Will Walmart Shoppers Buy Ethically-Branded Products?

Ethical buying is becoming big business, but few manufacturers have floated charitable business models that target consumers beyond the elites.

When Project 7 started up in 2008, it launched an ethical branding strategy familiar to Whole Foods shoppers everywhere: Simply chewing a piece of Project 7 gum, popping a Project 7 breath mint, or downing a bottle of Project 7 water would help fund nonprofits that "Feed the Hungry," "Save the Earth," and "Heal the Sick." Soon after it released its charity-minded line, Project 7 landed in that king of crunchy retail outlets. This fall, Project 7 made its way to more unexpected shelves: Walmart's.

As of September, customers shopping at 1,490 Walmart Supercenter stores across the country can pick up tubes of Project 7 "Feed the Hungry" mints (each tray purchase funds seven meals in the U.S.) and "Save the Earth" gum (buying one tube will plant a fruit tree). The move from health food grocery store to big-box emporium represents an effort to court lower-income consumers to ethically-branded stuff. "It's been a fascinating thing to watch," says Project 7 founder and CEO Tyler Merrick, 33. "The Walmart shopper is different from the Whole Foods shopper, but they want to feel like they’re giving back, too, even if they don't have as much disposable income to give to charity."

Ethical buying is becoming big business, but few manufacturers have floated charitable business models that target consumers beyond the progressive elite. "It crosses a lot of barriers in that sense," Merrick says. Newman's Own provides an initial model: A staple of mainstream groceries, Paul Newman's line of salad dressings, popcorns, and pasta sauces has raised over $300 million for progressive causes since 1982. But Newman's celebrity (his face graces every product) has been central to the brand's mainstream success. On Project 7 products, charity is front and center. "It's not on the back of the package," Merrick says. "These issues are our brand."

Before hitting Walmart, Project 7 placed its bottled water in 500 Caribou Coffee shops and its gums and mints in 25 airports across the United States. Walmart marks a huge expansion of the brand's accessibility. In each store, Project 7 products are visible at 10 to 14 check-out aisles, increasing the chances of catching a Walmart shopper's eye. Walmart bet on its customers taking notice. "If you’re a buyer for a retailer, you’re scared to make really big changes right now because you know that Snickers sells," Merrick says. "You just want to hold on to your market share. You don't want to take Snickers out and replace it with some new cool chocolate bar that gives back. It's a big risk for a buyer."

Part of the brand's wide reach relies on its focus on noncontroversial charitable giving. "None of our seven issues are polarizing in a political sense," Merrick says. "They're all pretty human." Still, "feeding the hungry probably pulls our heartstrings at the register more than anything," he says. The hippie-identified "Save the Earth" products were a riskier bet. But so far, Project 7's "Feed the Hungry" mints and "Save the Earth" gums are selling at similar rates in Walmart stores. "You have a large demographic of gum and mint shoppers in the tween and teen age group," Merrick explains. "Environmentalism and stewardship tends to appeal to that younger audience."

Whole Foods and Walmart shoppers may have similar tastes in charities, but their tastes in gums are a different story. Project 7 discontinued its Whole Foods line after finding difficulty satisfying the chain's all-natural requirements. "It just didn't make very good gum," Merrick says. "It lasted like five seconds." Now, Project 7's gum is produced much like any other mainstream gum company's (Merrick says a lean administrative staff allows Project 7 to fund its charitable giving). Walmart consumers tend to be less "concerned about the chemicals involved" in mainstream gum production than Whole Foods buyers, Merrick says. "People’s taste buds are just accustomed to that."
The appeal of Merrick's model is in this ordinariness—it tastes like regular gum, costs as much as regular gum, and sits right next to regular gum at the check-out aisle. The company's website claims that "doing good just got easy." Now, it's easier for a lot more consumers.

Photo courtesy Project 7

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet