Rhino Foods’ Income Advance Program Paved the Way for Opening of Foundation
While Ted Castle started Rhino Foods with his wife nearly 40 years ago, it took some time for the business to gain its footing and begin to grow. In a similar way, after Castle first learned about Certified B Corporations from other Vermont-based businesses, it took some time for him to decide whether it was a good fit for Rhino Foods.
“It became really clear that the B Corp movement had a great value proposition for the company,” he says. “We saw that it would really help accelerate the work that we’re trying to do, and that it was really aligned with what we were already doing.”
Since Rhino Foods certified in 2013, Castle has spread the word with business partners about the benefits of being a B Corp and found a receptive audience. “Good people like good people,” he says.
After over a decade of talking with the “good people” of the B Corp community, I was inspired to pull the learnings into a book, titled Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism, to share successes and lessons from the everyday work of people leading a movement to transform our economy by using business as a force for good. In this article, I share some highlights from my discussion with Castle, founder and CEO, and Caitlin Goss, director of people and culture.
Leaning in to New Ideas
Many of the B Corps I talked with are in constant pursuit of improvement and often willing to try new things. At Rhino Foods — a Burlington, Vermont-based B Corp that makes cookie dough and other bakery goods for use in ice cream and other frozen desserts — these innovations that benefit employees and the community are the norm.
Living the B Corp value of transparency, Rhino Foods emphasizes an “open-book management” practice that encourages all workers to act like owners.
“We share all of our financials, short only of salary, so all of our financials are available,” Goss says. “At a monthly company meeting we share the top-line numbers, so people are aware of how the business is doing and what the forecasts look like. We also have a bonus on goal program, which is an incentive program around key metrics in the business.”
That means by meeting production schedules and safety metrics, workers can work toward a bonus — and feel a stronger personal connection to overall business performance.
“Sometimes we get there and sometimes we don’t, but the idea is to try and have people really understand, ‘This is how I can have an impact on what we’re doing here every day,’” Goss says.
Becoming Better Together
Rhino Foods’ hometown of Burlington, Vermont, is a hotbed of B Corp activity, home to fellow B Corps including Ben & Jerry’s, Gardeners Supply Company, Seventh Generation and Native Energy, which collaborate for local events and share advice on best practices. Ben & Jerry’s was an early business partner for Rhino Foods, which contributes a key ingredient for one of its all-time-favorite ice cream flavors.
“They were taking our cookie dough and chopping it up, and they were actually making cookie dough ice cream and selling it by the scoop,” Castle says. “They realized, ‘This is really getting popular. There’s no such thing as cookie dough ice cream — we should come out with a pint.’”
It took about a year and a half of trial and error, but Castle eventually figured out the perfect recipe for those yummy cookie dough bits in Ben & Jerry’s.
The collaborations have grown beyond the local B Corp community through friendships formed at gatherings such as the annual gathering of B Corps, Champions Retreat, where Castle and Goss pick up new ideas and inspiration.
“We’re bumping into people who are doing amazing stuff, gathering ideas and thinking outside the box in new ways and approaches,” Castle says.
Goss says Rhino Foods has found a two-way connection with the B Corp community with best practices and business partnerships.
“We have found partnerships and been able to implement ideas, but then also been able to help scale some of the work that we’re doing,” she says. One example of that collaboration is the Income Advance program that Rhino Foods developed and spread through the B Corp community.
Growing the Income Advance Program
Through Income Advance, workers can get small-dollar loans for financial emergencies. Rhino launched the program 12 years ago with a local credit union to help employees weather short-term financial challenges. If the employee has an unexpected or emergency need for up to $1,000, Rhino Foods works with the credit union to quickly provide a no-questions-asked loan to the employee that helps them build long-term financial strength. The loans are repaid through paycheck deductions, which shift to become savings accounts once the loan is paid off. Rhino Foods started the program after seeing workers who live paycheck to paycheck struggle when financial emergencies hit.
“We’re operating in an environment where a lot of people are coming from generational poverty,” Goss says. “Our supervisors and leadership have gone through a training program called Bridges out of Poverty. … So we think about how people are approaching their priorities, and managing money and resources. People see the mission and the purpose play out in how we then provide services.”
In addition to Income Advance, Rhino Foods provides an on-site resource coordinator through the United Way who provides information on community resources such as child care, transportation, and housing.
“People are then able to access resources and realize, ‘Hey, in a non-judgmental way, there are people in place who can support me. We think about them as a whole person,” Goss says.
“That is when I see our values lived out, and workers see that this is a company where not only do they come to work and get a paycheck but they actually have been able to figure out something that’s important and valuable, and it has a net change in their life.”
With refugees representing about a third of Rhino Foods employees, the B Corp also provides on-site English classes where employees are paid to attend.
“Burlington is a resettlement community. From the beginning, Ted has been a real advocate of hiring refugees,” Goss says. “It’s been a really amazing way to bring on some great talent and build a really diverse culture, which I think people are really proud of here.”
Because of the growth of Income Advance, the Rhino team established the Rhino Foods Foundation in 2019 as a nonprofit, with plans for additional employee-oriented services in the future.
“It was a way for us to say, ‘We really are committed to scale this,’” Castle says. “Instead of our mission being, ‘We want to scale Income Advance nationwide,’ it now is, ‘We want to scale opportunities for financial security for employees that make good business sense.’ So when you start to say that, then the Income Advance program is a program inside of what we hope to have as a portfolio.”
The nonprofit foundation provides a new level of understanding about Income Advance and its benefits — to businesses and employees, as well as their communities — as well as structure for the program.
“We’re sort of a scrappy entrepreneurial organization now,” Castle says. “We’ve had so many different opportunities come our way. We’ve been sort of banging away on those, and now we really see ourselves getting more organized and becoming more sustainable.”
Seeing Income Advance grow into a national program buoys the team at Rhino Foods and serves as another example of the positive ripple effects that B Corps can produce. “There’s a real pride in people at Rhino knowing that we are spreading this,” Castle says. “It creates pride in your organization in a very different way. You know, it’s almost that purpose of impacting business, which is hard for a lot of people to get their arms around.”
And it all began through an employee-first mindset that shapes company culture and sparks new initiatives, he says: “When you end up doing this and this is the foundation of your business, it just keeps happening in different ways.”
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
B Corp’s Innovative Employee Practice Inspires Launch of National Nonprofit was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.