Newman’s Own, Ben and Jerry’s and Dave’s Killer Bread put social activism in their ingredient list
By Sophie Baron
It’s the modern-day grocery store dilemma, you walk in looking for a pint of ice cream, a bottle of salad dressing and a loaf of bread. Sounds simple? Think again. While your list may seem short, your options are unlimited and suddenly you’re faced with a whole aisle dedicated to each item on your list. So, which brand do you pick? Many would assume it’s the best-looking or best-tasting option provided. But in 2021, that’s not all it takes to win over the hearts and minds of the consumer.
When it comes to food, the secret ingredient isn’t necessarily a dash of sugar or squeeze of lemon. It’s actually a brand whose purpose isn’t just to sell you great-tasting food, but one with a broader focus on giving back and standing up for what is right. In fact, according to Statista, 87% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocated for a cause they care about.
While this trend is becoming increasingly relevant to consumers everywhere, brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Newman’s Own and Dave’s Killer Bread have always made activism, advocacy and giving back a core part of their business model.
According to Sean Greenwood, the Grand Poobah of Public Relations for Ben & Jerry’s, a few years after Ben & Jerry’s gained popularity, the founders felt the normal business model was created to take advantage of the bottom worker. So, they decided to change their model to make an impact for the better. Ben & Jerry’s made activism and sticking up for what’s right a part of their mission.
“We’re not just doing this for a marketing value for people to go, ‘Yay, Ben & Jerry’s did something good,’” Greenwood said. “We’re doing it because we believe in the power of business to get out there and say here’s what needs to happen.”
Ben & Jerry’s has been incorporating activism with their ice cream flavors for years, and has even made it an integral part of their mission. Greenwood mentioned that for Ben & Jerry’s, it’s not just about maximizing profits; it’s about making a fair profit while still having plenty left over to propel the social mission of the company.
Paul Newman’s homemade salad dressing bottles began flying off the shelves in 1982, and since they rolled out, they featured a photo of his face on the label. Newman decided that if he was going to stamp his face on his products, he would give his profits away to good causes, according to Miriam Nelson, President and CEO of the Newman’s Own Foundation.
“Since then, the company and the foundation have given away about $570 million to really great causes,” Nelson said.
Dave’s Killer Bread is another example of a company in which ethics is literally baked into the product. According to their website, Dave’s prides itself on “hiring the best person for the job, regardless of criminal history.”
They say that since the creation of Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation in 2015, they aim to “inspire and equip other businesses to adopt Second Chance Employment.”
For these brands, ethics and advocacy aren’t just a second thought or part of a one-time-only campaign — they’re a part of the fabric of these companies. And, Ben & Jerry’s and Newman’s Own have chosen to advocate for the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community.
“Our thinking really, is that what we need to do is to be investing in communities that need us most,” Nelson explains. “Our BIPOC communities have been very disadvantaged, and there has been institutional racism. Supporting leaders who are Black, indigenous or people of color is critical.”
It is important to recognize that all of these food companies are expected to be experts in their food products. Companies like Ben & Jerry’s choose to partner with charitable organizations in order to make the most meaningful impact.
“We’ve worked with around six to eight real notable organizations in the last five years, from NAACP to the ACLU to Color of Change to Race Forward, the Advancement Project. All of these groups are actually on the street doing the work,” said Greenwood. “They have the experience, hands-on, on how they can make a difference around issues like racism. So we work with them, learn from them, try to support and highlight them.”
As activism becomes an integral part of consumers’ decision-making process, many companies are being forced by consumers to take a stand. For this reason, brand authenticity is of utmost importance. Making a statement just because it’s trendy doesn’t do the trick. Even more convincing, according to a study done by Marketing Dive, 68% of consumers want brands to be clear about their values. Clearly, consumers want to see the brands they love stand for something.
Brad Horn, public relations professor at Syracuse University, said that the quality and authenticity of the brand’s activism matters to consumers.
Horn said, “there are a lot of businesses that have focused on the people and the planet, but can’t get the secret sauce to make the profit.”
That being said, the future of the food industry is promising. As more food companies enter the advocacy space, we can expect more opportunities for ethical consumption and see brands making waves for causes that are important to consumers.
“I would hope that there is more to running a business than just dividends and a balance sheet,” Nelson said. “I would like to think that you should be thinking about how there’s a social dimension, there’s an environmental dimension and there is a sound governance dimension to a business.”
With more food companies adopting this attitude, consumers now have the opportunity to pick up the best tasting option and know that their dollar is well spent. At the end of the day, food tastes much better knowing that the company you bought it from stands for something important.