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.

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

These Pickles are Driving me Bananas!

It’s been a year since I set eyes on it but I’m still haunted by the memory.  I was lunching with my parents on their shady patio last spring, and there it sat:  a private label jar of pickles.  Having been a marketer of branded products for almost twenty years, private label products naturally bug me.  As I see it, they are bandits that steal
ideas and drive all of the profit margin out of product categories.  In the end, it’s the consumer who loses because this profit shortage makes developing new and improved products more difficult to afford.  But this time it wasn’t just the private label aspect that got under my skin; it was a particular collection of words written on the label.  In bold
letters it read: PRODUCT OF INDIA.

Are you kidding me??? Do we really need to bring pickles all the way from India?  Don’t we have perfectly suitable cucumbers growing right here in Ontario?  In fact, my parents chuckled when I pointed it out.  There happens to be a Strub’s pickle factory less than three kilometres down the road from them in Brantford, Ontario.  And yet here we were, eating pickles shipped all the way from the other side of the planet.  I shuddered at the
thought of the carbon footprint associated with bringing such a heavy product from overseas.

“They were only $1.99,” my Mother said.  “And I think they taste pretty good.”

When I quit my job, our household finances dramatically changed and as a result I have become a penny pincher, considering things I might never have considered before.  Like for example, the growing stockpile in our basement of canned goods, shelf stable foods and cleaning products purchased at hot prices in discount grocery outlets.  But even I, draw the line at pickles from India.

I vowed right there and then to read labels more closely when grocery shopping but I began to wonder what far traveled products I may have already unknowingly brought into our home.  So I set to work inspecting my inventories.  In spite of my newfound frugality, I still have a hard time buying private label products so there weren’t many in my cupboard. However, I did find a private label can of chicken broth (made in Canada
… whew!), and a private label can of peaches (product of China… gasp!)  I also found tins of tuna from a couple of different branded manufacturers, all stating Product of Thailand.  OK, maybe that’s were tuna comes from… lord knows I’m no fisheries expert.

Sadly, most of the branded products carried mysterious source information.  Often the label simply stated: “Prepared for:” and then a Canadian address.  What does that mean exactly???

Thankfully, there was good old E.D. Smith jam, proudly proclaiming “Canadian Made since 1882” along with Allen’s vinegar and Allen’s apple juice, both made in Canada.

My next target was fresh produce, and I decided that I would no longer buy anything off the continent. We’ve had to wait for the clementine oranges to come in from Mexico, and have had to find a replacement for our favourite Fuji apples.  But I can’t seem to find snow peas from anywhere but China!  Don’t we have snow?  Can’t we grow peas?  Putting two and two together I just can’t explain it, but the Williams household has somehow been able to go on living without snow peas in our stir fry.

Yet still, I’m haunted by those pickles.  So the other day I called the grocery chain to
ask why their private label pickles have to travel so far.  I was on hold for eleven minutes, during which it struck me just how much time Michael Moore and his team must spend waiting and on hold, to get the snippets of golden footage so expertly woven together in his documentaries.

“Good morning, thank you for calling Company X, how can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m calling to inquire about a jar of private label pickles that I saw at my Mother’s house. We noticed on the label that it was a product of India and we were wondering why it’s necessary to bring pickles from India when we have perfectly good cucumbers growing right here in Ontario.  I’m really bothered by the carbon footprint of a heavy jar of pickles being transported so far.”

“Do you have the UPC code from the product?”

“No, I’m sorry I don’t.”

“Where was the product purchased?”

“In Brantford, Ontario.”

“Can you spell that?”

OK, I get it.  She has a form she needs to fill out to capture my ‘complaint.’   But I really wasn’t calling to register a complaint, I was seeking understanding and it quickly became clear that this company was not interested in enlightening me.

“Unfortunately I have no information about why our vendors choose the manufacturing sites that they do.”

“No, I can’t release the names of our vendors.”

“I will forward your question to someone who may be better equipped to answer it, but I can’t guarantee that you will get a call back.”

Well, I can guarantee that I won’t get a call back.  She didn’t take my number.

The lesson here for the Mom in me, is to read labels closely.  Just like my kids know to pick the foil wrapped chocolate gold coins out of their Halloween bags and throw
them in the garbage, I need to do my part to become more educated and be selective about the products I bring into our house.

The lesson for the marketer in me, is to be explicit about sourcing information on product labels.  There’s no shame in stating that your product is manufactured in the
U.S. given that someone like me might otherwise wonder if it came all the way from Timbuktu.

I used to think that Moms were too busy to pay attention to this kind of thing but direct experience on this new side of the fence has led me to new insight.  Trust me when I tell you, even busy Moms make time for stuff that matters to them.

For more information about Strub’s pickles, including interesting facts like how many ‘warts’ per square inch are preferred by North American pickle consumers, check out their delightful website: http://www.strubpickles.com/