HomeWineFrom Profit to Purpose: Sustainable Wine Businesses Make a Social Impact

From Profit to Purpose: Sustainable Wine Businesses Make a Social Impact

Sustainable Stories Series

The availability of information has changed the way businesses operate and engage with customers. While a company can offer solutions to everyday problems through their innovative products and specialized services, price and convenience are no longer the sole determinants of their success. Consumers seek to align their spending habits with their personal values. Thanks to the digitized world, they have the tools to find out if a company is a good fit.

Today’s shopper understands when they make a purchase, their money does more than buy a product or service. Their dollars also support the mission and initiatives of the business they purchased from. In today’s socially conscious marketplace, consumers want to know how the businesses they support make a positive impact.

70% of Americans believe it’s important for companies to make the world a better place. Shareholders hold a similar sentiment: 73% of investors stated efforts to improve the environment and society contribute to their investment decisions (Aflac 2019).

In fact, some will even part ways with a brand over a conflict in values. Three-quarters of participants in a 2022 Harris Poll research survey reported having done just that. In the same survey, 39% said a values mismatch would lead them to permanently boycott their favorite brand, and 24% would break ties at least temporarily (Consumer Goods Technology 2022).

When it comes to making a positive change toward sustainability, “Consumers see themselves, along with for-profit companies, as the primary catalysts for change,” (Business Wire 2021). But organizations shouldn’t participate in these efforts blindly.
A company’s philanthropic endeavors should reflect their mission and align with their core values. The beauty of a successful philanthropy program is it isn’t a one-size fits-all approach; it can and should be as unique as the business that embraces it.

Realize the Need for Redirection
Wineries are often asked to donate bottles or cases of wine for local fundraising events. Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, Calif. used to participate in these often. While making donations of this sort did align with certain elements of the business, Andrew Niner, now president of the SIP Certified ® sustainable estate, felt like there were more impactful ways the business could give back.

“When you operate a business in a small town, it is important to reinvest in the community that supports you,” said Niner. “These wine donations felt a bit misdirected; it didn’t feel like we were having a real impact. So, we decided to cut back on these and redirect our efforts to supporting one to three local charities each year. Now, we have more of an active role and are meaningfully involved in our community, and we see the impact.”

Focus Locally
Local investments directly improve the quality of life for people in the community. They also give businesses the opportunity to build relationships with other organizations and make connections with individuals that share their values.

Niner Wine Estates is a supporter of MUST! Charities, a nonprofit organization also based in Paso Robles. This organization identifies critical community needs and vets local non-profit organizations that specifically serve those needs. MUST! Charities then invests funds and strategic planning into the non-profit to strengthen their focus and impact.

Niner also supports a local program that hones in on uplifting the people of the wine industry: the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship. This program helps the children of California’s vineyard and winery industry achieve their dreams of higher education through financial and support services. 100% of every donation goes directly to the recipients, and Niner has been helping these deserving students since 2017.

Niner’s philosophy around charitable investments emphasizes the importance of transparency. When asked if the business shares their investments with customers, he said it’s something he always makes a point to do.

“If they are buying your product, they should know what you support.” Once a year, the company shares a Philanthropy Report outlining how much and where they invested.
In addition to the annual newsletter, the winery also spreads charity awareness through their wine club communications. Niner believes these communications help raise awareness of meaningful causes within the community.

Volunteering time and services are equally impactful as monetary charity. Niner Wine Estates employees volunteer with the El Camino Homeless Organization every month to prepare and serve meals.

Bring in the Team
But customers aren’t the only people who are interested in these insights. Jobseekers in Millennial and Generation Z age groups consider a company’s environmental and social contributions when they are on the hunt. What they crave is alignment with their own values.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Millennial and Gen Z professionals are open to changing jobs if they found a company whose values closely aligned with their own. These individuals “prioritize a sense of purpose and meaningful connections to the company’s values as these factors contribute significantly to job satisfaction and commitment,” (LinkedIn 2023).

Once hired, employees who feel an alignment with their company’s mission, vision and values are far more likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work and say their work gives them a feeling of personal accomplishment (Qualtrics 2022). This highlights an opportunity for business leaders to engage their staff in the company’s philanthropic endeavors.

Niner inspires and encourages his staff to get involved. Employees are given the opportunity to allocate $2,000 each year to any charity of their choice. Niner said as well as giving staff ownership and a meaningful stake in the community, these staff-directed donations show him what his staff are passionate about and help to raise his own awareness of deserving charities.

While charitable funds make a considerable impact, monetary gifts are not the only way for a business to invest in the community. Volunteering time and services are equally impactful. Plus, these pursuits offer individuals hands-on experience in positively influencing members of their community.

Niner Wine Estates supports the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship, a local program helping the children of California’s vineyard and winery industry achieve their dreams of higher education through financial and support services.

The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) provides essential services for community members in need, including showers, laundry and clean clothes, and meals. Every month, staff members of Niner Wine Estates volunteer through this organization to prepare and serve meals. Niner said that it’s a great team-building activity that’s good for the company culture. He appreciates the team can have a direct and impactful experience giving back.
Niner compared their philanthropy strategy to an investment strategy. “If you invest in a ton of different things, you can lose track of exactly where your money is going and what it’s doing. But if you invest in just a couple of things, you can have more of an active role in your investments and really know your impact.”

Giving back is good for business. On top of uplifting communities, meaningful philanthropic strategies can improve company culture and cultivate consumer trust. The efforts Niner Wine Estates makes to enhance transparency about their philanthropy help their customers know when they enjoy a bottle of wine or visit the estate for a tasting, meal or event, they are supporting all the good work this business does in its community.

Consumers’ needs and interests are constantly evolving. So are those of a business. Sustainably run businesses know to stay relevant and successful, they must be aware of opportunities to adapt. The next Sustainable Story shares how an estate vineyard and winery in Arroyo Grande, Calif. ensures its staff continually improve their skills and expand their knowledge.

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