Words On Words

Published in the Miami Herald on 11/24/03


The launch, acceptance and success of the Newman's Own brand turned into a powerful engine for supporting good works.


Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good. Paul Newman and A. E. Hotchner. Doubleday. 253 pages. 23.95

The improbable success of the Newman's Own brand is truly remarkable, since most celebrity-named products fail. Remember Frank Sinatra's spaghetti sauce? Me neither.

Veteran actor Paul Newman used to make his own salad dressing for himself, his family and friends, avoiding the usual cocktail of artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives found in most store-bought salad concoctions. After much encouragement (and soul-searching), Newman -- along with writer and neighbor A.E. Hotchner -- decided to market the salad dressing

As Newman and his partner Hotchner write in their new book, recounting a meeting with a group of new product consultants: '`Celebrity products fall into a category of their own,' said Karen, a trim blonde in a tailored suit. 'When celebrities come out with their own products -- Rocky Graziano's spaghetti sauce, Mickey Mantle's barbecue sauce, Nolan Ryan's All-Star Fruit Snacks, Gloria Vanderbilt's salad dressing, Reggie Jackson's candy bar, Carl Yastrzemski's Big Yaz Bread, Diane von Furstenberg's facial tissue, Bill Blass' chocolates, Richard Simmons's Salad Spray, Tommy Lasorda's spaghetti sauce, Yves St. Laurent's cigarettes -- all examples of products these famous people promoted with unsatisfactory results. There's never been a real celebrity success in the food business. We estimate the total start-up loss for celebrity products somewhere close to $900 million. No offense, Mr. Newman,' Karen said, `but just because they liked you as Butch Cassidy doesn't mean they'll like your salad dressing.'''

The irony, of course, is that Newman's stellar acting career has probably been eclipsed by the success of his company's products and his good works.

The eventual launch, acceptance and success of Newman's Own Salad Dressing, followed by a line of other dressings, popcorn, salsa, lemonade and more -- developed and marketed by Newman, Hotchner and cohorts -- is a hell of a story

Hotchner (the obvious scribe of the pair) has authored a number of books about Ernest Hemingway, and does a nice job here communicating the challenge of starting a new business, competing against established brands, dealing with personnel issues and other matters common to startups.

Though the story is told in both a personal and general way and is entertaining, its value to would-be entrepreneurs is questionable. Sure, the lesson of resolute dedication to core values and dogged perseverance is well told, but ultimately, their success story is the exception rather than the rule. That's truly remarkable and commendable, but probably would be impossible for mere mortals to replicate.

The first half of the book concerns the company's launch; the latter portion is about the charities that its earnings support -- mainly camps with activities for terminally ill children. That's really another book unto itself. The story is heartfelt and touching, and reveals that starting a charitable enterprise can often be fraught with many of the same perils inherent in any other startup -- and then some.

Overall, Shameless Exploitation is an interesting and informative volume, but as a useful and insightful look into the process of new product development in the very competitive area of food and groceries, it represents a missed opportunity by its authors.









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