Fact Check

Exploring the Facts Behind Bill Gates' Alleged Purchase of Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar

It's all tied up in a complicated web of connected claims.

Published Dec 30, 2023

 (Mike Mozart / Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Mike Mozart / Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Billionaire Bill Gates owns or has purchased the company that makes Bragg apple cider vinegar.

It seemed like a rather innocuous question: "Did Bill Gates purchase the company which makes Braggs apple cider vinegar?"

But throughout 2023, Snopes received numerous requests to fact-check different versions of the statement. And during our research, we discovered the claim, which spread across social media sites like TikTok, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter), went a lot deeper than the original question implied. Some posts alleged the Microsoft co-founder/billionaire teamed with singer Katy Perry to buy the company, while others added speculation about a second company, Apeel Sciences, that makes a natural protective coating for fresh fruits and vegetables.

In the interest of not burying the lede, the answer is no, Gates does not own, nor has he purchased, Bragg Live Food Products LLC, the company that produces the "organic, raw, unfiltered" apple cider vinegar. But some related rumors, like the allegation that Perry owns a stake in the company, have a grain of truth to them:

Who Owns Bragg?

According to the company's website, its namesake, Paul C. Bragg, founded Bragg's Health Food Store in 1912. Starting in the 1950s, his adopted daughter Patricia Bragg joined him, "spreading his healthy lifestyle message to an even wider audience." When Paul Bragg died in 1976, Patricia continued running the company by herself. She remained in that leadership role until 2019, when she sold Bragg to a group of investors. Patricia Bragg died on Aug. 10, 2023, at the age of 94.

So who bought Bragg in 2019? Katy Perry and a venture capital firm. The company explains as much at the bottom of its Frequently Asked Questions page:

Who Owns Bragg?

Swander Pace Capital is the controlling owner of Bragg. They were chosen meticulously and purposefully by Patricia Bragg herself, as she sought out partners who could help spread Bragg's values into the world and inspire a new generation towards natural wellness. She found Swander Pace to be the partner who had a like-minded outlook and a real commitment to the values the Bragg family believed in for over a century. Those values are a belief in the real benefits of holistic health and wellness from real foods. And since you're probably wondering, yes, Patricia Bragg's lifelong friend and neighbor, Katy Perry, is an investor in Bragg. She was also hand-picked by Patricia herself. Katy Perry is not involved with any of the day-to-day operations — that's the Bragg team.

Snopes investigated who owns Swander Pace Capital — that is, we checked to see if the company has any financial ties to Gates. There was no apparent link. We also reached out to Bragg, where a representative of the company, Courtney Cola, responded via email.

"In 2019, Patricia Bragg handpicked partners who she believed shared the values of the Bragg Family and the vision for Bragg Live Foods," Cola wrote. "That list of partners included Swander Pace Capital but did not include Bill Gates or organizations in which Gates is invested. Bill Gates is not an owner of Bragg."

Next, we questioned why people were asking if Gates owned the company. He is frequently rumored to own companies, or vast amounts of land, that he doesn't — generally with an underlying insinuation that he's using them for nefarious purposes. We started by examining another allegation related to Gates' supposed ownership: that he had changed the ingredients of Bragg apple cider vinegar.

That particular rabbit hole has its origins in April 2023 with a case of mistaken identity.

Apeel Sciences

Apeel Sciences is a company that makes two products: Edipeel and Organipeel, both of which are used as a thin coating on fresh produce to extend its shelf life and keep it ripe. If you've ever heard someone say, "Wash an apple to get the beeswax off," Apeel's products are based on the same concept — although neither Edipeel nor Organipeel need to be washed off before eating. Edipeel and Organipeel are currently used on various citrus fruits, avocados, cucumbers, and, importantly, apples.

Unfortunately, a British chemical manufacturer, Evans Vanodine, makes a hard surface cleaner also called Apeel, spelled the same way. In April 2023, people found the cleaning chemical's safety data sheet and panicked, thinking it was the chemical being used on produce. It was not.

And here's the Gates connection: In its early years, Apeel Sciences received two grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While some may have assumed differently, those grants did not give Gates any ownership of the company.

Apeel Sciences' Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of Operations Jenny Du laughed when asked about Apeel's alleged connection to Bill Gates.

"Those grants make up 0.2% of money Apeel has ever raised," she said. "I've never even met Bill."

So, combining Bragg with the Apeel situation, we can sum up the entire family of claims as follows: Gates, either alone or with Perry, owns both Bragg and Apeel (as a reminder, he does not), and changed the recipe for Bragg apple cider vinegar to include apples treated with Organipeel (again, presumably for some nefarious purpose).

The rumor that Bragg apple cider vinegar is made with Organipeel-treated apples is so common that it's even debunked on the company's FAQ page. Not only has Gates never had a role in selecting Bragg apple cider vinegar ingredients, Snopes found no evidence to suggest that the vinegar has ever been produced using apples treated with Organipeel. Both Cola and Du confirmed that the companies have never worked with each other.

There are two small connections between Apeel Sciences and Bragg, however. First, Perry has invested in both. Bragg is quite public about this, and Du herself told Snopes that Perry had invested in the company. The second connection is that both companies are headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. That is also Perry's hometown.

But all in all, it became clear that the problem was the two differing definitions of the word "organic."

What Makes a Food 'Organic?'

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has five requirements for a crop to legally be sold as "organic" in the United States.

  • Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  • Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
  • Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
  • The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.

This definition, however, may not necessarily align with the public's general perception of organic foods as being "all-natural." The USDA definition mentions "allowed synthetic materials" and "synthetic substance[s] approved for use." This criteria has generated controversy in the organic foods community, namely with people claiming that no synthetic materials and/or synthetic pesticides should be used when growing organic foods, or considering the approved list of synthetic substances in organic food unsafe for consumption.

Organipeel was heavily scrutinized by the organic food community because a group overseen by the USDA has authorized it for use on organic produce (thus, the name). That group is the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), a nonprofit organization and independent certifier for the USDA's National Organic Program.

Organipeel spurred additional controversy in the same circles because it is registered as a pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the EPA has a much looser definition of pesticides compared to the public's general understanding, classifying anti-microbial and anti-fungal products under the same category.

Du told Snopes via video conference that the company was specifically approached by the organic community to develop Organipeel as both an outer coating and minor fungicide for organic farmers. The product uses food-grade citric acid, an allowed "synthetic" material under the USDA's criteria, and food-grade baking soda to achieve its effect.

In other words, if you've eaten any sort of citrus fruit, you've consumed a lot of citric acid. It's considered safe to eat.

Regardless of what's in Organipeel, it would make no sense for Bragg to use it in the production process for apple cider vinegar. Organipeel is used to prolong the shelf-life of fresh produce, not products derived from fresh produce.

"We do not need to extend the shelf-life of apples in their whole form," Cola, the Bragg representative, told Snopes. "In fact, this is the opposite of what’s needed for the production of apple cider vinegar, which are apples for juicing and natural fermentation."

The company markets its apple cider vinegar as organic both on its website and on the bottles.

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Jack Izzo is a Chicago-based journalist and two-time "Jeopardy!" alumnus.