When the CEO of Newman's Own, Mike McGrath, meets with retailers, he talks about all the great-tasting foods the company that bears Paul Newman's name makes, and there are a lot — the product line has grown from the original oil-and-vinegar salad dressing in 1982 to 324 products today. But lately he's changed his sales pitch to focus a little more on the fact that 100 percent of profits go to charity — the company will surpass more than $500 million in total giving this year.
"We put that in front of our retailers every time we meet with them," said McGrath, seated in his office at the Westport, Connecticut, headquarters of Newman's Own. "And they respond favorably, but honestly, a couple of them don't know who Paul Newman was. Some of the younger people are like, 'Was he a singer?'"
Just for the record, Paul Newman was an actor, a superstar one at that, who ruled the box office in his heyday in the 1960s and '70s with such iconic hits as "The Hustler," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting." But millennials can be forgiven if they don't remember Newman, who passed away in 2008 and whose last onscreen appearance in a feature film was in 2002's "Road to Perdition." Newman would be just fine with the fact that's he's now known more for his philanthropy than his filmography and that his salad dressing has out-grossed his movies.
"I think he'd be really happy with the company and the foundation," said Bob Forrester, the president and CEO of the Newman's Own Foundation and the executive chairman of the food company. "He would really like the grant-making that was going on, and he would absolutely love the food."
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Last year the privately held company, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, gave away close to $30 million to about 600 organizations after generating more than $600 million in retail brand sales. "Our goal is to make this a billion-dollar brand," McGrath said. "We've had a great bunch of years. The goal is to get that annual giving number up. That's what we work for."
To that end, McGrath has redesigned the packaging this year to emphasize the charitable giving — "It's what differentiates us," he says — and is expanding Newman's Own Organics with four new products in existing lines of pasta sauce, salad dressing and salsa, as well as a new line of organic mayonnaise. "That's a big area we're spending a lot of time on to make sure we're coming up with some great-tasting organic products," he said. "We started doing organic products 25 years ago, and when we talk to consumers, they remember that we created all these organic products."