We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.
-- Opening statement from "Conscious Capitalism Credo"
The "conscious capitalism" movement is all about the idea that businesses which consciously make efforts to do good can also do very well. This can apply to a number of business practices, including environmental sustainability, dealings with suppliers and employees that focus on building trust and long-lasting partnerships, and conscious efforts to improve the lives of all stakeholders.
We reached out to three of our contributors, looking for companies that not only meet the ideals of conscious capitalism, but also offer great prospects as an investment. They gave us two companies that are well-known both as great investments, and as companies with a mission to do good in the communities they serve: Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ:PNRA.DL). The third nominee may be a surprise: PepsiCo, Inc. (NASDAQ:PEP), which has spent more than a decade investing in sustainability and supporting underprivileged communities.
Let's take a closer look at what these three Fools had to say about these companies.
PepsiCo, one of the world's largest food and beverage companies, has a prosocial side
Keith Noonan (PepsiCo): As a maker of sugary drinks and snack foods, PepsiCo might not be the first name that springs to mind when you hear the term "conscious capitalism," but a focus on prosocial initiatives and environmentally sound operations has been part of its guiding principles for more than a decade. PepsiCo calls its brand of conscious capitalism "Performance with Purpose," and this mantra has been embodied by efforts to improve agricultural sustainability, offer a healthier product lineup, and give back to communities. These initiatives have also had beneficial impacts on Pepsi's business; CEO Indra Nooyi has stated that the company's actions to reduce packaging and waste, improve energy efficiency, and implement sustainable agricultural practices have resulted in more than $600 million in savings over the last five years.
The company recently introduced a sustainability agenda that will guide its operations through the next decade and beyond. By 2025, PepsiCo intends to provide more than 3 billion food and beverage servings to underprivileged communities, invest $100 million in efforts to improve the lives of 12.5 million women and girls, and farm 7 million acres sustainably, accounting for roughly 75% of its agricultural spending. The company also aims to have 100% of its packaging be recyclable or recoverable by 2025, and, by 2030, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
Pepsi was recently named a "Top Socially Responsible Dividend Stock" by Dividend Channel, and its 2.9% dividend yield and a forward price-to-earnings multiple of roughly 20 make it a reasonably priced socially-conscious stock to own for the long term.
Panera has long been known for fresh, quality food, and a focus on the needy
Dan Caplinger (Panera Bread): There's been a big shift among American consumers toward higher-quality foods both in the home and when eating out, and Panera Bread has worked hard to capitalize on that trend. The company prides itself on obtaining fresh ingredients through its proprietary supply chain, and the Panera Cares initiative has generated positive sentiment among conscious capitalists by helping those in need get the healthy meals Panera's cafes can provide.
Recently, Panera has moved aggressively to capture a greater share of the competitive fast-casual restaurant market by moving forward with key service improvements. In particular, the bakery-cafe company has incorporated digital ordering as part of its Panera 2.0 improvements, and is also looking at offering more delivery options in order to bulk up its sales.
Growth is still in high gear for Panera, which is looking to open between 70 and 80 new locations during 2017. Comparable-restaurant sales growth has slowed over time, but Panera still expects 3.5% to 4.5% growth in comps this year for the stores that it owns. Although spending in order to implement its strategic vision could weigh on short-term earnings, CEO Ron Shaich and his team expect those expenditures to pay off with faster profit growth down the road. For those hungry for healthy returns, Panera Bread is a stock any conscious capitalist could embrace.
Starbucks has long improved the lives of those most at risk
Jason Hall (Starbucks): The global coffee giant has received some mixed press recently, after a pseudo-backlash over the company's announcement that it would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. The sad thing that was lost in all the noise was that Starbucks has long made it a company priority to employ people who are often left behind by society, and because of its size and global scale, it is able to make an impact on multiple fronts.
Three years ago, Starbucks started an initiative to hire 10,000 military veterans and their spouses within five years, and as of this writing, the company had already hired nearly 9,000 (and says it's not going to stop at 10,000). In 2015, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz committed the company to hiring at least 10,000 "at-risk" young people, as part of a multicompany initiative to hire at least 100,000 young workers from low-income families. Starbucks has also partnered with Arizona State University to offer employees a chance to earn a college degree, completely paid for.
Bottom line: Starbucks does a lot of good, but is a lot more than just a "do-gooder" company. The expansion of the global middle class gives the company astounding growth prospects. Not only is it a company that does well by doing good, but it could be a life-changing investment over the next 20 years for investors who buy and hold.