Founded in 1869, H.J. Heinz Co. was socially responsible long before corporate social responsibility became a banner corporations are advised to adopt.
As a company practically founded on principles of CSR, Heinz has seamlessly integrated those efforts into everything it does.
Founded in 1869, H.J. Heinz Co. was socially responsible long before corporate social responsibility became a banner corporations are advised to adopt. In fact, founder Henry Heinz was one of the first advocates of pure food and corporate transparency.
"Our history is captured by the pure food products label," says Ted Smyth, SVP and chief administrative officer for Heinz. "Realizing horseradish was being sold with ingredients like sawdust to fill it out, Henry Heinz [used] a clear bottle so the consumer could see it wasn't adulterated. It was a great success and brilliant marketing."
These days, consumers are concerned with not only the quality, but also the nutritional content of foods. More than 70% of Heinz products can be classified in the healthy category, and incremental health improvements are planned. Ingredients like trans fat, salt, and sugar are being removed. Organic varieties are available, and many foods are being fortified with vitamins and minerals.
"We operate in fundamentally healthy categories," says Andrew Towle, VP of global marketing. "Remov[ing ingredients] of concern is a technical challenge. We cannot go backward in taste."
An embedded practice
Established in 1951, The Heinz Co. Foundation (HCF) is funded by the company to promote health, nutrition, and well-being in communities where Heinz operates. Indeed, CSR is undeniably part of Heinz's DNA, yet many are unaware of it because CSR is standard practice rather than a marketing platform.
"CSR, doing the right thing, and making better food [that's healthy] underlies all market communications," Smyth says. "It's a core principle. Is it overt? No. Is it implicit? Absolutely. You have to walk the talk. The public will find disconnect very quickly. Authenticity is key in brand equity and PR."
In 2001, HCF began its micronutrient program, supporting Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, creator of Sprinkles, an iron-supplement multivitamin powder. The company has used existing packaging and distribution channels to deliver the supplements to more than 1.2 million children in 15 countries.
"Sixty packets can cure one child of anemia for a year," says HCF director Tammy Aupperle. "[We hope] to reach 10 million by 2010."
In 2003, Heinz and Helen Keller International, which fights causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition, partnered in Indonesia. They distributed more than 44 million supplement packets, benefiting more than 400,000 people. The model will be replicated in India and China.
While the company has received plaudits for its efforts, CSR communications have lagged. Smyth notes that a recent LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) Index ranked Heinz at the top of its category in CSR, but mid-tier for communicating CSR, which was a "wake-up call" for Heinz to step up the message.
"We saw it as a great opportunity," says Michael Mullen, Heinz director of global communications. "We have great CSR initiatives; we just have to communicate [them]."
"They haven't made it a priority to communicate CSR because it's just who they are," notes Karyn Margolis, VP of CSR and sustainability at Edelman, which works with Heinz. "It's not considered PR - it's just how they do business."
Heinz issued its first CSR report in 2006. Edelman advises using CSR reports mainly as reference. "[They are] about building relationships with stakeholders who might benefit or share knowledge and get other companies to do similar programs," Margolis says.
A new report is set to come out in September. And Smyth says the micronutrient story "will be much bigger going forward."
"We [will] use the [upcoming] CSR report as a platform to begin a new communications [plan] to external audiences," Mullen says. "We're finalizing the plan. It will give us touch points throughout the year to communicate various CSR updates for both new and ongoing initiatives to external audiences."
The agricultural tie
Heinz has long understood the connection between agricultural practices and health. And its practices extend globally.
In 1999, the company began working with Chinese farmers and provincial governments to develop tomato farming and introduce techniques to increase yields, reduce pesticides, and promote responsible soil management. Agricultural experts have provided on-site guidance since 2002. Heinz is also working with China to strengthen food safety supervision and build an effective regulatory framework.
Eco-friendly packaging initiatives are widely instituted, including recycled paper trays and car- tons, non-bleached materials, and reduced resin in bags and bottles. In the UK, Heinz has produced a can that uses 13% less steel and saves $750,000 annually.
While Heinz has not focused on sharing its CSR story externally, internal communication has always been a priority.
Smyth, who has been with the company for nearly 20 years, says quarterly town-hall meetings "foster the culture of openness and transparency."
"We talk about being the good food company," he says. "I'm always struck by the honesty and integrity of [employees] and by the length of time [they stay]. It's a very loyal work force, and that loyalty works both ways.
We have a saying [at Heinz]: 'A company that values people is a company people value.'"
Heinz's CSR initiatives
|Micronutrient program||Nutritional supplement packets have been distributed to more than 1.2 million children in Indonesia, Guyana, Mongolia, Pakistan, Haiti, Ghana, and other countries||Consumers, shareholders, the media, government agencies, employees, and multilaterals|
|Health and wellness initiatives||A Global Health & Wellness Task Force is addressing ingredients of concern (sodium, sugar, and others), adding more goodness to products, and adding functional benefits for consumers||Consumers, shareholders, employees, and the media|
|Sustainable agriculture||Includes hybrid seeds, water conservation and reuse, recycling waste, minimal pesticide use, and partnership with Chinese government and farmers||Consumers, shareholders, employees, the media, and customers|
|Eco-friendly packaging||Includes reduced steel, recycled paper trays and cartons, non-bleached cartons, and reduced resin use||Consumers, shareholders, employees, the media, and customers|