Adding Philanthropy to the Menu

The Blount family has been in the food business for five generations, but it is always experimenting with new products and practices. From its beginning in the 1880s when Eddie B. Blount started an oyster-packing business in West Barrington, Blount Fine Foods has re-invented itself through the years – and through the generations – from a seafood processor to a premium, prepared-foods company.

Now it has also re-invented its approach to philanthropy – with a donor-advised fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.

“We’ve always been involved in the community,” states Blount President F. Nelson “Todd” Blount, explaining that the company long has made product donations to food banks, soup kitchens, and charity events, especially those with ties to the communities where its employees live.

Donor-advised funds at the Rhode Island Foundation enable individuals and companies like Blount’s to amplify the impact of their giving with the help of the guidance from sector experts at the Foundation on what areas of need are most critical and which organizations seem to be effective in using donated funds.

“Our giving has been at the corporate level. Through this fund, I want the employees to have a say in directing the money. The goal is that we, and that includes a team of employees, will work with the Rhode Island Foundation to determine where the money will go,” Todd Blount explains. The Blount fund is already having an impact. A donation to the Foundation’s Civic Leadership Fund helps promote initiatives like Make It Happen RI and Buy Local RI that focus on building a strong economy. Blount also joined with the Foundation to co-fund a culinary business incubator in Warren.

Hope & Main gives culinary start-ups the opportunity to grow in their first two to three years without the cost of equipping their own commercial facilities. It offers shared-use, fully-equipped code-compliant kitchens and storage at below-market rental rates.  Fees cover a number of overhead costs like utilities, cleaning, parking, trash collection and pest control. Start-ups avoid taking on the significant debt typically associated with the establishment of independent culinary startups and can focus on what really matters: building vibrant and sustainable food companies.

That’s a natural for Blount. The company produces refrigerated and frozen gourmet soups, sauces, side dishes, and entrees for food service and retail, including products under the Legal Sea Foods and Panera brands. Although it has expanded beyond seafood, Blount remains the largest producer of clam chowder in New England and the largest manufacturer of lobster bisque in the country.

“We needed to be value-added to survive,” Todd Blount says, adding that they put the Blount Seafood brand equity into the Blount Market in Warren and Blount Clam Shacks in Fall River, Warren, and Riverside, the latter two of which are seasonal. “The clam shacks and market are a neat way for us to hold onto our heritage, our legacy, and our name. That’s really important to us.”

The company has facilities both in Fall River and its original site in Warren. Todd Blount emphasizes the firm’s local roots. “We’re still Rhode Island focused. We want to touch all parts of the state with our food and philanthropy. It’s part of our tradition, and now we’re bringing that to the employee level. But we’re not experts in that area. That’s why we need the Foundation to help us to find the best organizations to support,” he says.

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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