The Pulse: Local help from Newman's Own

Posted: September 03, 2012

'Michael Smerconish made a comment today [on the radio] about Newman's Own, saying . . . he is suspicious about how much money really goes to charity. We want to reassure Michael - and his listeners - that 100% of the profits and royalties from the Newman's Own products go to charity. That was the case when Paul Newman started the company in 1982, and it continues today: All profits to charity."

Me and my big mouth.

That e-mail came to me recently after I said I loved the quality of Newman's Own coffee, pasta sauce, and salad dressing, but wondered about the charitable giving. Chalk it up to my cynic gene. Then Bob Forrester, president and CEO of the Newman's Own Foundation, set me straight. Forrester was a personal friend of the late actor, who starred in such screen gems as Slap Shot, The Verdict, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"Paul was the real deal, the best friend a guy could have," Forrester told me. "He knew he was a celebrity, but considered himself an average guy. . . . He taught me that 'deep sea fishing' was code for taking naps and drinking beer."

We spoke last Monday, the 30th anniversary of the day that 500 cases of Newman's Own salad dressing were shipped to its first retailer. The dressing was an instant hit, and by the end of the first year, Newman's Own had netted more than $300,000 in profits, all of which went to charity.

"Paul was a great foodie," Forrester told me. "Every holiday - Christmas and New Year's - he'd mix up salad dressing in empty wine bottles, and take it around to the neighbors. People would literally come back and knock on the door months later and ask for more. Finally, somebody convinced him to put it in a store, which he thought was a joke. But, because it's a good product, it began to sell."

Newman was initially reluctant to use his likeness to sell the salad dressing, but he came around, and coined the expression "shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good."

According to Forrester, the company has been guided by two principles: quality will trump profit, and any money made will be given away. Three decades later, Newman's Own boasts more than a dozen product lines, including lemonade, wine, frozen pizza, and now, frozen entrees.

Today, this charitable endeavor has only 32 employees, quite a feat for a venture that expects this year to distribute between 700 and 800 individual grants totaling about $30 million. The money is distributed on an "apolitical" basis in four areas: encouraging global philanthropy; helping children with life-limiting conditions; helping people realize their potential when circumstances have impacted them beyond their control; and improving nutrition.

Charity Navigator is an online philanthropic rating service that doesn't rate Newman's Own because it is a for-profit entity, but it does assess some of its recipients. Sandra Miniutti, Navigator's vice president of marketing, called Newman's Own a "well-regarded organization . . . an example of a celebrity-charity relationship done well."

Newman's Own has given more than $500,000 to Philadelphia organizations since 1991, and its total giving in Pennsylvania, starting in 1984, is $2.1 million. Recipients include the Food Trust, Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Variety Children's Charity, and Back on My Feet.

By way of example, the Food Trust received a $50,000 grant in December to help support its work to ensure that lower-income children have access to healthful, affordable food. The grant was used to enhance its farmers market program (25 markets throughout Philadelphia, mainly in lower-income neighborhoods); its farm-to-school program (in more than 30 city schools); and its Healthy Corner Store Initiative (in more than 600 establishments).

"With the help of Newman's Own Foundation, the Food Trust has continued its efforts to ensure that everyone - especially children - has access to affordable, nutritious food," executive director Yael Lehmann said. "We are also training youth leaders to advocate for healthy changes in their own schools and neighborhoods."

The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger received a $25,000 grant this year to supply summer meals to thousands of low-income children who usually receive reduced-price meals at school. Communications manager Ronna Bolante called Newman's Own a "great foundation." The coalition also provides nutrition education classes to children at more than 75 summer meals sites across the city.

"Since June, we've educated nearly 3,000 children, teaching them about healthy eating and the importance of physical fitness," Bolante said.

In 2008, Newman's Own supported Variety with a $20,000 contribution. Judith Nixon, Variety's chief financial officer, told me the money was used to support educational, recreational, and social programs for local children and youth with disabilities. And Back on My Feet received a $25,000 grant last year. The organization helps those "experiencing homelessness and seeks to change the social perception around the issue," according to Jill Fink, its executive director.

Paul Newman's work extended beyond the big screen. Not a bad example for the rest of us this Labor Day.

Contact Michael Smerconish via

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