Newman’s Own: Philanthropy Comes First

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Twitter

A leading food company gives all its profits to charity—and always has

The story of how the Newman’s Own brand came to be has something of the mythic about it. Each December, Paul Newman, one of the most celebrated and consequential actors in Hollywood history, would take to the barn of his Connecticut house, where he’d cook up vast quantities of his secret-formula salad dressing, stirring it with a canoe paddle or a broomstick. He’d then decant the stuff into old wine bottles and deliver them in person as Christmas gifts to his neighbors.

One day in December 1980, author A.E. Hotchner stopped by to find Newman laboring over a huge pot of dressing, rolled up his sleeves and joined him. Two years later, the friends launched Newman’s Own Salad Dressing, each kicking in $20,000 in seed money. They netted $300,000 in their first year—and, in a spirit of wild audacity, decided to give it all to charity.

In the following years, Newman and Hotchner expanded their line to more than 300 products—sauces, snacks, spices, beverages and pet foods. All profits are transferred to Newman’s Own Foundation, to “nourish and transform the lives of children who face adversity.”

Currently in the U.S., according to the company’s website, “34 million children under age 18 have had at least one significant adverse childhood experience.” One in six children live in poverty; 13 million live in food-insecure households. And 40 percent of school-aged children “have at least one chronic health condition.” To date, Newman’s Own has donated more than $570 million to causes and charities addressing these crises.

In 1988, Hotchner and Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut—named for the fabled band of outlaws in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The camp was the first in what would become the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global community of 30 camps and programs available to children with serious illnesses and their families, free of charge.

For some of Newman’s fans, the smiling portrait of him on every product package is as iconic as his screen persona. “We used to get stopped on the street, and somebody would say, ‘You’re the salad dressing guy or the popcorn guy.’ And he loved that,” says Robert Forrester, a close friend of Newman’s, who served as chief executive of Newman’s Own Foundation after the actor’s death in 2008.

At Forrester’s urging, Newman came up with a mission statement of sorts—Newman’s Own was to stand for quality food, fair labor practices and an open workplace environment. But Newman was known to dislike the concept of branding and advertising and was put off by what he called “noisy philanthropy.” His daughter worked hard to get him to agree to put “All profits to charity”—since changed to “100% of profits to charity”—on every product label.

For Carpenter Group, the operative word in that phrase is, perhaps ironically, “profits.” The fact is, Newman’s Own is a for-profit enterprise and always has been. It’s what it does with its profits that make this brand truly unique.


Discover more Brand Acts of Kindness

Get in touch to Nominate a Brand

About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.