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In 1982, famed actor Paul Newman launched his own food products company after neighbors asked for more of the tasty homemade salad dressing he and his wife gave out as Christmas gifts.

That effort mushroomed into a multimillion-dollar business that today makes 100 natural products — cookies, pasta sauce, salsa, pizza, frozen entrees and beverages — and gives all its profits away, including to nonprofits in Utah.

Newman wanted it that way and since its start, Newman's Own has distributed $340 million to select charities.

Newman died in 2008, but his longtime friend Robert Forrester directs the Newman's Own Foundation that keeps the business viable in order to continue its philanthropic efforts.

"Paul just felt this was the right thing to do — and the quality of the food had to be the best," Forrester said earlier this week during a Salt Lake City visit.

In December 2010, the foundation announced a $2.5 million commitment to fund organizations that serve military veterans and their families, Forrester said.

On Wednesday, he was on hand to dedicate Salt Lake City's Fisher House, a 20-suite facility that recently benefited from a $100,000 Newman's Own donation.

There are 55 such havens around the country, and since 1997 Newman's Own has distributed $1.6 million to Fisher Houses.

Salt Lake City's location opened in early January, and Jill Atwood, public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System, said it fills a long-standing need in the Intermountain West, providing respite and a comfortable place for families to stay while service members undergo serious medical procedures.

"We get attached," Atwood said, "and go through the hurt and hope right along with them."

In 1982, Newman had no idea that he was on the front end of an evolving trend of entrepreneurial philanthropy, where social responsibility intersects with business.

"Philanthropists are figuring out new ways to deal with social problems," said Paul Godfrey, a strategic management professor at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Business.

Godfrey, who teaches a course in corporate social innovation, praised Newman's Own for a business model that offers a subtle but profound shift in philosophy.

"Instead of doing well [in business] and doing good [charitably], this is doing well in order to do good," Godfrey said, noting that the food side of Newman's Own must "innovate, market and be as good as anybody else," while the foundation has to excel at philanthropy because it survives on annual profits rather than a hefty endowment.

Darrell Coleman, an assistant management professor at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, said that corporate social responsibility is on the rise. He believes that the success of Newman's Own inspired a whole host of social entrepreneurs.

"The millennial generation — those 26 and younger — have grown up hearing they can make significant changes and help the world," Coleman said.

While in Salt Lake City, Forrester reminisced about Newman referring to his business as "the joke that got out of hand."

"The absolute integrity of the intent and everything that was done — not just by Paul but everybody involved with it — have set a model," Forrester said. "And of course, Paul's celebrity didn't hurt. The fact that it was Paul Newman drew attention to it, and people saw that, hey, you can do these things. And that's where the inspiration comes from."

Twitter: @catmck —

The generosity of Newman's Own

Since 1982 • More than $340 million given to thousands of charities in 50 states and 75 countries

2011 • $27.5 million distributed to more than 750 organizations

2012 • The enterprise turns 30 and plans to give $30 million to worthy causes

Examples of recent grants • More than $900,000 to "Shining Hope" to empower girls in Kibera, Kenya; $500,000 to Healing Hands for Haiti

Source: Newman's Own

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