Mars breathes life into its new mission by partnering with a non-profit to help close DC food gap

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Mars Food security Nutrition Corporate social responsibility

With conscious consumerism on the rise and potential employees increasingly evaluating companies based on their values, Mars Inc. isn’t wasting any time implementing the new mission it unveiled in March.

The company’s new purpose – “the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today” – was on full display last week in a community garden in Southeast Washington, DC, when Mars Food’s organic Seeds of Change brand donated $115,000 to the local nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, which is dedicated in part to helping close the food gap in one of the city’s worst food swamps.

The grant and Mars’ revamped mission are part of a larger macro trend of corporations ‘doing good’ not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is helping them connect with modern consumers and recruit top talent, who increasingly want to align with companies that share their ethics.

“Our purpose … is, of course, the right thing to do, but when you look at it from a business standpoint we need to ensure we are doing it for the right business reasons, too. And we know that consumers are essentially voting with their dollars … [for] brands that are like-minded and share either their values or have some sort of purpose that is beyond just selling a product and making money,”​ Sara Schulte, Mars Food North America’s external communications manager, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Similarly, and perhaps more pressing for Mars, she noted that vibrant and relatable corporate social responsibility programs also are helping companies recruit top talent.

“If you look at the kind of talent we want to attract, and especially millennials and younger generations, they are even more conscious of companies and who they trust and who they want to work for and want to be associated with,”​ she said, noting that the communication firm Edelman’s Trust Barometer released earlier this year showed that the number one thing that people trust is their employer.

This is particularly important for Mars given the CEO announced at the start of this year that the company plans to double the size of the company in the next 10 years through new brand development and acquisitions – two ventures that will require substantially more staff.

Building bridges

From BBAR’s perspective, the funds will help it maintain and expand the seven urban farms it operates in Southeast DC, on which many area residents rely for healthy, fresh and nutritious food.

Scott Kratz, the vice president of BBAR, explained that in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8, there are only three full-service supermarkets to serve 150,000 people, many of whom need to walk long distances or take multiple bus rides to access the stores – a task that isn’t always feasible given work schedules and competing obligations.

He also noted that restricted access to fresh, nutritious food is directly associated with chronic health diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, which affects 41.9% of the adults living in Ward 8.

“Here at the Baby Bloomers Bridge Park Plot … we are looking at how do we make interventions to make sure we are tackling some of these health justice issues,”​ and one way the non-profit – with Mars’ help – is doing that is by planting gardens that provide food that is sold at reduced rates to area residents, Kratz explained.

The grant also will allow the non-profit to offer free urban agriculture training, healthy cooking classes and pay for an intern to help manage the farms and program.

Mars’ broader commitment to ‘doing good’

While Mars. Inc’s mission may be new, its commitment to helping the larger community is not. And the grant given to BBAR in DC last week was only a fraction of what the company has given over recent years.

“Over the past several years, since we have created our give-back fund, [Mars] has donated nearly $2 million to communities and organizations across the country. It has benefited almost 100,000 people and helped to grow more than 90 tons of produce – and that is before we think about what has been grown here with Scott and Building Bridges Across the River,”​ Schulte said.

She added that Mars is trying to be “really intentional and give more significant grants so we can make a bigger, real tangible impact on the community that we are helping. And … we wanted to start supporting communities that are in our backyard.”

BBAR in DC is a short drive from Mars Inc.’s headquarters in Virginia. Similarly, Mars Food is based in Chicago and earlier this year the company donated $500,000 to the Chicago Public School System to support its Eat What You Grow program. In addition, it made a donation to the public school district in Greenville, Miss., where the Mars Food manufacturing plant is located.

Schulte added, “We want to be thoughtful and intentional where we are supporting and we want to have long-term partnerships. We don’t want to kind of just give and walk away. So, that is, I think, really important to us as we think about how this relationships evolves and how we get our associates involved in this community work.”

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