarized state. It’s a painful thing to see neighbors (and even families) pitted against each other over this issue. Mr. Jeffries won’t refer to it as such in his letter (why would he), but I feel it’s part of a lingering reality about Nestle’s impacts on small, rural communities.

For example, it’s true that Nestle’s own representative repeatedly demonized plant opponents by characterizing them as “wealthy, out-of-town (San Francisco) fly fishermen” or as non-contributing newcomers to the area – terms guaranteed to fire up an “us vs them” mentality in a small community.

It’s also 100% true that Nestle repeatedly maintained they weren’t going to interfere in the local election process (I’m referring to the 2006 elections), but then wrote a check for $2500 to the pro-Nestle slate of candidates the day before the election – in one fell swoop dwarfing the amount of money raised by all other candidates (both pro and con). This largely put the sword to Nestle’s contention that it wasn’t going to “interfere” in the election.

It’s also “true” that Nestle’s legal council did attempt to gain access to the private financial records of opponents of Nestle’s bottling plant (some of whom were friends of mine). We can argue about the “truth” behind Nestle’s motives in that instance, but from here, it looked a lot like legal intimidation.

The above are all verifiable facts, and all led to my decision to found a Web site that attempts to hold Nestle accountable for its actions in small, rural towns.

In the twilight between verifiable “fact” and what is “probably” true lies a whole raft of messiness on both sides. This hasn’t been a pretty process, and while I hold Nestle 100% accountable for a fair amount of unsavory behavior, I also cringed at some of the wilder accusations leveled by opponents.

Nestle’s CEO says the company is leaving because of market conditions and fuel costs. Opponents claim a victory, and suggest Nestle was sent packing by a ragtag group of citizens. And just to muddy things further, I’ve read press releases from national organizations suggesting greater involvement than seemed to be the case.

Where is the truth here?

Like always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but I know for a fact that Mr. Jeffries’ letter – likely the product of a gifted PR department – is hardly a complete vision of the truth – especially once you consider the simple fact that a new contract with the town of McCloud had become a very, very uncertain thing.

Did local citizens send Nestle packing? Is the bottled water market taking a plunge (and affecting capacity decisions)? Are transportation costs up? Does Nestle have a long, long ways to go to actually become the “good” neighbor it says it is?

I believe all the above are true.

If anyone has anything add, perhaps you could do so on his blog. After all, I didn’t delve into less “provable” concepts – like McCloud’s becoming a PR nightmare for Nestle, who at one point wanted to know what it would take to make the opposition “stop.”

Again, he created a simple post and seems like a nice guy, so any comments should be respectful. After all, if you worked for Nestle – and found yourself located a continent away from McCloud – your perspective on this would be very different from mine.

I would suggest that the remote perspective is a flawed one, especially if it’s informed largely by Nestle’s own official flow of information, but there it is.

On First Day of Cascade Locks Water Test, Nestle Kills All The Fish (Oops)

Nestle’s Cascade Locks bottling plant proposal will take water currently being used to raise endangered fish species, replacing it with well water.

Given that Nestle’s never done more than the minimum testing needed to secure their pumping permits (their pumping test in Chaffee County was only 72 hours long, and initially performed no tests at all in McCloud), the following dead fish story shouldn’t surprise us:

On the first day of an intended year-long test to see if Cascade Locks well water was suitable for raising fish, well water pumped into a test pond contained chlorine due to an equipment malfunction, and all of the privately purchased rainbow trout fry in the pond were killed. Nestle says (see below) it is working to “ensure there are adequate protections to avoid this, or other potential problems, in the future.”

The loss of the fish on the first day and Nestle’s subsequent commitment to only “ADEQUATE [my emphasis] protections … in the future” are very revealing, especially when considered in the context provided by their behavior in other communities across the country (see my Sept. 2 post below for documentation and action suggestions).

Oppose this project now, and support other projects to create sustainable jobs and options in Cascade Locks and other communities.

via Economic Justice Action Group » All test pond fish killed on 1st day due to equipment malfunction: Nestle’s Cascade Locks proposal?.

FLASH: Nestlé Waters Ends Bid for McCloud, CA Water Bottling Plant

When the end came, it came swiftly for Nestle’s proposed McCloud (CA) water bottling plant:

Nestlé Waters North America has decided to withdraw its proposal to build a bottling facility in McCloud.

Ever since Nestle negotiated its rapacious contract with the McCloud Services District in 2003 (largely behind closed doors), then pressured the board to approve it at the end of the first public input meeting, Nestle’s McCloud project has become one of the company’s biggest public relations liabilities.

First there were the string of lawsuits, and as the specifics of the contract came to light, outright indignation at the lopsided nature of the deal.

Here was a predatory multinational preying on a small rural town – as it had in other locations – but this time, not all the local residents were willing to shrug it off and walk away.

Instead, they rallied, formed groups, gained a small amount of financial backing, garnered a significant amount of international media attention, and ultimately forced Nestle to abandon its hugely one-sided contract.

Instead, in 2008, Nestle began the flow monitoring studies it should have begun in 2003, but the process was made redundant when Nestle negotiated a fast-track deal in Sacramento that better reflected the realities of rising fuel costs and pissed-off, distrustful McCloud residents.

Unfortunately for Nestle, the damage was already done to their normally behind-the-scenes work in rural areas; now almost every Nestle extraction or bottling project finds itself opposed by citizens who have learned what Nestle’s truly capable due to their actions in McCloud, Fryeburg, Mecosta, and others.

And yes – due to activists and the informational power of the Internet – Nestle’s been forced to address questions about its predatory behavior in rural areas.

Whether Nestle has turned over a less-predatory leaf in its pursuit of spring water from rural sources remains to be seen, and yes – significant questions about the environmental impacts and privatization of a critical resource are far from answered.

Still, in this one place – in this tiny mountain town – Nestle stumbled badly, tripped up by a small group whose victory will no doubt be noticed by others facing Nestle in their area.

via Nestlé Waters ends pursuit of McCloud facility – Mount Shasta, CA – Mount Shasta Herald.

Nestle Considering Extraction, Bottling Operation in North Carolina

Chesterfield County, N.C. looks to be on Nestle Waters of North America’s short list for a new water extraction/bottling facility.

From the St. Louis Business Journal:

Nestlé Waters North America Inc. is considering sites in Chesterfield County, N.C., for a spring-water source and bottling facility.

Will they be met by fawning local elected officials, or unhappy residents – concerned about traffic, loss of a local resource, privatization of water, truck traffic, declining property values, etc?

I don’t know, and it’s possible Nestle doesn’t either, though their playbook involves getting someone on the ground long before this kind of announcment is made.

via Nestlé eyes plant sites – St. Louis Business Journal:.

Motley Fool: Bottled Water Batters the Blue Chips

The Motley Fool investment site suggests the jig is up for bottled water, citing pluning sales figures.

More importantly, their reaction to the products suggests a larger problem for bottled water than the recession; When even Wall Street thinks your product represents “one of the weirdest episodes in the history of corporate marketing,” you’re no longer cool:

More than a year ago, my Foolish colleague Alyce Lomax called the bottled-water craze “one of the weirdest episodes in the history of corporate marketing, not to mention consumer behavior.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And while consumers were already starting to rethink their habits at that time, we may now be seeing a full-fledged paradigm shift.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that U.S. sales of Coke’s Dasani brand plummeted almost 26% — excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores NYSE: WMT — in the 12 weeks ended Aug. 8.

In contrast, Pepsi’s Aquafina showed a 13.8% dip, and consumers enjoyed a 5% price discount. The Poseidon of the U.S. bottled-water market, Nestle OTC BB: NSRGY, saw its first-half 2009 global water sales slump nearly 3% on an organic basis, largely because of weakness in North America and Europe.

Found via Bottled Water Batters the Blue Chips.