Smart Smuckers and Smug-Free CSR

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grasped more consumers’ attention, and interest has spiked the past few months due to a certain oil spill that is still in the news.  Do a hash-tag search on Twitter (#csr) and you will find such a conversation flowing, and not just because of brainless re-tweets.  Sites like Justmeans devote themselves to CSR and other issues related to environmental, social, and governance issues (or ESG).

Too often, discussions on CSR focuses on the environment.  Labor issues come a distant second, probably because many companies have improved how workers are treated throughout the supply chain since the exposés of  athletic shoe companies in the mid-1990s.  Governance and transparency lag further behind, unless of course an Enron-like scandal dominates the newswires. What about companies that enjoy stellar performance while they treat their employees and communities well?  Take the case of Smuckers, which has churned out goodies like apple butter, jams, and jellies since the 1880s.

Jams and such preserved items have lost their luster, especially among the too-cool-for-school “sustainability” crowd that touts such products as unfiltered honey, agave syrup, and stevia root (preferably made by empowered villagers, of course).  They are all find products, but nothing makes for a better breakfast than a slice of toasted gluten-rich bread smothered with a sticky glob of jam or jelly.  If your mouth is not watering by now, you are just plain jaded.  Moving on–

We may have progressed from the times when canning was necessary to keep us stocked for the winter, but for Smuckers, those breakfast spreads are a large part of its portfolio of business, which netted the company US$4.6 billion last year.  The company has grown even more since the 1990s, when it nabbed products including Crisco, Jif peanut butter, and Folger’s coffee.  But a gaggle of lucrative brands is not enough to maintain a company’s growth.  As Marc Gunther explains, much of Smucker’s success lies in old-fashioned family values.

The Smucker family has run their eponymous company for four generations, with a fifth currently being groomed to take the helm.  The company is publicly owned, but structured in a way so that shareholders who own the stock for more than four years gain extra votes–sharing the same class of shares as the Smucker family, which now owns only 10% of the firm.  Along the way, the corporate culture, focused on respect, listening, manners, and even a sense of humor, has earned Smuckers a high ranking in “Best Place to Work” surveys year after year.

Smuckers is still based in Orriville, Ohio, a town of 8,000 about an hour from Cleveland.  The company is still committed to northeastern Ohio, and is kicking their community involvement up a notch.  Renewable energy and improved waste water management are on Smuckers’ checklist, and through its funding of the Heartland Education Community project, the firm plans on boosting local education programs, especially those centered on character building and ethics.

More companies are taking pains to show how they are improving the lives of people abroad or in underserved communities.  Smuckers’ story may come across as an ordinary company working in an ordinary town, but the effects it has on Orrville and beyond are extraordinary.

The company’s corporate culture and community projects can be explored here.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

7 responses

  1. You're right, the focus of CSR globally at the moment has indeed been mostly environmental, but that's certainly not the case on a more local level. Here in the UK all conversations about CSR, on twitter or otherwise, have been almost entirely rooted in dissecting our new government's 'Big Society' initiative and how it will effect things like transparency, governance and labour.

    The problem with using twitter hashtags as barometers is that they are generally international, and where the conversation is rooted in something like this, they will only tend to deal with international issues. What with the huge gulf between labour laws, style of governance and cultural differences, the environment is about the only topic where those involved in CSR globally can really work together beyond sharing ideas.

    The Smuckers example sounds great though.

  2. Perfect article, Leon. Many measurements, surveys, and conversation topics seem to skip fact that another tenet of a successful CSR strategy is how one company handles it's employees.

  3. Pingback: The Alternative to CSR: Regulation? |

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