Natural Foods Merchandiser

Beyond profits: Providing for people and planet

by Anna Soref

You and your customers see the commitments on product labels throughout your store—one company gives 10 percent of proceeds to feed the homeless while another plants trees around the country. It’s one of the defining virtues of the natural products industry: philanthropy. Here, The Natural Foods Merchandiser looks at what five companies mean when they say that they give back.

Derma e
Derma e Natural Bodycare in Simi Valley, Calif., makes more than 90 antioxidant-based skin care products.

Derma e recently formed the Paraguay Project to respond to the needs of, and create awareness about, the struggles of the Paraguayan people. Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with a $1,400 average yearly income per person in 2007, according to the World Bank.

The inspiration for Derma e’s Paraguay Project came from Sondra Miles, a member of the company’s research and development team and a former Peace Corps volunteer in a rural community in Paraguay. Upon returning to the U.S., Miles wanted to help provide educational opportunities, sustainable incomes and empowerment—with an emphasis on women and youth—to Paraguayan people. Miles also wanted to help protect the rain forest and other natural resources in Paraguay.

The Paraguay Project takes a three-tiered approach. Derma e purchases handcrafted spider-web lace at a fair market price directly from Paraguayan co-ops. The company then sells the lace to boutiques in the U.S. and on its Web site, allowing consumers to get involved. The profits are donated to two nongovernmental agencies: Global Infancia, which works to protects children’s rights in Paraguay; and Guyra Paraguay, which focuses on birds and their habitats, including the rain forest. Thirdly, Derma e donates a percentage of sales from all of its products to the Paraguay Project.

Endangered Species Chocolate
Indianapolis-based Endangered Species Chocolate makes all-natural ethically traded, shade-grown, and kosher products, as well as products that are certified vegan and organic.

Each year, Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10 percent of net profits or $25,000, whichever is greater, to help support charitable organizations. “Every two years, the company has a rigorous process in which it selects two nonprofits with an aggressive and clear mission to help support species, habitat and/or humanity,” says Renée Sweany, cacao-tree hugger and marketing associate for the company. For 2007-08, ESC is partnering with Chimp Haven and Ocean Conservancy. Chimp Haven is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide lifetime care for chimpanzees no longer used for medical research, as pets or entertainers. Ocean Conservancy’s platform includes protecting sea life from human impact.

The company has a rigorous process in which it selects two nonprofits with an aggressive and clear mission.

The company also donates chocolate (about $50,000 worth predicted for 2008) to charitable organizations, and ESC employees work on the farms that harvest the company’s cacao. “In 2006, we installed two water pumps in our Nigerian farming communities and donated school supplies, including desks, chairs, chalkboards and textbooks. Last year we sponsored a volunteer through The Mercy Foundation, a medical mission group that travels to Nigeria. This year, we are sending two ESC employees and a doctor on a medical mission to Nigeria,” Sweany says.

The company is accepting applications until Aug. 31 for its 2009-10 partners at

Nature’s Gate
Chatsworth, Calif.-based Nature’s Gate has been making botanical-based personal care products for 27 years.

At Natural Products Expo West in March, Nature’s Gate announced its initiative with the nonprofit WaterAid America. “Nature’s Gate has always recognized the importance of rainwater and natural resources. Over 30 years ago, founding brothers Leo and Vladimir hand-collected rainwater and blended it with herbs and essential oils from their herb shop to create the very first Nature’s Gate Rainwater Shampoo,” says Laura Setzfand, vice president of marketing. In acknowledgment of this heritage, and the importance of water as a key ingredient in the creation of personal care products, Nature’s Gate is partnering with WaterAid America to fund the construction of rainwater harvesting systems to help some of the world’s neediest populations obtain sustainable access to safe, clean water, Setzfand says.

“WaterAid operates in 17 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific region, and has helped more than 11 million people gain access to safe water through low-cost, sustainable projects that can be locally managed and maintained,” she says.

In addition to the initial $100,000 donation to WaterAid, Nature’s Gate is also supporting the organization and raising awareness of those without access to clean water this holiday season with gift sets containing ingredients from countries experiencing a water crisis.

Organic Valley
Organic Valley is a La Farge, Wis.-based cooperative of more than 1,200 organic farmers that produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter and juice.

Organic Valley supports hundreds of organizations throughout the country each year with cash, silent auction kits, educational literature and product donations. Several of the company’s giving programs allow Organic Valley to deepen its reach, such as the farmer-funded and -directed granting organization Farmers Advocating for Organics. “FAFO is able to provide funding for important organic research, education and advocacy projects to benefit both consumers and farmers. In 2007, they funded programs such as a herd health study and a national farm-to-school network program,” says Kate Shillin, cooperative giving coordinator for the company.

In addition, Organic Valley’s Community Giving Fund receives 10 percent of the company’s profits to support organizations that are starting new programs or activities, such as a farm camp curriculum and a new EcoPark. “We also provide cash and product donations through our strategic philanthropy, sponsorships and partnerships. Those donations vary from food for a state chapter La Leche League event to a multifaceted partnership with the National Gardening Association that includes not only cash and product for various events, but also working more closely on a particular project like a school garden,” Shillin says. “In fact, in 2008, we anticipate more than a million dollars in cash and product to be distributed through our various giving programs.”

Rainbow Light
Based in Santa Cruz, Calif., Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems has been formulating and manufacturing nutritional dietary supplements for more than 25 years.

Rainbow Light is the founding donor to Vitamin Angels’ Maternal Health Project, which provides supplements to at-risk pregnant women and their children around the world. The company has contributed millions of supplements, “positively impacting birth weights and infant and maternal survival rates,” says Sharon Dressen, Rainbow Light spokeswoman.

Rainbow Light chooses to donate product rather than money for several reasons. “Donations are tied to our prenatal multivitamin sales, allowing our customers to participate in the donations through their purchases. The donation program is built directly into production forecasting so the donations happen automatically. As product sales increase, so do donations. Our purchase/donation program enabled us to donate over 2 million supplements in 2007,” Dressen says.

“Rainbow Light’s consistent prenatal supplement donations have allowed Vitamin Angels to provide ongoing, critically needed dietary support to maternal health programs in many countries around the world,” says Vitamin Angel Alliance founder Howard Schiffer. “Mothers’ and babies’ lives are being saved because of the commitment Rainbow Light has shown.”

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p. 22,24

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.