How This Company Found Success By Putting Its Customers' Dignity Ahead of Profits Hormel Foods saw an opportunity to improve the lives of cancer sufferers and leapt into actions.

By Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily
Rachel Murray | Getty Images
Whitney Port, who lost her father to cancer, at the launch of Hormel Vital Cuisine.

One of the biggest protein companies in the world is putting its muscle behind helping the 15 million people in America who are suffering from cancer.

Hormel Foods (whose brands include Skippy, Muscle Milk, Spam and Applegate, to name a few), and the Cancer Nutrition Consortium partnered with researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Yale, NYU Langone and others to create a line of meals and shakes designed to meet the needs of cancer patients, called Hormel Vital Cuisine. (In the photo above, Whitney Port, who lost her father to cancer, helped celebrate the product launch).

Speaking with Entrepreneur, Wendy Watkins, President of the Cancer Nutrition Consortium and VP of Hormel Corporate Communications, explained the challenges cancer patients face: "I'm a breast cancer survivor going on year 6. I didn't cry when I was diagnosed, but one night when I was 23 weeks into chemo, everyone went out to dinner and I had huge mouth sores and I could not eat a single thing. All I could do was drink water and I just burst into tears right there in the restaurant."

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Chemotherapy can cause extreme sensitivity to certain spices, mouth sores and difficulty swallowing. "I'm married to a chef and he did his best for me, but people not going through this don't know what your taste buds are going through," Watkins says. "And so these products were designed specifically to meet the needs of people going through this terrible time."

The goal was to deliver nutrition without sacrificing taste, according to Ronald DeSantis, Cancer Nutrition Consortium Master Chef and Director of Culinary Excellence and Quality Assurance at Yale University. "Food is part of the whole regimen of trying to regain your health, so the nutritional values are critical, obviously, but it was almost important that the texture and consistency be inviting. From a culinary aspect, it was very important to me that these meals taste great."

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The project began with research, asking doctors and nurses for patients' common problems and concerns. Besides swallowing and taste issues, they learned that there is a strong emotional need for people to feel like they can take care of themselves. "People don't want to always be dependent on a caregiver," explains Don Kremin, Group Vice President, Specialty Foods at Hormel Foods. "Patients have good days and bad days, and when they can, they want to be able to do something for themselves. The ease of microwaving and eating these meals provides the opportunity for some independence."

After 9 months of research, Hormel landed on its first line of nutritional shakes and entrees, which are all available on line. Tim Garry, Director of Marketing at Hormel Health Labs, told us, "These days, the healthcare system sends people home faster and sicker. And so the ability for people to easily find and order these products online was essential."

When asked about the success of the line, Kremin gets right to the heart of the matter: "Our number one objective is helping people," he says. "Since we started this, I have not once had our CEO ask me once what the P&L is on it. A good day for us is when we get a letter or an email that says you helped me get back on my feet, or you gave my mom comfort during her last days. Yes, this is a business, but this is about more than business."

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Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his latest humor books for kids, including Wendell the Werewolf, Road & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, and The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff.

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