Radical Transparency

A few weeks ago Kristy, Quinn, and I packed up to go our first concert in months. We all had a blast. The Head and The Heart and Of Monsters and Men were both incredible. I highly recommend their albums. During the outdoor show I grabbed a Ben & Jerry’ss ice cream bar and noticed that the box they used was super matte and almost rough to the touch. I looked a little closer and saw that they used chlorine free paperboard. Pretty cool. I wish our box was like that. (Everyone was enjoying music, and Kristy was chasing down Quinn while I snapped the above photo. Yes, paperboard is that exciting. I’sm a dork…)

When we got back C.V. (our Ops champ) got to work to find a supplier to make this box for QP. We hit dead end after dead end. We bought Ben & Jerry’ss bars so we could send the boxes out to suppliers with the hope that  they could track it down. We got our fill of Cherry Garcia, but again, no luck. Actually, no one could come close.

Totally frustrated, I posed this on Ben & Jerry’ss Facebook page:

“We love that you guys are using chlorine free paper for your boxes. Over at Quinn Popcorn we are trying to do the same. The trouble is, it’ss very hard to find. I know your overarching goal is to help others to follow in your path so…can you help us find a source for chlorine free paper?”

This was a looong shot. Remember that Ben & Jerry’ss is owned by Unilever. It’ss been a long time since two awesome hippies were calling the shots, but Ben and Jerry’ss still continues on a mission to do good. Their site states their social mission: To operate the Company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally. Maybe I had a shot here…

One day later Ben and Jerry’ss wrote back with contact information for someone in the production department. We called, were router through a few people, and hit a dead end. A nice, but hyper cooperate manager told us that the names of their packaging suppliers was proprietary information. He said it was none of our business. It was clear he didn’st know what the policy was and he was playing it safe. We hung up… and called again…and again.

With tweaked requests we were  routed to a new people, and then, bingo. A production manager was totally into our popcorn mission, and was happy to steer us in the right direction. After passing along the info for their box supplier, he also gave us some tips on how to adjust our graphics for  the chlorine free paper.  He even suggested we send a few boxes along so their flavor team could give it a try…

I told this story to a friend at Whole Foods and he responded, “That’ss nothing less than radical transparency.” He’ss right. Favors are a part of getting by for small business owners but the economics of sharing info like this don’st work well for large companies. The payback is often immeasurable or, at best, incredibly slow. I’sve said this before, but the food industry is special in this way. We all share the same challenges, but very few of us are in competition. You are not likely to see QP in the freezer section any time soon! There’ss no downside for Ben & Jerry’ss. Also, people who make ice cream are probably nicer than most…

We still have to use up all of our existing boxes, but in a few months the new box will be on the shelf. The chlorine free paperboard means there is less toxic waste water created during production. For me, it’ss another reminder that you can’st do this alone. When you are stuck, pick up the phone. Keep pushing. Never quit.