Brands' support of anti-racism movement balances business benefits, risks

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / Jacoblund
Source: Getty / Jacoblund

Related tags: Marketing, Social responsibility, Social media

Many food and beverage companies are joining the fight against racism in America by temporarily pausing sales, using their voices and positions to raise awareness of systemic racism in the US, donating profits and pulling advertising from platforms that do not support their views.

On LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms Tuesday, dozens of food and beverage manufacturers, entrepreneurs, investors and other industry stakeholders followed the lead of the music industry’s #TheShowMustBePaused campaign that launched last week in posting black squares to raise awareness about systemic racism in America.

Many simply used the hashtags #blackouttuesday or #blacklivesmatter without providing additional commentary -- a move that while rooted in good intentions prompted calls from the Black Lives Matter movement  to stop using its hashtag for blank posts out of concern that it was hindering access to much-needed information by clogging the hashtag. Others took time to explain that the movement was an effort to encourage reflection on the deep roots and impact of racism in America that led to the recent high-profile deaths of black people, including George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis last Monday.

Recognizing that the issue is complicated, Bolthouse Farms CEO Jeffrey Dunn explained in a June 1 LinkedIn post that the carrot and plant-based CPG company will go dark all week on its social media channels “to allow more room for thoughtful discussions to occur without the noise and distraction from less important topics.”

He added it is his “hope [that] these conversations can help us come together as a community to find long-term solutions for positive change in this country.”

Other companies, such as plant-based food brand Aloha, opted to shutter their commerce websites for the day in solidarity with the Black Out Tuesday campaign.

Aloha CEO Brad Charron explained in a June 2 LinkedIn post that his decision to close the company’s website for commerce Tuesday was based on his hope that “even small actions lead to a bigger groundswell of change.”

He added: “There is nothing more important than human dignity, equality and justice for all. Everything else is secondary. There must be urgency to create opportunities for people to realize our shared humanity.”

Other entrepreneurs, including Saskia Sorrosa, the founder and CEO of the baby food brand Fresh Bellies, also provided additional context and resources for viewers who want to help.

Providing links to the George Floyd Memorial Fund, Black Lives Matter and the Grassroots Law Project, Sorrosa called on her network in a June 1 LinkedIn post “to be part of the solution. To demand change. Call local officials, sign the petition, share, donate to the organizations working the lines. We need to mobilize everyone to demand change or change will never happen.”

Companies donate to NAACP, others

Many companies also donated directly to the movement and called on their networks to do the same.

Beyond Better Foods is donating 50% of profits in June from its websites eatenlightened.com and badabeansnacks.com to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund with a minimum commitment of $50,000. In a June 2 LinkedIn post, Beyond Better Foods PR Manager Keri Smith explained the company’s decision is rooted in its believe that “a joyful world is a world with justice for everyone, and a healthy community is a community that rejects racism,” ​which recent events show “how far our country still has to go.”

Similarly, Sweet Loren’s is donating all of the profits from sales placed on sweetlorens.com from June 2 through June 7 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund with the explanation that its action is done based on “love and togetherness”​ and in an effort to demonstrate hope and optimism in the face of challenges large and small. Like Sorrosa, Sweet Loren’s post included recommended reading, listening and viewing to help educate everyone on the black lives matter and blackout Tuesday movements.

In addition, the Fair Trade chocolate company Alter Eco is donating 20% of sales during the first week of June to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the kombucha company GT's Living Foods is donating to the George Floyd Memorial fund and asking others to participate, and the meat snack brand Country Archer Jerky Co. donated to NAACP and is urging others to do the same.

Brands reevaluate partnerships through lens of Black Lives Matter

The unrest in America this week also prompted other food and beverage companies to reconsider their partnerships and investments to ensure that those with whom they do business share their values.

Among these is the algae-based omega-3 ingredient company Simris, whose founder and CEO Fredrika Gullfot said in a June 2 LinkedIn post that her “little algae farm at the south-eastern coast of Sweden”​ is pulling its paid advertising from Facebook and Instagram’s platforms due to Facebook's “refusal to intervene”​ in the use of its platform for “hate-mongering, promotion of violence and disinformation.”

The decision “puts us at a major marketing disadvantage compared to other brands and products out there. But we also trust that honesty and respect will win in the long run, and trust our friends and community to share our message,”​ Gullfot wrote​.

Smith of Beyond Better Foods also noted in her LinkedIn Post that her company also is “making a commitment to prioritize justice and equality in our workplace and in our partnerships.”

The benefits of support outweigh business risk

Many companies took these steps with the awareness that doing so might cost them business or create conflict within their professional relationships, but they also reiterated that the risk for them was worth any benefit they could provide.

“As professionals, we have been conditioned to keep our work and home lives separate. As if the two don’t interact and effect each other,”​ Jordan Buckner, founder of TeaSquares said in a June 2 LinkedIn post. But, he added they do impact each other and as such “these conversations need to happen amongst friends, family and coworkers. … We must continue to have these challenging and difficult conversations to push our country forward.”

Sorrosa also acknowledged in her LinkedIn post that her decision to address the racism in America on the platform might not resonate well with everyone. She explained her decision to post anyways, noting that “while I do understand this platform is mainly for business-related posts and updates, what happens in our communities affects all of us.”

Nestle also encouraged its employees to discuss with each other the current events and the “senseless”​ racism that “further tears into the fabric of our communities,”​ according to a June 1 message sent to its staff and posted on LinkedIn.

“Many members of our Nestle family are hurting right now,”​ it wrote. “Consider reaching out to your colleagues to check in on them and offer your support. You can also help by joining an Employee Resource Group or by participating in one of their programs. And if you need to talk with someone, talk with your manager or make use of your Employees Assistance Program or other resources available.”

It added: “The ‘good life’ part of our corporate motto doesn’t mean a good life for some people. It means that we strive to work every day to help build a good life, a better life, for all people in the communities where we live and work around the world.”

The Kellogg Company also encouraged employees “create an open dialogue where employees can speak freely, and express frustrations or concerns,”​ and reaffirmed its commitment to “a diverse and inclusive environment, particularly for African American/black and minority employees.”

Many more also have stepped forward to support the cause, each other and to create space for conversation and development.

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1 comment

Systemic racism

Posted by Sy Op,

You speak of systemic racism in America as if it's a given. On what basis do you make the claim that there is systemic racism? And you speak of "deep roots...of racism in America" as if we haven't made monumental strides forward in the last 50 years.
Something to keep in mind: Last year, 19 unarmed white people and 9 unarmed black were killed by police.

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