As coronavirus quarantines cause coconut water sales to spike, Vita Coco is taking its good fortune and paying it forward.
The coconut water brand is donating $1 million of its pandemic profits to Feeding America and No Kid Hungry. Vita Coco's CEO and Co-Founder Michael Kirban is also challenging other businesses, like Netflix and Charmin, who are profiting from surging sales to reinvest incremental revenue into relief efforts.
"Our business is great. We want to be high fiving. But we can't because the world's going to s---," he told Food Dive. "And so that was kind of the reason we wanted to do something beyond just product donations and really make an effort to help the communities that are the most vulnerable right now and also try to get others in our position to do the same."
Vita Coco regularly donates products to different organizations and as coronavirus started to spread across the world, its teams were doing the same. But Kirban said the company wanted to do even more since Vita Coco was seeing triple-digit growth in most of the major retailers who carry it. However, he said a $1 million donation is a stretch for the company, and they had to dig deep for it, but it sets a good example for others to follow.
"For an independent company like ours, $1 million is a substantial amount of money and I think it makes a statement," he said. "I wanted it to make a statement so that it felt for all of those others in the industry, who would see it, would realize that they need to step up in a big way also."
And several other food and beverage companies — from small businesses like Reed's to big manufacturers like Danone — are stepping up, too, donating food products and significant portions of their profit to help during the pandemic.
Smaller brands donate products
Ginger beverage maker Reed’s sample truck called The Green Machine travels around the country giving out tastes of its products. But that stopped as the coronavirus outbreak spread through the U.S.
Instead of leaving the truck idle, Reed's converted its consumer sampling truck into a delivery vehicle. The truck is visiting local hospitals, fire stations and medical centers in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, California areas to donate more than $10,000 worth of product they had in their truck to medical professionals and first responders. Reed's CEO Norman Snyder told Food Dive that the initial reaction is to take care of family and friends, then worry about the company.
"I guess similar to what they tell you in the airlines, put your own mask on first before you help somebody else. Now you start to sit and think about what can we do to help and ironically the idea came from the team that man's The Green Machine, our sampling truck," he said. "We thought it was our little way of contributing back to the community. We could do our part to say thank you."
The company is handing out all kinds of its products, including its ginger beer, Virgil's soda, candies, ginger chews and wellness shots. The truck was "overflowing to the brim" because it was stocked up for the Natural Products Expo West show that was recently canceled, Snyder said.
"We were all loaded up for that and ready to go. So rather than take the product back to the warehouse, we came up with this idea," he said. "So asking the question to ourselves, how can we do our part and help out? And that was kudos to The Green Machine folks, but that was our answer, and we quickly jumped on it."
Snyder said the company is staying safe by arranging the drop offs and having as little contact as possible.
"We try to take a bad situation and have a positive outcome on it," he said. "And... The Green Machine folks, unlike all of us who are probably sitting at home sequestered in our house, are actually going out on the frontlines and making a difference and helping out."
But Reed's isn't the only smaller company giving away its products during the pandemic. Tony's Chocolonely is teaming up with Fairtrade to provide free chocolate to farmers, health organizations and teachers "as a token of gratitude and appreciation." The company is also making donations to organizations, like food banks.
Thecla Schaeffer, head of marketing at Tony's Chocolonely, told Food Dive that the company takes a modest position because it makes chocolate; it doesn't save lives. But she said that teaming up with Fairtrade is important because they are an "impact company" whose mission is to change the cocoa industry, which is often characterized by its issues with forced labor and child labor.
Schaeffer said the company is working with Fairtrade to support communities in West Africa and educate them about social distancing and hygiene during the pandemic.
"We really care for people. People are, first and foremost, the most important in our own supply chain," she said. "If we can bring a little bit of joy here and there, we feel like we need to. We do give some chocolate to the people on the frontlines, first responders or people at the food banks to just do a little pick-me-up to cheer them up. And so we don't actively communicate about it because it just feels like it's the least we can do at this point."
The company doesn't give numbers in terms of how much they are donating, but Schaeffer says Tony's Chocolonely supports organizations like Meals on Wheels, Save the Children and the World Health Organization. She said as a company, it is important to stand up and support wherever you can.
Big Food and Beverage pitch in
From PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to Danone and Diageo, a variety of big companies are shifting their philanthropy to support COVID-19 causes and donate products.
Danone North America just announced a $1.5 million donation to local food banks and food rescue organizations that will be used to buy fresh and non-perishable food, pick up and distribute unused food from businesses or workplaces that have closed, mobilize volunteers and deliver food either to food banks or directly to people who need it.
Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America, told Food Dive that as a top 15 food and beverage company in the U.S., the company has a mission "to bring health through food to as many people as possible."
"The closure of workplaces and schools nationwide in the last several weeks is leading to increasing food insecurity for many Americans, including low-income families, housebound individuals and children unable to access free school breakfast and lunch," he said.
"We are responding to local needs and opportunities to make an impact in our communities."
CEO, Danone North America
For example, Danone's community partner Feeding Westchester had an urgent need for yogurt and milk to support residents in New Rochelle, New York, one of the communities that is heavily impacted by COVID-19. New Rochelle is also near its White Plains, New York headquarters where it has 600 employees. So the company donated about 50,000 cups of yogurt including Activia, Two Good, Dannon, Oikos and Light + Fit and 56,000 Horizon Organic milk boxes.
"We are responding to local needs and opportunities to make an impact in our communities," he said.
The alcohol industry is another category that has recently seen a sales boost as a result of consumer stockpiling. As demand on hand sanitizer grows, alcohol giants and breweries are starting to produce hand sanitizers they are donating. Both local distilleries and nationally recognized companies such as Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Anheuser-Busch are taking part in producing and donating hand sanitizer.
"Healthcare workers are at the forefront of fighting this pandemic and we are determined to do what we can to help protect them," Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes said in a statement. "This is the quickest and most effective way for us to meet the surging demand for hand sanitiser around the world."