Special Guest: Steve Hofford; Chief Operating Officer at Darwin’s Natural Pet Products.
On this episode of the Impact Exchange, we were joined by Steve Hofford, Chief Operating Officer at Darwin's Natural Pet Products, to discuss how Darwin’s is propelling their social impact initiatives through their product and company mission.
Steve shared insights into Darwin’s dedication to social impact and supporting animal welfare. This podcast episode dives into Darwin’s mission, their partnership with nonprofit organizations and influencers, and the impact of their initiatives on customer engagement.
Listen to the podcast to learn more about Steve’s perspective on the following:
- How Darwin’s uses their mission to power purpose.
- How Darwin’s is leveraging collaborative partnerships to maximize impact.
- The importance of aligning a company's values with the expectations of socially conscious customers.
Listen to The Impact Exchange Podcast:
Driving Factors behind Darwin's Social Impact Initiatives
Darwin’s social impact strategy stems from their founder, Gary Tashjian’s, devotion for animal welfare. Gary’s passion for rescuing and fostering dogs helped inspire the idea of Darwin’s when he began a journey to finding a holistic approach to his dogs’ diet.
Molly Trerotola: What inspired Darwin's commitment to social impact? Was it hearing from the customers or from the founders' commitments?
Steve Hofford: I think it would really be Gary, the founder. Gary has always had rescue dogs and foster dogs. They all started up as a foster and became an adopted dog. And his mission when he sells the company is to give a lot of what he earned building this company back to the community to try to end kill shelters.
Now as a trusted supplier of healthy pet food products, Darwin’s mission revolves around improving the lives of pets and promoting the adoption of animals, with a goal of ending kill shelters. Through their products, Darwin’s aims to help pet owners see a happier and healthier pet in just 30 days.
“We hear people tell these success stories and how food allowed their pets to live longer than they probably ever would. Adding this layer to that just reinforces the fact that although I'm not working for a charity, I feel like what everybody does in our facility is contributing to a real heartfelt message to consumers and their pets and everything else.”
Alongside their commitment to give pets and their owners more years of healthy companionship through their products, Darwin’s also supports and collaborates with nonprofit organizations that share a similar mission. They even have a foster program where Darwin’s will support people who are fostering animals by paying for the food needed to nourish the foster animal.
By covering the cost of food for individuals fostering animals, Darwin’s is able to encourage more people to participate in fostering and providing a nurturing environment for pets in need.
Darwin’s Approach to Collaborative Partnerships and Programs
To fulfill their mission, Darwin’s has established partnerships with nonprofit organizations that focus on supporting animal welfare. Darwin’s recently partnered with Harmony Fund to raise funds for dogs and cats that were impacted by the war in Ukraine. Through this partnership, volunteers drove throughout Ukraine delivering truckloads of food and veterinary medicine for animals.
Darwin’s also has a service dog program where they offer discounts to all service dogs and their owners. Through this program, they also sponsor service dogs through funding and training for people who have special needs that require service dogs.
In addition to partnering with nonprofit organizations, Darwin’s also drives impact through partnerships with influencers.
Molly Trerotola: You touched on a little bit about the programs you run, but can you give me more specifics? So what nonprofits do you partner with and how do you give to them?
Steve Hofford: So we have an influencer program where if an influencer brings in a new customer, we reward that influencer with, I believe it's $50 to their charity of choice.
These partnerships and programs demonstrate Darwin's commitment to making a positive impact on animals' lives beyond their core business of providing high-quality pet food. Forming partnerships with organizations and individuals who share similar values to your business is a powerful way to drive impact and maximize reach for your initiatives.
Consumers are more likely to purchase products from a brand that they trust, and engaging in influencer marketing is a great way to build trust within a community. 50% of Millennials trust product recommendations from influencers, and 33% of Gen Z consumers have bought a product based on an influencer’s recommendation.
Forming partnerships with influencers and nonprofit organizations can also positively impact your bottom line. 89% of marketers who currently engage with influencer marketing will increase or maintain their investment in 2023. When you partner with a nonprofit organization, you have the opportunity to not only reach a new audience, but you’ll also be able to strengthen the relationship with your current audience through shared values.
Measuring the Impact of Charitable Giving on Customer Engagement
Understanding what values are important to your business and your customers may come as a natural extension of your company offerings, but knowing how to act on those values, and how to measure the success of your social impact initiatives can be complex when you’re just getting started.
One way to measure the success of your social impact strategy is by understanding how your customers engage with it, and if your initiatives positively resonate with your target audience.
Molly Trerotola: How have you seen the impact of your initiatives on your customer engagement, if at all?
Steve Hofford: We've been somewhat system restrained. So to get the tangible data that we think we're getting is hard right now, but we're close. Through our surveys and everything else, we know it's meaningful for our consumer base and that we need to do more of that.
Steve acknowledges the importance of aligning the company's values with the expectations of customers, especially younger generations who seek brands that prioritize social impact. As consumers continue to prioritize impact when making purchase decisions, they’re not only choosing brands whose values align with their own, but they’re also willing to spend more to support those brands.
A recent study found that more than 70% of consumers said that, “to some or to a great extent”, they’re willing to pay more for food produced by local farmers and for goods made by a company known for ethical practices, such as supporting human rights or avoiding animal testing.
Steve also discusses how Darwin’s has faced challenges in communicating their social impact initiatives, primarily due to the founder’s modest approach to doing good. The approach that a business takes to corporate social responsibility is vital to ensuring that their efforts do not come across as “reputation scrubbing”. It is for this reason that many brands fear appearing insincere in their impact efforts.
On the other hand, brands who are making a genuine impact on society are faring better in gaining trust and loyalty from socially conscious consumers. When a company leads with purpose, consumers are 76% more likely to trust that company and 72% more likely to be loyal to that company.
The younger consumer generation seeks genuine commitments rather than mere corporate social responsibility gestures, and Darwin's recognizes the need to communicate its social impact efforts more prominently, building confidence and authenticity in their mission.
Future Outlook on Social Impact in Retail
Following the past few years of a global pandemic and now with fears of a global recession where we’re seeing higher employee turnover rates and rising inflation, companies that use purpose to guide their strategy and clarify decision-making will be better equipped to retain employees, build greater trust with their customer base, and establish structures and processes that build long-term resilience.
Molly Trerotola: How, what do you feel like the role of social impact is in retail and where do you see it going in the future based on your own experience, but also on trends that you've picked up at this conference?
Steve Hofford: It probably goes back to loyalty and being part of a culture. I think people seem to be more detached than they ever have, whether it's from Covid or just from all the annoying things that keep us busy, like our phones and everything else. And at the end of the day, what did I do for my community?
Looking ahead, the role of social impact in retail will continue to grow as consumers increasingly seek out purpose-driven brands. Sustainability, community engagement, and aligning with causes are all becoming vital components of successful retail strategies.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The Impact Exchange, until next time...stay healthy, stay mindful, and create impact.