Famous Amos® is one of the most recognizable chocolate chip cookie brands and Wally Amos is one of the truly great American entrepreneur stories. He started off in the mailroom of the William Morris agency and eventually became the first African American talent agent at the company.
He managed the rock ’n’ roll department and was the first to sign Simon & Garfunkel. His calling card was to send a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies along with an invitation for a meeting. Amos always had a passion for baking and he incorporated that into his life as much as possible.
In 1975 he decided to launch the Famous Amos Cookie Company with investments from his celebrity clients. He made his cookies with the best ingredients, real butter, eggs, and higher quality chocolate. They were considered gourmet and people just ate them up. By 1982 revenue had reached $12 million a year.
Amos was a star with his signature hat and shirt (which are now in the Smithsonian Institution's advertising collection). President Reagan presented him with an Award of Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1986.
But the ride was winding down via mismanagement of the business. Rapid expansion into stores and global markets quickly mounted debt. Although Amos had an amazing concept of using all-natural ingredients and everyone loved his cookies, his company was in disarray, and he lost his home.
Amos is very candid about that time in his life. ’’If you sit around starting to feel sorry for yourself, and blaming everyone else for your position in life, it is like being in quicksand,'' he said. ''In quicksand, if you start flailing all about and panicking with each movement you go in deeper, but if you just stay calm and look about, chances are you'll see a twig or something you can reach to pull yourself out. Or, if you stay there long enough someone will come and rescue you.''
Many different investors did come to the “rescue” but they took more equity stake each time and never stayed long enough to turn the company to profit. By 1988 the company had lost $2.5 million and Amos was nothing more than a paid spokesman. He left the company in despair.
“Being famous is highly overrated anyway,” said Amos.
The Shansby Group bought Famous Amos that same year and Amos signed a non-compete contract. By the end of 1991 sales were over $42 million.
Amos was forced out of the company he started and lost all rights for his brand or to even use his likeness on another product.
The ownership of Famous Amos changed several times over the next 20 years. Keebler eventually bought it then Kellogg bought Keebler. By 2001 the brand was generating over $100 million annually.
Mr. Amos has noted that the cookies sold today are unlike his original cookies, which had lots of good quality chocolate, real butter, and pure vanilla extract. He never used artificial flavorings or hydrogenated oil.
"You can't compare a machine-made cookie with handmade cookies. It's like comparing a Rolls Royce with a Volkswagen," he said.
In fact, it was the decline of the original Famous Amos cookie that inspired Bart & Judy to start a bakery and recreate that all-natural chocolate chip cookie that they had grown to love.
Fast forward to 2019 and the global corporation the Ferrero Group buys Kellogg brands for $1.3 billion.
“With this acquisition, we further strengthen our position in the key North American market.” CEO said in a press release.
From its start as a small Los Angeles business, Famous Amos has come a long way. Or has it?
Ferrero and China
With global sales of over $12 billion and distribution to over 170 countries, Ferrero dominates the world confectionary market.
But China has become a core priority for Ferrero’s growth. “We are fully confident in the prospects of China as the world’s fastest-growing consumption market. With the acceleration of urbanization and expansion of the middle class, the size of the consumption group and their needs have been continuously increasing.” According to Ferrero China’s GM, Mauro De Felip.
Ferrero is currently expanding its footprint in China’s sweet packaged food sector and deepening penetration in the booming market.
Ferrero Group’s Chinese manufacturing plant - Ferrero Food Hangzhou in Hangzhou Dajiangdong Industrial Cluster.
“Ferrero is launching new offerings and will continue to keep up with the evolving needs of Chinese consumers,” Felip adds.
In January of this year, the secretive family that owns the company awarded itself a 542 million Euro dividend payday. One of Europe’s largest ever to date. Taking the total paid to the family over the last decade to over 2 billion Euros.
“I’m spoiling myself!” The ambassador of the family, Giovanni, announced. But the large payout has raised eyebrows after the company paid just 110,000 in taxes last year. They are accused of shifting profits abroad to reduce bills. Global profits have surged for Ferrero Rocher, almost doubled in the last 10 years.
Experts agree that Ferrero is structured in such a complex manner and is shifting profits overseas to reduce its tax liability.
UK Labour MP Rachel Reeves vowed to go after the company for unpaid taxes. She said, “The rules for firms like Ferrero and everyone else are simple - tax should be paid where the revenue is earned.”
The company also faces child labor violations for allowing Syrian refugee children work on nut plantations.
Ferrero protects its nuts but not its child workers.
Many Syrian refugee families in Turkey can’t afford food and shelter and are forced to harvest nuts without work permits to legal protection. The labor codes don’t apply to farms with fewer than 50 employees so they are not subject to government regulation.
With no monitoring of work conditions, the work conditions are worsening.
Children often work from 7 AM to 7 PM on dangerous cliffs. Some are forced into indentured servitude that charge workers 10% of their wages. The poorer these families become, the harder the children have to work.
Ferrero Roche buys 1/3 of all the nuts in Turkey and even though Giovanni Ferrero has a net worth of over $22.3 billion, he refuses to disclose a complete supply chain. Instead, the company openly relies on child labor and exploited refugees.
So the next time you bite into a Famous Amos or buy one in a vending machine, don’t be fooled. It’s no longer an American success story. It’s a heartless corporate entity bent on global domination. And they will leave a bitter taste in all our mouths if they are allowed to continue the trajectory.
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