A Plum Example: How to Grow Your Business and Further Your Purpose
In 2007, Neil Grimmer became a dad. Determined to give his daughter a healthy start, Grimmer and his wife started pureeing the same food they enjoyed throughout the day for their daughter. It was healthy, it was tasty, it was a gustatory adventure, and it definitely beat the jars of bland goop sold at the grocery store.
Over the next six years, Grimmer’s operation would grow into a multinational company — Plum Organics — with several product lines and over $80 million in revenue. What’s more, the company scaled while serving Grimmer’s original Purpose — to provide healthy meals for kids.
We chatted with a few members of the marketing team at B Corp Plum Organics to learn more about how they’ve managed to achieve such incredible success for their brand while staying true to their Purpose. Read on to learn from their success and consider how you can apply their best practices to find success in your marketing efforts.
They Aren’t Afraid of Scale—and the Criticism That Comes With It
Scalability is a hot topic in the B Corp space and the fourth sector as a whole. Innovators have discovered how to use business as a force for good, but as their enterprises grow, they’re faced with the challenge of scaling the values-driven approach. Simultaneously, corporations with vast supply chains are looking for ways to retrofit their operations into a values-focused model. In both cases, people are trying to answer the question: “How does a values-focused business operate on a global scale?”
When Campbell Soup Company announced that it would acquire Plum Organics in 2013, Grimmer expressed hopes that the acquisition would help his company expand its impact and help kids globally. There’s certainly reason to worry when “a publicly traded, 147-year-old global food and beverage institution” buys “a scrappy, organic baby food startup dedicated to alleviating hunger for children,” but things are going well post-acquisition. It has allowed a “cross-pollination of ideas and strategies” that has benefited both parties.
Of course, not everything can be sunshine and roses. As soon as you’re big enough to notice, there’s someone who will want to take you down. Earlier this year, Plum faced a potential lawsuit from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) based on its claim that the company misrepresented its products by featuring ingredients — both in product names and on packages — that don’t make up the largest percentage of the contents. For example, in “Kale, Apple & Greek Yogurt,” kale puree is listed as the fourth ingredient.
Instead of freaking out or ignoring the complaint, Plum worked with CSPI to create new labels and product names. In response, CSPI’s litigation director Maia Kats offered a rather glowing statement:
“By naming its pouched products based on the predominance of major ingredients, Plum will help push the marketplace in the right direction. We are pleased with the seriousness and dedication with which Plum addressed the concerns we brought to them in May. We hope other baby and toddler food companies follow Plum’s leadership.”
By using the opportunity to increase the clarity of its communications, Plum’s response demonstrated its commitment to transparency. As good companies scale, they are bound to face the skepticism that accompanies claims of authentically caring. Plum’s reaction to adversity sets a strong example for other good companies looking to grow: Own your issues and work to fix them.
They Know Purpose is a Serious Business
Though she doesn’t say it herself, Victoria Fiore, Plum’s director of mission and marketing, is a big reason that Plum has been able to integrate its values so thoroughly in its operations. The existence of her position and the importance afforded to the function demonstrate Plum’s determination to do business with Purpose in mind.
Victoria’s MBA allows her to engage with every department — marketing, sales, operations — with an understanding of the decisions and challenges they face. Because of her knowledge, she can make informed recommendations that are realistic in the context of the business. Victoria told me that she avoids going into “everything with dogmatism” and that she concedes a fair amount. Still, the existence of her position and the expertise required give mission a seat at the metaphorical table, which is crucial to its widespread consideration as business decisions are made.
The lesson here is not to treat Purpose like a feel-good-after-the-fact consideration. Structure your business like it’s important, hire like it’s a critical business function (because it is), and back up the person you put in charge of it. If Purpose really matters to you, your structure should make that clear. (Learn about the 8 characteristics of Purpose.)
They Speak to Their Customers’ Reality
As discussed in our post on effective communications, messages that speak to their audience’s reality are the ones that cut through the clutter and resonate. Plum’s #ParentingUnfiltered campaign embraces the reality of parenting to connect with its audience, acknowledging and celebrating that parenting is about “taking a chance, living unscripted, admitting uncertainty along the way.”
The product is tied in with the message — “Plum knows the ups and downs of this crazy journey because we live it, too. … And because we know what’s really going on, we make food that makes this parenting thing just a little easier.”
The campaign has managed to get tons of parents — not to mention a good number of influential mommy and daddy bloggers — to join the conversation by speaking to the glorious chaos of their reality.
If you’re looking to increase engagement for your brand, make it a point to discover and speak to your audience’s reality.
They Act on Their Values
According to the Plum website, “little ones deserve the very best food from the very first bite.” While the company has, to date, donated 14,388,888 organic meals and snacks to food-insecure children, it also has taken actions that go beyond the expected.
Through collaboration with Conscious Alliance, Plum donates food to the nation’s first “backpack program” — an initiative that gives children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota a backpack full of healthy food and snacks every Friday. Because these children depend on the free and discounted breakfasts and lunches at school, the program ensures they remain nourished through the weekend. Plum’s participation is a great example of the company working to give little ones a healthy start.
Another example of Plum living its values occurred in late 2014 when leadership learned of a 3-year-old boy named Harlan undergoing treatment for brain cancer whose favorite food was their raspberry oatmeal. After chemotherapy and radiation treatments, it was often the only thing he could keep down. When Harlan’s mom learned that the oatmeal was being discontinued, she reached out to friends on social media for help finding pouches still in stores. One family friend called on Plum directly for help.
Plum initially contacted its retailers to locate remaining oatmeal and sent employees to buy the pouches and mail them to Harlan. Still, sending straggling snacks wasn’t a permanent solution. Ultimately, Plum reached out to one of its production locations and commissioned a special 5,000-pouch-run of the oatmeal, which the company sent to Harlan’s family at no cost.
For the special run, Plum renamed the product "Harlan’s Oatmeal" and put his picture on the package. By showing a commitment to helping Harlan fight his illness with nutritious food, Plum lived out its values in a powerful way that ended up creating several passionate brand advocates.
If your brand is values-driven, find impactful ways to live out your values and then share what you’re doing through your marketing. You’ll further your Purpose, connect with like-minded individuals who might be good candidates for your community, and, most importantly, do some good with your marketing dollars.
We hope that the best practices we’ve extracted here will be helpful to you as you work to build and promote your for-benefit business. Are there other companies you see as role models in the social enterprise space or other best practices you want to share? Tell us about them below or tweet @RoundPegComm.
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
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