November 15, 2018

B Corp: Are You Already One and Just Don’t Know It Yet?

B Corp: Are You Already One and Just Don’t Know It Yet?

The most recent Deloitte Millennials survey found 40 percent of respondents said the second most important goal of business should be to “improve society” – right after “generate jobs.”

Meg Barnhart’s experience with her 6-year-old business is that the survey results are accurate.

A year ago she and her partner, Jane McKay, opted to go through the process to obtain B Corporation certification for their company, the Zen of Slow Cooking, which produces and sells spice packets to make meals with slow cookers.

The B Corp movement is a group of 2,600 companies worldwide that have committed themselves to social and environmental goals beyond simply meeting financial targets. It is one way to satisfy consumers and employees who want to buy from and work for companies that share their commitment to social responsibility. While the consumer has been comfortable good product seals or certifications for years now, we need to recognize that the desire to interact with products from good companies is alive and well.

The roots of the Zen of Slow Cooking go back to 2006 when Barnhart discovered the slow cooker and how it could improve the quality of life for her family. She has three children, one of which has learning challenges, and family life could be stressful at times.

Six years later, Barnhart went looking for an idea for a business in which her son Doug could eventually join her and would also create employment opportunities for others with learning challenges.

Today, the Zen of Slow Cooking is on several e-commerce platforms, is currently in 80 retail establishments, and in November Albertsons will start selling its products in all 142 of its Oregon stores.

Somewhere along the line, she said, “I started hearing about all these interesting companies that had this ‘B’ on the back of their products.”

To attain certification as a B Corp, companies must submit an assessment of their social and environmental performance, as well as evidence of transparency in their governance policies, to B Lab, the nonprofit that administers B Corp.

If the company scores high enough, it is allowed to use the “B” in its marketing materials. If the company doesn’t meet the criteria, B Lab officials will work with them to help make changes that will eventually qualify them.

Among the B Corps are FMI members Danone and King Arthur Flour, an employee-owned company that makes baking flour and other ingredients. King Arthur donates a meal to hunger-relief nonprofit Feeding America every time it sells a package of its mix.

Powerhouses like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, are B Corps as well. In addition, AeroFarms uses indoor vertical farms to grow 250 kinds of leafy vegetables on a fraction of land that would ordinarily need to be cultivated.

B Lab also facilitates mentoring opportunities for emerging B corps. Barnhart recently attended a B Corp Champions Retreat with “fellow B’s” where she was able to connect with other entrepreneurs like herself, but also with well-established, financially successful companies.

“I was able to sit down with one of the people from Ben & Jerry’s and, when I told him about a supply chain challenge, he just said, ‘Here, let me call so-and-so for you,’” she recounted. “From a resource standpoint, being a B Corp is phenomenal because you’re with people who’ve really built strong brands.”

As food retailers become more aware of the demand on the part of consumers to do business with companies that share their social values, B Corp status can help an entrepreneur meet those demands in a way that also makes commercial sense.

“If you can integrate a value-based business structure into your business plan,” Barnhart said, “you’re going to see more and more people who want to buy from you.”

Meg Barnhart serves as a FMI Emerge mentor, a subscription-based not-for-profit program focused on helping food brands growth their business and shelf space.