The Green Stars Project

Are Kind bars socially responsible?

Back in 2014, Fortune magazine wrote an article, Why Kind bars are suddenly everywhere, which opened with this paragraph:

Kind Healthy Snacks’ founder Daniel Lubetzky had a modest ambition when he started the company in 2004. The son of a Holocaust survivor, Lubetzky says he wanted to bring more kindness to the world in the form of a healthy snack.

Backstories are becoming increasingly prominent in company profiles these days but for the most part they are best ignored*. What matters is the company’s impact on the planet and society. So let’s take a look at this, starting with the aspect that the company image is built on: kindness.

*This subject also came up in a post on potato chips, where the Barbara’s brand carefully nurtures the image of a young lady opening a natural bakery in the SF Bay Area in 1971 (the company has changed hands a lot since then).

Is Kind Snacks “kinder” than the average company?

In a 2016 post on energy bars, I looked into the numbers behind Kind’s donations to nominated “Kind Causes,so I’m going to quote that here:

They donate $10,000 per month, so that’s $120K per year, or 0.06% of their sales revenue for 2013 (probably about 0.02% of 2016 revenue, judging by their growth rate). This is a very small fraction of the amount donated by companies that have joined the 1% for the planet program, for example Clif Bar. Even to take a random example of a large multinational food company, Kellogg’s donate around 0.3% of net sales to charitable causes each year (source: their 2014 CSR report).

Another way of looking at it is that Kind Snacks donation of $120K represents 0.2% of 2012 pre-tax earnings (calculated at $47.6 million) while the average U.S. company donates 0.8% of pre-tax profits to charitable causes. You could say it’s good that they are donating anything at all, even if it’s less than the average company, but the fact is that donations are more or less the icing on the cake, the cake being a company that’s socially and environmentally responsible.

Kind made a reputation as a mission-driven company by donating money to nominated causes, but the total amount donated was actually less than the average company.

Is the Kind image just clever marketing?

It might be too cynical to say that it was purely a clever marketing tactic – I’m sure there are also good intentions. However, there’s no doubt that it’s an excellent marketing tactic, and it’s working. Here’s one of the tactics used back during the rapid growth phase:

Kind also relies in part on Lubetzky’s original mission — spreading kindness — to drive awareness of the product. Rather than rely strictly on direct sampling, company employees are now distributing plastic cards that are meant to reward random acts of kindness. – Source: Fortune.

Why were the cards plastic? What does that say about their actual company values?

I probably wouldn’t be writing this post if the company itself was doing a wonderful job from a social and environmental perspective. As mentioned above, charitable contributions are the icing on the cake, the cake being a company that’s socially and environmentally responsible. For a food company, the foundation includes company operations and ingredient sourcing that supports sustainable and equitable agriculture. So, let’s take a look!

Ingredients for the most popular Kind bar, pictured above.

Kind bars: social and environmental impact

Here are some of my issues with Kind Snacks:

  1. Palm Oil is an ingredient in many of their bars. Kind passes this off, saying that they are a member of the RSPO. This means almost nothing – almost every major food company is a member of the RSPO! As I mentioned in this post on palm oil, the RSPO has been widely criticized for poor enforcement and weak guidelines.
  2. Their cacao is not certified and no information is provided on sustainability or supply chain. Shade-grown? Organic? Slavery-free supply chain? Fair trade? Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the lack of certifications on a label or ingredient list.
  3. In fact, there’s no information available on sourcing and sustainability of any of their ingredients, either on the label or website.
  4. There’s an almost complete lack of transparency at Kind Snacks. To my knowledge, they have never published any kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) report. That’s pretty notable for a company of this size.
  5. There’s also no information about sustainability of their company operations: energy and water use, waste generation, etc. Contrast that with Clif bars.
  6. Most of the competition does a better job on many of the fronts above. Even Mars, Inc., who recently bought a stake in Kind and may soon take over, does a better job at reporting on sustainability metrics.

So Kind Snacks may have some good intentions, but need to demonstrate a commitment to the planet through company operations, transparency, and ingredient sourcing. The truly kind thing to do would be to forget about handing out plastic cards, ditch the palm oil, and support sustainable agriculture and social values in your supply chain (e.g., fair trade cacao and sugar).

Back when I wrote the post on energy bars, Kind received the lowest score of those I reviewed: 2/5 Green Stars. I’m sticking by that score.

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