How a holiday gift helped launch Newman's Own

(MoneyWatch) Walk down any grocery aisle in America and you're likely to see Paul Newman's face staring back at you. Whether its salad dressing or pasta sauce, the Newman's Own brand is everywhere thanks to Newman himself, "a real foodie" who created the brand in 1982. 100 percent of Newman's Own profits go to charity. Bob Forrester, the CEO of Newman's Own, joins The Startup to talk about Paul Newman's incredible legacy, and the great work being done by his foundation.

Rebecca Jarvis: How old was Paul Newman when he launched his Newman's Own businesses?

Robert Forrester: Paul was 57 when he started Newman's Own. He was well into his movie career and was filming "The Verdict" at the time.

RJ: How did he get the idea?

RF: Paul mixed up a batch of his homemade salad dressing in his basement with his friend, A.E. Hotchner, and gave the dressing away as holiday gifts to his neighbors. Months later, the neighbors came back asking for refills, and Paul was encouraged to bottle the dressing and sell it. So, Newman's Own started in 1982 as a lark. In fact, Paul calls it the practical joke that got out of hand. When Newman's Own started making money, he decided to give all the profits away to charity. Paul never took a penny of compensation. He said that helping others who are less fortunate was just the right thing to do.

RJ: Which people and/or experiences in Paul Newman's life were most pivotal?

RF: Paul was a great believer in luck and the role that plays in all of our lives. One of the most pivotal times was Paul's experience in the Navy. He was a radio man attached to an Avenger Torpedo Bomber in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. On a particular day, his pilot had an earache and couldn't fly with the squadron, and the squadron was all but wiped out in battle. This helped define Paul for the rest of his life, and it is at the heart of Newman's Own and the commitment to give all profits to charity.

RJ: Why salad dressing and pasta sauce?

RF: Paul was a real foodie, and he was known to make his own salad dressing, even in restaurants. He found the salad dressing in stores to be over-processed and he wanted dressing with all-natural ingredients and better taste. So he made his own, and it's his own original recipe that was bottled and sold. A year after the salad dressing launched, he introduced pasta sauce. He said he wanted to rescue pasta eaters of the world from poor-tasting bottled sauces, and he wanted to give them all-natural sauce with chunks of vegetables and high quality ingredients. He called the first pasta sauce: Newman's Own Industrial Strength All-natural Venetian-style Spaghetti Sauce.

RJ: How has the company grown in the last 30 years and what makes it successful?

RF: In 1982 we started with one product. We now have over 100 products in 11 categories, and we still hold true to our high quality standards of all-natural products and all profits to charity. Paul always said that quality should trump profit, and that focus has been extremely important in helping us grown every year since 1982. In 2008 we introduced frozen pizza, and Paul was involved in the development of the pizza. That was a pivotal time since it brought us into the frozen food business, responding to consumer demand for convenience. We now have frozen skillet meals, and the frozen food business is the growth engine for our company.

RJ: How did Paul Newman choose the name, "Newman's Own"?

RF: Paul never wanted to use his celebrity status, but he was convinced that putting his name and his likeness on the packaging was the only way to sell it. So, he gave in claiming "Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good," turning the successful Newman's Own business into a charitable mission.

RJ: What inspired Paul Newman to give away all the "Newman's Own" proceeds to charity?

RF: Paul felt that it was just the right thing to do. He didn't think of himself as special. He wanted to do his part to help make the world a better place. He said "What could be better than to hold your hand out to those less fortunate?" Many people think of Paul first as an actor, but he was a true philanthropist from the heart, and his charitable work is what gave him the most satisfaction.

RJ: So far over $370 million has gone to charity. Which causes does Newman's Own Foundation support?

RF: The foundation supports several focus areas including: Encouraging philanthropy, children with life-limiting conditions, empowerment, and nutrition. We provide grants to organizations all over the world. Last year, alone, we supported over 750 nonprofit organizations.

For more on the Newman's Own Foundation visit their website.