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Nell Newman's Organic Thanksgiving

By Kathy Oberman Tracy, November/December 2007

How one meal helped launch one of America’s best-loved organic product lines.


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How did you start the organic line of Newman’s Own?

In 1992 I was a frustrated fundraiser for a small nonprofit, the Predatory Bird Research Group. I was looking at what my father was doing by giving 100 percent of his profits from Newman’s Own to charity and thought: Gee, why don’t I do something like that, start a line of organic products and support worthy organizations?

I was very naive about what I was getting into so I asked my friend Peter Meehan, who had a business degree, to help me out. We convinced Pop through the famous “Thanksgiving Dinner” that organic food was delicious and a worthy cause. He said, “OK, I’ll pay you each $15,000 plus expenses to get this off the ground but you have to pay me back.”

Did you pay your dad back?

Yes! The organic line started in 1993, with pretzels. Carbs were in back then and pretzels were my dad’s favorite snack and the number-one-selling snack food. I paid him back in one year. Today, Newman’s Own Organics is an independent company with 80 products. This year marks $250 million donated by Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation to educational and charitable organizations, including to my top three nonprofits: the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, the Homeless Garden Project, which provides resources for the homeless through organic gardening, and Shared Adventures, which serves the physically and developmentally challenged.

Some people criticize Newman’s Own Organics for, say, serving coffee with McDonald’s or partnering with Green Mountain Coffee.

Our intention is to help grow organic and introduce people to organic who might not necessarily be aware or interested in it. We are now using more organic coffee than ever before because of McDonald’s. And if the best way for me to introduce the world to organics is through coffee at McDonald’s then that’s OK with me! If you are a small coffee farmer in a Third World country, I think it’s fair to say, you would be happy the sales of organic coffee have gone up tremendously.



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