In the FMCG space, like any other industry, success and profit are inextricably linked. But what if, all that profit was taken away from the business? By choice?
Melbourne-based social enterprise Thankyou is a recognisable brand for many, not least because of its distinct packaging but furthermore for its mission to alleviate poverty around the world.
Thankyou donates 100 per cent of its profits to those in need specifically delivering clean water, sanitation and hygiene training to people in developing countries.
A massive challenge, no doubt, but one that has seen the social entreprise raise over $6 million in the last ten years to help end global poverty in 20 countries, including Australia.
Thankyou co-founder Daniel Flynn spoke to Inside FMCG about changing mindsets and the power of consumer support.
The idea for the business goes back over ten years ago, when Daniel was following the impact of the world water crisis online and started to imagine how he would cope in a similar situation.
“I’d seen some videos online that really moved me,” Daniel says.
“At the time I was really passionate about business… I had a glimpse of how much money there is in the world and the deals that are done. I was wrestling with this extreme darkness and yet this extreme wealth and thought there’s got to be a way.”
That was the catalyst for Thankyou, an idea dreamt up by Daniel, his best mate Jarryd, and girlfriend (now wife) Justine, that the sale of everyday consumer products could provide a channel of funding to those in need.
But how does a business keep going, when it’s giving all the benefit away? Daniel says it comes back to mission and vision.
“We’re here to help people – that is a huge driver for me. It’s the idea of: woah, imagine if this worked. I’m really captivated by the mission and the vision and so that’s helped me keep going when it’s hard. It’s a great privilege to be able to do something that makes an impact on someone else’s life.”
That drive was something that the whole team needed to stay motivated in the five years that Thankyou tried desperately to break into Australia’s biggest supermarkets.
“It was a lot harder than we ever thought it should be. It was a little social idea trying to cut into the big world. And we picked a product that was very popular, already saturated by a lot of big players. So that made it even harder.”
Thankyou decided to leverage its small consumer base on social media to get the big players on side. In year three, two weeks ahead of Thankyou’s meeting with convenience chain 7-Eleven about its water product, the team asked followers to jump on 7-Eleven’s social media pages to tell them that they would buy the product.
“People did that. So they jumped on and 7-Eleven said yes. That was our first taste of, wow people power is awesome.”
“So we took it to the next level two years later with a video we called the Coles and Woolworths campaign. We said to our customers, ‘hey everyone, we’re presenting in two weeks time. They’ve said no for five years but this time we’re not going back with just water, we got body care, we’ve got food, we’re going all in. Come with us, upload a video.’ And people sung, danced, rapped and uploaded their support.”
Thankyou even flew helicopters above the head offices of Coles and Woolworths for a half hour, with a banner saying, “Help change the world. (If You say yes).”
“It was really interesting because for years the challenge for Thankyou was getting awareness. That campaign gave us awareness and cut through before the product had even hit the shelf.”
Going all in
With big retailers onboard, Thankyou has been expanding its range as well as its reach. Its personal care range has been its standout performer, making up about 70 per cent of the business but the company also continues its water range and expanded into baby care. While it dabbled in food for a time, the team decided to refocus efforts on better performing categories.
“I think we’ve learnt in business particularly small business that focus is everything and resources finite. So you’ve really got to pick what you’re going to go all in on.”
“The parts of the business that were getting the most focus, were the bits that weren’t working and stuff that was working really well wasn’t getting focus so we took this step back in removing our food range to go all in on health and beauty and baby. So tough call, but I think ultimately it was the right call.”
Social media made it possible to create the groundswell of consumer support for Thankyou in a short space of time and get the big supermarkets onboard, but a change in consumer attitudes towards FMCG products has also helped the company.
“A lot’s changed. I think people are caring about where stuff has come from, how it’s made or how it got there. I think social media has kind of sped this process up. Thanks to the digital age the world’s more transparent, so we’re seeing stuff we’ve never seen before, and we want to change it.”
“I think transparency and visibility has given rise to consumers wanting, demanding and expecting more. Gone is the day where it’s okay for a business to exist just to make money. I think that’s that’s almost offensive now to a consumer. It’s like, ‘but where does the product come from? Is it sustainable? Is it ethical?’ I think it’s awesome because business as a whole has a chance to effect change on a global scale.”
Daniel says it’s time for companies to start asking questions: Why is it like that? What if there is a different way?
“I don’t think as a brand we’re in a position yet to tell everyone this is the only way to do everything. I just think we are a group that’s willing to ask a question. Why does it exist?”