Big Bad Corporate Philanthropy

Our family eats together; dinner always, breakfast during the week, and lunch on weekends.  Meals are served once and eaten by the four of us at our increasingly cramped dinette table.  From a practical perspective, it keeps everyone from walking around the house with plates of food slopping over the sides and onto the carpet and furniture.  It also means that we only have to co-ordinate one ‘sitting’ which means only one mess to clean up in the kitchen.

I’ve read that eating together is a key component to healthy family bonding but I have to admit that we often struggle for conversation.

“How was school?”

“Fine.”

“Did anything interesting happen at work?”

“Nope.”

We have resorted to reading the labels of condiments on the table for entertainment.

“Guess what the first ingredient is in mustard.”

“Water?”

“Mustard seed?”

“Nope.  Vinegar!”

In comparison, vinegar is third on the list of ingredients in ketchup.  Fascinating.

The other night we had nachos.  Craig had done the shopping and so instead of the often-on-sale Tostitos brand of salsa, the (I’m sure) premium priced Newman’s Own Original Salsa sat on our table.  The label proclaimed that the product was All Natural, So Good It Oughta Be Outlawed! and featured an illustration of a grey-haired, handlebar moustachioed Paul Newman wearing a sombrerro.  But on the back of the label, in tiny type, I found this:

“Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation donate all profits and royalties after taxes to educational and charitable purposes.”

Well I’ll be darned!  Just two weeks ago I published a momversusmarketer post about mixing business and charity, and here is a company for which charity kind of is their business.  I’d heard of Newman’s Own years ago in the context of a salad dressing my Mother bought.  She was of the generation that thought Paul Newman was dreamy, but the dressing was actually really good and sombrarro-Paul’s salsa was too.  Unlike those crappy chocolate covered almonds I bought at the gas station, I’m thinking that the main reason people buy Newman’s Own is because they actually like the products.

Today I did a little research on Paul Newman and learned that he and a friend started the company in 1982 with the mission to ‘shamelessly exploit his celebrity for the common good’, and that as of July 2011 the company had donated over $300 million to thousands of charities.  Every year, they literally give away all of the company’s profit and then start over again.

But that’s not all Paul Newman did.  In his spare time, sometime between playing Dodge Blake in Message in a Bottle and John Rooney in Road to Perdition, he started
the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP).  Founded in 1999, CECP is a membership organization of corporate CEO’s committed to raise the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy.

Just for fun, I downloaded the 2011/2012 Membership Roster and I think I managed to count 153 companies in total.  I wasn’t surprised to see excellent representation from insurance companies, major food companies, retail chains and big pharma.  However, I was surprised to also see the National Basketball Association, advertising company Ogilvy & Mather, and a bunch of toy companies (Mattel, Hasbro and Toys R Us) included on the list.

My most cynical imagination pictures these CEO’s getting together to brag about how much money they’re giving away; maybe a number of them even get into a bit of a charitable donation pissing match in an effort to win the annual CECP Excellence Award in Corporate Philanthropy!  But it would be the most productive of pissing matches wouldn’t it?

Conspicuous by their absence were P&G, Unilever and Apple Inc.  Oh dear!  The Williams family loves their iMac and our iPods.  In a desperate attempt to gather evidence that Apple, a company with such great products and super-hip marketing, does good in the realm of social responsibility, I searched the web but unfortunately came up pretty empty.  I stumbled upon a blogger like myself ( www.charlestlee.com/humanitarian/how-philanthropic-and-generous-is-apple/)  who asked people to write in with examples of Apple’s philanthropy and he hasn’t had much luck either.

Paul Newman died in 2008 at the age of 83 but both Newman’s Own and CECP live on.  It seems that some idols are worthy of our praise, while others … not so much.

* * * *

Check out the Newman’s Own website.  Full of personality that makes you love the products even more!  www.newmansown.com

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7 thoughts on “Big Bad Corporate Philanthropy

  1. Apple hit some financial hard times and stopped their philanthropy when the brought Jobs back. Event when they were back in black they never resumed it. Newman’s own is consistently good with good ingredients. Nice post and the family time pays off big with huge behavioral advantages for the kids. I did see a thing on marketing messages on NPR that showed 25% of conversations involve products and 51% of dinner table conversations involve products. I wish I could remember the name of the book they were plugging.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I feel a lot better knowing that we’re not alone in our product conversations at the dinner table and that even if it’s not ‘deep’ topics we’re discussing, it’s all adding up to good stuff for the kids.

    As I was researching the piece I ran across an article that made the argument Steve Jobs didn’t live long enough to find time for philanthropy. Not sure I totally buy that.

  3. While I sometimes buy a Paul Newman product, be aware that they aren’t “health food” and can be high in sodium, Diane. Everything in moderation, right? Thanks for doing the research and bringing us more awareness of the issues around charities and business. Trying to live ethically is very complicated!!!
    Keep writing, I know it must be a challenge to find the time, but I appreciate reading what you are discovering.
    Winnie

  4. Hi Winnie,
    Ahhhhh, sodium! It’s our favourite skill testing question at the dining table! “Guess how much sodium there is in this peanut butter!” At first Craig and I had no idea, and there were some BIG surprises. But we’re getting pretty good at it. It was surprising to me to find that our ketchup had 290 mg of sodium per 2 tbsp. The Newman’s Own salsa is actually not too bad at 105 mg per 2 tbsp. A drop in the bucket compared to the tortilla chips! Maybe the salad dressings are worse?

    I agree that trying to live an ‘ethical’ life is difficult. When I wrote one of my first posts about the pickles from India I thought about trying to live for a year without buying anything outside a radius of (pick a number!) X kilometres …. but then I thought… what am I going to do for kids boots? I think I’d be pretty hard pressed to find any made even within North America these days. So I’ve settled for trying to stick to groceries that aren’t from off shore. The oranges all seem to be coming from South Africa lately (not sure what happened to Florida), so I don’t buy them. I also can’t seem to find those fruit snack packs for the kids lunches from anywhere but China! So we don’t buy those anymore either.

    Now I’m going to be looking for The Campbell’s Soup company products. They seemed to be hugely involved in that CECP organization I wrote about today. And I’ve heard they’re really trying to cut down the sodium in their soups!

  5. Florida citrus usually gets real good and easier to find closer to Christmas and lasts well into the spring so hopefully we see some soon. One of the things I am glad to be able to get now that I am back in Canada is SunRype fruit to go and fun bites for the kids lunches – made in Canada and no sugar added. In the US, Campbells has their label for education program – not sure if they have it here. I always like making big batches of soup from scratch when I can though and then I don’t have to worry so much about salt

  6. Ha! That’s sneaky.

    I actually saw the Canadian GM of Campbells speak at a conference I attended a couple of years ago and was really impressed wtih him. He was clearly stuggling with the conflict inherent in his desire to make healthier products versus the shareholder pressure to manufacture stuff that the mass market will buy. Most things simply taste better with salt! Until the population at large ‘educates’ their taste buds to appreciate low salt versions, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing.

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