Late actor Paul Newman’s grocery brand has donated almost half a billion in profits to nonprofits for more than three decades.
Hundreds of charities have this dressing on their side.
Newman’s Own has donated every penny of the profits from its popcorn, salad dressings and pasta sauces to charity since the first bottle of Homemade Olive Oil & Vinegar shipped in August 1982.
Paul Newman, the late Oscar-winning actor of films like “Cool Hand Luke” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” founded his feel-good grocery line with the intent to give all post-tax profits and royalties to charity. He helped 30 nonprofits the first year, and the foundation he created in 2005 to continue his legacy after his 2008 death now aids 600 organizations a year, and has given more than $495 million to those in need over almost four decades.
And to mark its 35th anniversary on Aug. 25, the Newman’s Own Foundation is giving out $35,000 grants to 15 nonprofits, including Save the Children, Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut and the Central Park Conservancy.
So how does a company survive when it doesn’t make any money – but instead gives it all away? “We work very hard. We compete, we innovate,” Bob Forrester, a close friend of Newman’s for 16 years, told Moneyish. He’s the president and CEO of the Newman’s Own Foundation, and executive chairman of Newman’s Own.
Forrester said that they keep operational costs low by running “a very lean operation,” with careful planning and just 85 employees across both the Newman’s Own brand and its charitable arm.
But it obviously also helps to have a famous face and name like Newman’s on every label. When Newman was considering putting his salad dressing in stores, he was advised by food industry experts that the only way he was going to get anyone to even try it was to put himself on it.
“And Paul was really, really against doing that at first,” Forrester said. “So he decided, ‘Well, if I’m going to do it, then I’m just going to give all the money away.’” And luckily, he was rich enough to afford to do that until the business grew big enough to be sustainable.
And one of Newman’s proudest moments, Forrester recalled, was “when he learned Newman’s Own pasta sauce was out-grossing Frank Sinatra’s. But if you asked him what gave him the greatest sense of happiness, he would say something like: ‘When a child says that camp changed their life.’” [Referring to the SeriousFun Children’s Network camps that Paul founded.]
Forrester said the brand also keeps customers hungry for more by putting quality as high on the to-do list as social responsibility.
“If you’re not make a product that really tastes great, nobody is gonna buy your product the second time,” Forrester said, dishing that Newman’s Own plans to continue rolling out organic products and introducing new pizzas. “And the fact that we give all our money to charity is probably a deal-maker for consumers choosing between two products [including ours].”
After all, a recent poll found that Millennials prefer companies that donate to charity, and they are more likely to buy products from businesses that give back.
And some of the nonprofits that have benefited from Newman’s philanthropy include: the SeriousFun Children’s Network, which gives kids with life-limiting conditions a free camp experience; various military nonprofits, which help wounded warriors and their families; Wholesome Wave and other nutrition groups that give children and families in underserved communities better access to fresh food and nutrition education; and Shining Hope For Communities, which gives residents in Kiberia – one of Africa’s largest slums – access to education, healthcare and clean water.
“Paul was actually the most humble human being I ever met in my life, and he was uncomfortable with his celebrity, because he felt he was lucky to be born in America with these opportunities, and lucky to have the look that was right for motion pictures,” said Forrester. “There are people in the world who aren’t so lucky in their circumstances, because they were in poverty, or their children have cancer or HIV, and he just felt [giving back] was the right thing to do.
“Now other companies are following our model,” he added. “It’s a growing movement.”
Other A-list class acts include “X-Men” star Hugh Jackman. He was moved to create his Laughing Man foundation, which runs cafes in New York that brew coffee harvested in Ethiopia, and returns all profits to aid the Ethiopian community.
“Paul Newman set the standard for the best use of celebrity,” he told the New York Times. “He’s a great inspiration.”
And “Fight Club” star Ed Norton told the publication that his family ate the Newman’s Own mission up: “Why would you buy any other spaghetti sauce if you can buy one where all of the net profits go to a kid’s cancer camp?” So he founded the crowdsourcing site CrowdRise, which people use to fundraise for charity.
As time has passed, Newman has become more recognizable for his philanthropic products than his onscreen performances – and it couldn’t have made him happier.
“He was delighted by that,” added Forrester. “People would stop him in the street and say, ‘I know you … you’re the popcorn guy, aren’t you?’ And he would just love that.”
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