Monica Watrous 2019KANSAS CITY — Consumers are four times more likely to purchase products from a purpose-driven brand, according to a recent survey from Zeno Group, a New York-based communications agency. Attributes of a purposeful brand or company include fair treatment of employees, ethical and sustainable business practices, diverse and inclusive culture, and support for important social causes.

The proof is in the ice cream. Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, in early June as protests for racial justice erupted across the United States, released a passionate 700-word statement detailing its plan for dismantling white supremacy. The move was consistent with the Burlington, Vt.-based company’s decades-long, hands-on history of supporting social and political causes.

In the two months that followed, Ben & Jerry’s sales surged well ahead of its competitors in the ice cream category, said Nicolas McCoy, co-founder and managing director of Whipstitch Capital. Other companies publicly declared solidarity with the Black community, but Ben & Jerry’s message resonated with consumers because it already had credibility as a brand that stands for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

“Ben & Jerry’s could uniquely do this because from day one they were a people-focused brand,” Mr. McCoy said during a presentation at the Food Edge 2020 digital summit in October. “They didn’t put that statement out there to make money… They did it because it was authentic, and the consumers recognize that.”

In 2012, Ben & Jerry’s became the first wholly owned subsidiary to achieve B Corporation certification. Certified B Corporations are businesses that “meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose,” according to certifying agency B Lab. Unilever supported Ben & Jerry’s move and has since acquired or certified seven more B Corp brands, including Sir Kensington’s, Olly Nutrition and Pukka Herbs.

Corporate social responsibility must not be an afterthought or a marketing gambit.

New York-based Kind LLC founder Daniel Lubetzky trademarked the term “not-only-for-profit” and has maintained a commitment to operating the snack bar business as a force for good since its founding in 2004. Over the intervening 16 years, Kind has invested and committed more than $34.5 million to charitable causes. Authenticity, whether in Kind’s advocacy, its ingredients or its packaging, has been central to the company’s marketplace success and meteoric rise to a $5 billion valuation in such a short time.

“Unfortunately, far too few companies can back up their words with real action,” Adam Fetcher, a brand activism and communications consultant, wrote in an article for Fast Company. “There’s no manual, and there are no shortcuts to credibility. But demand for real corporate action on urgent social and environmental issues is growing fast, emanating from employees and consumers alike. Even leaders driven by fear to play it safe know that’s just no longer an option.”

Corporate social responsibility must not be an afterthought or a marketing gambit. Founders should identify and embed purpose into their businesses from the beginning. Consumers, particularly millennials and Generation Z, are likely to abandon brands that do not align with their personal values, according to research from Cone Communications and Porter Novelli.

Cynthia Tice, founder of Boulder, Colo.-based Lily’s Sweets, committed early to supporting organizations focused on childhood wellness.

“I really encourage up-and-coming entrepreneurs to understand the power they have within their businesses to effect change,” Ms. Tice said. “Business can be used to create good in the world by their practices. I can’t stress enough how much I think that should be part of an entrepreneur’s thought process. How can I use my business to do the most good in the world? We’re really at a time in our evolution where our country and the planet need this.”

This commentary was featured in the December 8 edition of Food Entrepreneur. Read the full issue here