Tip My Toque: Newman’s Own, a social enterprise born in the 1980s. ‘Like, really.

Late last week was the anniversary of Paul Newman’s birthday. And it got me thinking about his brand, Newman’s Own.

Before Tom’s Shoes, Warby Parker glasses, and global corporation charitable efforts were commonplace, there was Newman’s Own, a social enterprise born in the early 1980s. ‘Like, fer shurr, those “greed is good”, “Reaganomics” 1980s.

As legend has it, actor Paul Newman and author AE Hotchner had a family salad dressing recipe. They made a big batch and gave it away at the holidays. It was so good though, it was a shame to only enjoy it on special occasions. This sparked an idea for a business venture.

The brand was called Newman’s Own, and an illustration of Newman’s face would be featured on all the products, under the brand name in a ripply, rustic-looking font. Depending on the origin of food, Newman would appear in ethnic costume, a hat, jacket, or full regalia. For example, French-influenced items feature Newman in a beret. For products with vodka in them, it’s a ushanka and a mustache. For American Southwest-style foods, it’s a cowboy hat, blue shirt and neck kerchief. For Mexican-style foods, it’s a poncho and sombrero.

From humble beginnings in salad dressing, Newman’s Own expanded in all directions. The brand now includes pasta sauce, salsa, frozen dinners, frozen pizza, and wine, just to name a few. For a full list of their product line, see their website here.

In 1993, Paul’s daughter Nell started a new division of the company called Newman’s Own Organics. Labels on these foods feature Nell and Paul dressed in American Gothic style. Olive oil, fig cookies, sandwich cookies, pretzels, popcorn, peanut butter candy, peppermint candy, candy bars, dried fruits, fair trade coffee and vinegars are just some of the products in this brand. Their website can be found here.

Newman died in the fall of 2008, but Newman’s Own continues on. As of July 2011, they have donated $300 million to charity. That’s phenomenal. What’s also phenomenal is social enterprises are much more commonplace today as compared to 30 years ago. People who feel very fortunate and happy with their lives feel a yearning to give back and pass that good fortune on. The phrase “give back” is heard among individuals and corporate entities alike.

So Newman’s Own, I tip my toque to you.