Monday, July 18, 2011

Campbell's soup resalting belies true corporate responsiblity - profit.


To be fair, and to be clear, at the end of the day, nothing can matter more to corporations than profit, as without profit, there'd be no corporations.

Oh sure, corporations need to ensure they sell safe products, and they need to treat their employees fairly and such, but as far as "corporate social responsibility" goes, there's really no such thing.

That's not to say there can't be corporations who provide incredible contributions to worthy causes, it's just to say that it's their choice to do so, and not their "responsibility", and that at the end of the day, their responsibility, especially when discussing publicly traded companies, is for profit. Simply and fairly put, if a corporation's socially responsible moves impact negatively on their bottom line, you can rest assured, they'll move to eliminate them.

Campbell's recent soup re-salting is a perfect example.

The Campbell Soup Company's original de-salting was a move trumpeted both by Campbell and by many public health organizations, as a shining example of so-called corporate social responsibility.

The Campbell Company milked it for all it was worth, producing at least two television spots congratulating themselves (email subscribers, videos are on the blog). The first involved Hilton, a Campbell employee who, "questioned all the salt". They then filmed Hilton standing in a room where the salt the Campbell Company had removed reached his waist. The second involved Michael, another Campbell employee, who admitted that he didn't feel comfortable feeding Campbell soups to his children, "he didn't always feel right serving them at home". They then filmed him eating with his family with the then sodium reduced soup he could presumably feel good about.

Public health organizations and health care professionals bought into it hook, line and sinker.

Blood Pressure Canada even awarded Campbell's a "Certificate of Excellence" to commend Campbell for "the company’s continuing sodium reduction efforts and industry leadership".

Their fawning over Campbell's was certainly understandable given the powerful statements the corporation kept making. For example, Philip Donne, President of Campbell Company of Canada, in a press release from just one short year ago, referencing last year's Sodium Working Group call to reduce sodium consumption, stated that he believed the call to action was an urgent one, "We are pleased to see that many of our peer food companies are joining us in efforts to advance their sodium reduction programs. And for those who don't sense the urgency, the Sodium Working Group's recommendations may be just the motivation they need".

Or how about that of Andrea Dunn's, the Campbell Company's so-called, "Nutrition Strategy Manager" who in that same year old press release explained, "Campbell Canada's approach of gradual and consistent sodium reduction is helping to adjust our consumers' palates to the taste of healthier sodium levels".

So what do you think the Campbell Soup Company will tell Hilton and Michael now that the sales of their less salty broths faltered, and in response out came their corporate shakers? Will Blood Pressure Canada rescind their award, and will Campbell's stop bragging about it? Will Andrea Dunn quit in protest, and will Philip Donne, who when awarded Blood Pressure Canada's award stated, "We know there is still more work to be done and we are hopeful our leadership will inspire industry changes", ponder on his leadership inspiring industry change for increased sodium?

Not a chance.

And what of the public who were led to believe that health steadied the hands of Campbell's?

At the end of the day people need to remember that corporations don't do things out of the goodness off their hearts, they do them out of the goodness of their balance sheets. Sure, if corporations can make money and do good, they will, and good for them, but please don't ever kid yourself about true corporate responsibilities, as by definition they boil right down to plain old dollars and cents.

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9 comments:

  1. Paulette7:06 am

    I'm just wondering what the point of manufacturing products that don't sell would be.
    If reducing salt caused lower sales, however sad this move is, it is hardly surprising.
    I suspect the reduced sales were not the result of more people cooking soups from scratch as buying other companies offerings. In other words, reduced salt made them less competitive, not more. I personally am sorry to see this as I am one of those who does make choices based on nutrition profile. I am also a scratch soup maker mainly because of the salt. Perhaps those gradual changes were not gradual enough.

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  2. Roman Korol9:03 am

    The blog says it all. In the end it boils down to personal choice and individual responsibility. Still it kind of rankles, as it translates into a gesture that is accurately described by the French expression, de la je-m'en-foutaise ("ask me if I care") or, in English, that grand old corporate middle finger, upraised and extended to John Q. Public.

    Campbell's is not unique in this, of course. On very rare occasions, a sharp-eyed shopper might spot on a store shelf a lonely can or two of Heinz Tomato Juice marked "50% LESS SALT than regular Heinz tomato juice": Henz's desultory effort at offering a "healthier" choice that is, by all evidence, all but abandoned.

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  3. What's so bad about salt? A recent Cochrane review didn't find much evidence in favor of salt restriction. Here's coverage at MedPage Today:

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Prevention/27426

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  4. Steve, this post wasn't about salt, at least not directly.

    Further, the Cochrane Review, if you haven't read it, you might want to. The media take and the Review don't see eye to eye.

    I may blog about it at some point.

    Best,
    Yoni

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  5. Rosemary11:21 am

    Hi Yoni,

    What about this recent article? Curious for your opinion if time permits.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt

    As a paleo eater, I am not concerned about salt because we rarely purchase processed foods.

    Love your blog and post your articles quite frequently over on our Facebook page, North American Paleo Network www.facebook.com/napaleonetwork

    All the best!

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  6. Roman Korol11:38 am

    What's wrong with salt? There is a fair overview at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt

    Salt is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. When I was young and reckoned myself immortal, I pooh-poohed such stuff. But now at age 72, after a bout with colon cancer and insertion of a stent in an artery, I tend to take risks factors a tad more seriously and prefer to eschew that which is salt-laden or sugar-drenched. Let's call it, different strokes for different folks?

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  7. Roman Korol1:17 pm

    I've just checked a broadcast that Darya Pino did on the topic of salt (http://summertomato.com/ , click the tab for "Live" - Episode 9) and she reports that the major contribution of salt to our diets by far comes from processed foods, junk foods, something in the order of 75%. How astounding! There is worse yet: it seems that if you consume salt-laden processed food, and also consume fructose at the same time, then the fructose amplifies the degree of absorption by your body of that sodium, making its effect even worse than it might otherwise have been. The fructose messes up your metabolism and while it's at it, it helps the sodium mess it up even more.

    Over and above that, there is the salt we add from the salt shaker, and the lack of beneficial, counter-acting nutrients that would otherwise come from the fresh veggies that are missing in the case of processed food. A triple-whammy to the tummy. Helloo, hypertension!

    Is it fair to postulate that folks likely to eat Campbell's salty soups are also likely to be avid consumers of fructose and indifferent eaters of fresh veggies? How would Campbell's "corporate responsibility" fit into such an equation? Yoni, wouldn't this be a good topic for you to do a blog on?

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  8. Diane Finegod6:50 pm

    Have you considered that an unintended consequence of critisizing Campbell's for reducing sodium too fast for the consumer is that they might not try again? It seems you may get the opposite effect of what needs to happen, a gradual reduction that the consumer acclimates to.

    Did you point out that they did not return to the original level of sodium, rather they only put 50% of what was taken away back in?

    Did you point out the return to a higher sodium level is only in the US and not Canada?

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  9. Diane,

    If my criticism had any consequence for Campbell's, I'll eat their soup!

    All that said, tomorrow's post details fact thus far the re-salting is just in the US.

    Oh, and my issue and the post had nothing to do with salt. It had to do with spin, and the honest and fair truth that Campbell's ultimate responsibility is to make a profit, and if sales of less salty soup falter, I can't blame them for re-salting, but at the same time, is an example of why corporate social responsibility only exists if the actions taken by the corporation drive sales.

    That's not a condemnation of their actions, just a lens with which to view self-congratulatory press releases about trying to be good corporate citizens in the name of good health.

    ReplyDelete