Candy With a Cause

A growing number of industry players engage in altruistic marketing efforts.

Taking a cue perhaps from the long connection that sweets and causes have enjoyed — from Girl Scouts peddling cookies to kids selling candy bars for their ball teams — some for-profit confectionery companies have been adopting a similar strategy of marrying good works to good business.
Such cause-related marketing efforts in the confectionery industry appear to be moving from the extreme fringes of the marketplace into a higher-profile practice, though they’re still far from a mainstream practice.
Still, the success that some companies have had with it may be instructive for the other industry participants as they look to differentiate their products and seek to become better corporate citizens.
A good model for the power of altruistic marketing is Endangered Species Chocolate Co. The Ashland, Ore.-based for-profit company has developed a line of about 22 candy products that have a link to efforts to protect endangered species and related environmental causes.
Classified as natural products because of where they’re sourced and how they’re made, the company’s candy has vaulted to the upper echelons of the candy category of the natural foods industry, according to company founder and president, Jon Stocking. Among its products are a broad range of Endangered Species chocolate bars; Chimp Mints that support efforts to protect that species’ natural habitat; and Bug Bites, organic chocolates that come with trading cards that seek to educate consumers about insects.
“Our company was built on the premise that we’d use high-quality chocolate to support an environmental message,” Stocking says. “But I realize that I’m a business owner and that we are a corporation. I see it as my corporate duty, though, to inspire other like-minded individuals and corporations and prove to them that you can make a difference and make a living at the same time.”
The company has made its greatest inroads in direct-to-consumer sales in venues such as museum and zoo gift shops and natural foods chains.
In a sign that the mass market is becoming more receptive to products that employ cause-related marketing, Scripture Candy, Inc., Birmingham, Ala., is in the final stages of readying a new line of candies that bear inspirational messages. Although not yet named, the new line will be patterned after a line of candies sold under the company’s Scripture line that started out selling in Christian bookstores in 1996 and now sells in some 5,000 retail outlets. The products, which have packaging that bears Biblical passages, have steadily moved into the broader market.
“We’re forming a subsidiary company so we can work this new line into the business model of mass merchants,” says company founder and CEO, Brian Adkins. “It’s going to more of a value product than the Scripture line, which we want to protect. Mass merchants have expressed an interest in handling our products because they see growth potential in the broad inspiration category.”
The new product line, which will be projected to sell for around $1 per bag, will offer Biblical inspiration features similar to the company’s flagship line. A line of mints in the shape of a fish will be billed as Fish Mints, in reference to the Christian fish symbol, and bags will bear a prominent red cross.
While a for-profit company, Scripture Candy funds numerous Christian-related causes. More importantly, though, Adkins sees his company’s larger mission as one of spreading the Christian message through the profitable sale of a product.
Snacks with heart
Three Hearts Snacks, Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based for-profit company which was formed in 2002 to market a line of confectionery products inspired by Lulu Roman, a former member of the cast of the 1970s comedy show, “Hee-Haw,” has recently aligned itself with the Maine Adoption Placement Service (MAPS). Roman, who was raised in an orphanage, prompted the company’s support of orphans’ causes. Some profits from the sale of the product line, a mixture of nuts, chocolate, cereals and pretzels, are now being directed almost entirely to MAPS.
New York-based PeaceWorks, Inc.’s efforts to support economic cooperation efforts are partly aided by profits from the sale of a line of fruit and nut bars. Five percent of profits currently go to support the OneVoice movement, which exists to “foster the moderate consensus in the Middle East,” says Sasha Hare, vice president of new product development and marketing.
A Waffa candy bar that was made in a joint venture of Israelis and Palestinians was discontinued about 18 months ago, Hare says. But efforts to find a new candy product are underway, she says.
“We’re looking at some innovative chocolate products,” she says, noting that some might be specific “PeaceWorks products” that are notable for being produced through a joint effort by ethnic groups that have a long history of conflict.
Do Sales and Spirituality Mix?
Religion, politics and polite dinner conversation, the old saying goes, don’t mix. Does the same admonition hold true for mixing spirituality with selling candy?
A couple of high-profile confectionery companies don’t think so.
Sweet Blessings LLC, a Malibu, Calif.-based for-profit company that markets a growing line of candy in packages bearing Christian-oriented messages is merely tapping a vibrant marketing vein, says its vice president of sales and marketing, Bill McGee. At the same time, he says, it’s raising a lot of money for a worthy cause: supporting Christian youth camps.
"We think a huge percentage of the population will look at this type of product before anything else, if it’s offered," McGee says. "We’re simply reaching out to the faith community with Old Testament scripture. Our candy gives people an opportunity to share their faith with friends and family without having to necessarily talk about it directly."
Brian Adkins, founder and CEO of Scripture Candy, Inc., Birmingham, Ala., says the company’s line of candies that has packaging bearing Bible scripture, appeals to a growing segment of the U.S. population.
"Four of five American adults call themselves Christians, and 76 percent in a recent poll said they’d be interested in buying inspirational-themed products if they could find them," he says, noting that some of the proceeds support Christian causes.
Adkins is in the process of making them easier to find. He’s in the midst of rolling out a line of candies for the mass market, after successfully tapping Christian bookstores and other non-mainstream markets. Adkins says his research has shown that the broad market for products that offer an inspirational selling point is barely touched and that it could grow six-fold in the next few years.
As for the effect on the candy industry, Adkins says sales of inspirational products can’t be anything but positive. "I think the industry is helped overall any time a new avenue can be found to broaden the product’s appeal or reach."
Still, the inspirational approach is not for everyone. Bill Kelley, vice chairman of Jelly Belly Candy Co., Fairfield, Calif., says it’s still too narrow a niche for mainstream players.
"I think it has a place, but it might somewhat limit your market," he says. "If we were to do a similar cause-related program, I think we’d try to do something a little less political in nature."