In the nonprofit world, though, a brand’s sustainability implies much more. It could represent the beginning, or the end, of a worthy cause. That’s why Newman’s Own is such an inspiring brand story. Paul Newman will be remembered as a great actor, but he’ll also be remembered as a great philanthropist who built a business around an eponymous brand that gives all its profits to charity. And it all started with salad dressing.
Food From the ‘Hood is an equally inspiring brand story—also built around salad dressing. After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, some students and two teachers at a South Central Los Angeles high school got together and restored a weed-infested garden behind the football field. They decided that if they grew anything, they’d donate the produce to feed the needy.
What they grew was more than vegetables—it was an idea that changed their future. The students took their produce to a local farmers’ market, where someone suggested “Food From the ’Hood” might make a good brand name for a product. That put the wheels in motion for a student-run venture. The kids researched the food industry and learned that salad dressing was one of the top-selling food products.
The students created a homemade dressing they liked, but getting it produced commercially was another story. Guided by their adult mentors, the students went through the process of getting a grant and working with a salad dressing manufacturer. Finally, the first dressing was produced: Food From the ’Hood Straight Out the Garden Creamy Italian Dressing.
Luckily, Food From the ’Hood was noticed by people who knew what it would take to make the fledgling effort succeed. One of those people was Norris Bernstein, himself the creator of a well-known brand, Bernstein’s salad dressings. Bernstein helped Food From the ’Hood students do financial projections, create a marketing plan and develop a distribution strategy.
What distinguishes the Food From the ’Hood brand more than anything else is the fact that it is entirely run by “student managers.” According to the organization, they design, develop and create products; plant, maintain and harvest their own garden; make marketing decisions, develop business plans and run the daily operations.
The profits from the company serve a very specific purpose: to help every student manager take the next step in life. Each student “banks” his or her work hours and receives payment in the form of a direct scholarship paid to their post-secondary school, college or university. The program also provides academic tutoring, SAT and college entrance exam preparation, mentoring and life skills training.
News of the Food From the ’Hood program has spread. In addition to national and international coverage, the story of Food From the ’Hood has been included in a fourth-grade edition of a US textbook, McGraw-Hill’s Open Court Reading. Students in classrooms around the country frequently send letters to the student managers, who have become their heroes.
Food From the ’Hood took their idea overseas in 1999, when several of the student managers visited a high school in London, advising their counterparts on how to start a similar business. In the US, two Food From the ’Hood locations were established by other schools, one in the Midwest and one on the East Coast.
Today, three salad dressings are available under the Food From the ’Hood brand: the original Creamy Italian Dressing, plus Ranch Dressing and Honey Mustard Dressing. The products are distributed to grocery stores in Southern California and throughout the world via Amazon.com. The company says it is working on recipes for three more dressings.
Asija Chappel, a Food From the ’Hood student manager, wrote of her experience online in 1999. She said: “Now that I’m a senior, I realize that the time I’ve spent in Food From the ’Hood is one of the best investments I have ever made…Food From the ’Hood is an important resource for the students involved, the school, and the community as a whole. Those of us who are a part of Food From the ’Hood know that we belong to an organization that is truly unique. We have the chance to experience what most people don’t until adulthood. We learn valuable skills, we form close relationships with the other members, and most importantly, we have fun.”
By mid-2007, Food From the ’Hood had awarded nearly US$ 200,000 in scholarships to 77 of its graduates, according to CNN. Fifty percent of the company’s profit is given to the graduating seniors who participate in running the company, and the other 50 percent goes back into the company to maintain its operations.
Food From the ’Hood is doin’ good for its neighborhood—and it’s a model brand with a social conscience.