Red Duck Foods: How this saucy B Corp is turning the tables on the condiment kings.
Move over Heinz and Hunts Red Duck has a formula for success and a community to back them. Red Duck is a member of a growing movement to redefine success in business. For-profit companies who strive to meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability are becoming Certified B Corporations.
I spoke with Jess Zutz Hilbert days after the company conquered the certification process and attained B Corp status. For Jess and her co-founders Shannon Oliver and Karen Bonner – their business is sauce, but Sauce is only the beginning.
Part One. A Business Hatches
Founders Jess Zutz Hilbert, Shannon Oliver and Karen Bonner, met at the University of Oregon in the MBA program.
I was in the sports marketing center. Karen initially was in the sports marketing center and then she joined the Entrepreneurship Center and then Shannon who is our third partner was in the Sustainability Center. We all came from very different backgrounds. But being at the University of Oregon where it’s the best green MBA program in the country, we always wanted our company to be guided by a sustainable product and a way that we ran our business.
When we learned about B Lab and that there was a certifier out there that promoted beneficial for-profit business we l jumped on it. Our business was still in the early stages, and there was no way we were ever going to pass the B Impact Assessment.
Part Two. Like Water Off a Duck’s back: From Failure Comes Growth
Red Duck continued growing, and in 2015 the company relocated to Portland, Oregon. Oregon has over 100 B Corps and a passionate food community.
The community here in Oregon is very active and very involved. Red Duck was thinking about becoming a B Corp. I went to a ton of parties, and there were a lot of companies that were just there to help us and to answer any questions that we had about the assessment.
When you take the initial assessment, everybody fails and fails miserably. We were no different. We were nowhere near able to hit that threshold which is 80, and there are 200 points that you can get at as a max score.
We just had none of the systems in place.
Part Three. Getting the Upper Hand on The Competition
Around that same time (2016) the founders visited tomato farms because they wanted to understand where their ingredients were coming from and the practices that were in place. As part of the company’s mission of sourcing organic ingredients and ensuring the quality and integrity of our products has always been one of our highest priorities. They wanted to be able to trace the ingredients and inputs the go into each bottle.
So the tomatoes are the biggest ingredient and make up the majority of our products.
Our tomatoes come from the Central Valley of California which is a tomato haven as far as the United States goes. The conditions are perfect for growing tomatoes. But our growers in particular work with a processor called Morningstar and they have some really interesting and awesome practices in place that they’ve been doing it since the 70s.
Morningstar has a dedicated organic tomato processing line. The tomatoes go from field to puree in less than four hours, and they’re harvesting tomatoes when they’re red, ripe, and in season. That’s part of the reason why our products taste phenomenal.
In this new era of transparency, fresh reigns supreme.
A Red Duck gets harvests tomatoes when they’re red and ripe
B The tomatoes go from field to puree in less than four hours
C The other ingredients are also organic and carefully sourced
Part Four: Getting all their Red Ducks in a row
With the ingredients sourced and the supply chain in place, Red Duck had the formula for success. They still wanted to go a step further and conquer the B impact assessment after the initial failure. They were finally in a position to hire their first and only full-time employee. That’s when everything changed.
When Mark came on board, he spent a long time helping us fill out the B Impact Assessment. The assessment is tricky because it’s just multiple choices like yes no or some middle range. And once you get a little bit more clarity on whether or not you can say yes then you can often proceed forward with getting the points and a lot of it was in our initial assessment. Having the systems in place made a big difference.
Now that we have the systems in place we have to keep them in place, and we have to track them. So not only is getting that certification difficult but keeping the certification is also difficult because you now have an obligation to all of your stakeholders to make good on these promises
While B Corp might not mean much to consumers (it will!) the business to business side is a major benefit. At last count, there were 2,422 B Corporations from 50+ countries representing 130 industries. You become part of a community of like-minded businesses, and you work together to help each other out.
From concept to conquering the B impact assessment, Red Duck stayed true to their mission. In December 2017 they achieved B Corp certification. Jess made it clear that their success was a combination of community support and refusal to give up. I asked her what advice she would give to other food companies considering getting B Corp certified.
Considering getting B Corp Certified? Here are some tips from Red Duck:
- It has to be something that you truly firmly believe in, and you all buy into it.
- It’s a huge project, and it’s going to take a lot of time.
- You’re probably going to fail the first time
- You’re probably going to fail the second time and that’s OK, Red Duck did the same thing.
- The B Lab folks are there to help.
- There is a community of other businesses who are there to help and mentor you through the process.
While red duck is busy making waves in the condiment aisle of over 2500 stores in the US, Canada, and Australia, they say the real benefit of being a B Corp is the community and that this rising tide of beneficial businesses will lift us all.
So go ahead, Quack open a bottle of Red Duck and support People Using Business as a Force for Good.
Check them out at ExpoWest booth N1938