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Fig Newmans

Paul Newman will be remembered for many things — acting, philanthropy, race-car driving.  I will always think of him as an incredibly astute marketing guy.

About ten years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Newman's Own offices in Westport, Conn., and interview its president, Tom Indoe (interview here).  After the interview, Tom gave me a tour of the place, including Paul's office.  He wasn't there at the time, so my fondest memory is simply a small sign tacked to the wall that read:

"You can get straight A’s in marketing and still flunk ordinary life." ~ Paul Newman to Lee Iacocca after his Ford Pinto caught fire.

As far as I'm concerned, that says it all, and with the great sense of humor that is the signature of the Newman's Own brand. This was, after all, only salad dressing.  But Paul understood that people might buy his brand once because it had his name on it and  might buy it twice because all profits went to charity.  But they would only become loyal, long-term customers if it were a really good product.  And it is.

Just as important, Newman's Own never deviated from the core idea that every one of its products was either created or inspired by the man himself.  Paul Newman made certain of that by personally approving every single one of the brand's new products, of which there are now more than 150.

That legacy is now largely in the hands of Paul's daughter, Nell, who in 1993 convinced her dad to launch a line of organic food items. In a New York Times article, Nell confirmed that he didn't plan to help revolutionize the market for organic products:  "He did know that it was a big thing, but I don’t know that he realized he changed snacking in America in terms of natural foods," said Nell, adding,  "He probably would have laughed at that."

According to the Times, Newman's Own "pioneered the use of sustainable, organic palm fruit oil.  That led to the first trans-fat free microwave popcorn and to a filling for Newman-O's that was creamy without trans fat."  His Fig Newmans actually built the market for organic fig paste.

As Nell pointed out: "Everything had to be something that my father, who was born in 1925, would look at, recognize and eat ... We wanted people of his generation to say, that really tastes good — and then say, oh, it’s organic."

And, oh, it's also raised more than $250 million for various charities (must-see video here).

Now, that's "change" we can believe in.