Blogs & Comment

Campbell's Nourish: Authentic Social Purpose or Smart Marketing

As reported by Jessica Leeder in today’s Globe and Mail, Campbell Canada‘s new Six Grain Vegetable formulation, branded Nourish, is the first Canadian private-sector, not-for-profit product tailored to address the growing problem of world hunger. According to the Globe, Nourish was developed by socially conscious Campbell staffers and will only be distributed to food banks not to consumers. The intent is that Nourish will “ultimately filter into the hands of the worlds hungriest via humanitarian aid organizations, making a dent in global food insecurity.”
Ms. Leeder writes that “Nourish and the ensuing marketing effort has propelled Campbells into the midst of a thorny international debate over the future of humanitarian food aid and whether there is a role for a profit-driven food industry in solving hunger.”
While I haven’t been able to find any evidence of the debate (and would welcome readers to share anything that is relevant), there is a valid question to be asked: Is Nourish an authentic social purpose brand or just a smart way to increase competitive differentiation and brand loyalty among mainstream consumers?
As corporate responsibility continues to become a higher priority for consumers, regulators, shareholders, and employees, the lines between profits and purpose will continue to become more blurry. In this context how can we best discern the difference? Here’s a framework that may help:

  • Is there a clear and measurable social objective that is aligned with the company’s business purpose?
  • Is there credible, third-party data that benchmarks the issue, provides evidence upon which social purpose programs and products will be developed, and against which progress will be tracked?
  • Does the program or product address the root cause of the issue?
  • Has the company engaged its people, resources, and knowledge resources to the same degree it would with its core business activities?
  • Has the company had a long-term commitment to the issue or does its social purpose appear opportunistic or contrived?
  • Are the company’s leadership personally committed and involved? (e.g. as directors of relevant charitable organizations, as participants in internal and external activities, etc.)
  • Is there a broad and deep involvement of employees? (i.e. more than just the marketing and community investment teams)
  • Are the company’s non-profit or charitable partners credible and engaged?
  • And, at the most basic level, does the social initiative feelbelievable, honest, and genuine?

When I considered what I know about Nourish against this framework I felt that this initiative leans to be more than just smart marketing. That being said, there are still questions about Nourish that need to be answered: What’s the business model (i.e. who’s paying for Nourish)? Why hasn’t Campbell communicated this more conspicuously (I couldn’t find anything on their web site)? What is being done to eliminate the need for Nourish?
According to Micheal E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer’s theory of Creating Shared Value, “profits involving a social purpose represent a higher form of capitalism, one that creates a positive cycle of company and community prosperity.”
Does Campbell’s Nourish represent a higher form of capitalism?