Penzeys Spices has spent more than $2 million since May 2018 on ads related to social issues and politics. | Rita Reed/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Trump has spent the most money on impeachment-related ads. Penzeys Spices came in second.
Penzeys Spices, America’s largest independent spice retailer, is the second-highest spender on impeachment ad purchases on Facebook, according to an Axios analysis from September 29 to October 5. The Wisconsin-based company has spent $92,000 on pro-impeachment advertising — second only to President Donald Trump’s campaign, which spent $718,000 on anti-impeachment ads.
The pro-impeachment posts have worked better than any ads the company has placed before, founder Bill Penzey told Fox Business, despite Facebook labeling the ad as political content. The company has not responded to a request for comment from Vox.
Penzeys Spices’ Facebook ad history reveals that it’s spent more than $2 million since May 2018 on ads related to social issues, elections, or politics. From October 1 to October 7 — a period overlapping with the Axios analysis — the spice retailer spent $109,933 promoting 30 different versions of a pro-impeachment post that Penzey wrote, alongside an image of a patriotic tie-dye heart print.
Penzey has a reputation for being vocal about his politics, and using his brand’s platform to advance his views. Since the company’s conception as a mail-order business in the 1980s, the brand’s official catalogs served as an extension of Penzey’s opinions, according to a 2018 New Yorker profile. The election of Trump was a turning point for Penzey, who publicized his post-2016 election sentiments to customers in emails.
The “Penzeys Voice of Cooking” newsletter is marketed as a resource for home cooks and a place to discuss their love of making food, but Penzeys affirms that part of its voice is “standing up to the cruelty to those less privileged that the Republican Party has come to embrace.”
“The open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades,” he wrote in a November 2016 newsletter that’s since gone viral and received heavy criticism within conservative circles.
Three years later, Penzeys has yet to back down. The company even recently trademarked the slogan “Season Liberally” for use. Bill Penzey’s opinions are posted on the company’s Facebook page and tacked on the end of email newsletters, which range from pure spice promotions (subject line: “$1 Chipotle/Sunny Spain”) to overtly political posts (“Obstruction!”).
While critics — including other spice companies — initially questioned Penzey’s business foresight, the company’s online sales rose nearly 60 percent within two weeks of the post-2016 election newsletter.
“What we learned is that, in terms of retail spending, Donald Trump simply has no one supporting his views for America,” Penzey wrote in a December 2016 Facebook post. Penzey admitted in an October post that his openly liberal politics have turned off some conservative customers, but for every lost customer, there are others willing to support a company with clear values — at least judging by the Facebook comments.
“I had never ordered from you, but I am so impressed with a company standing up for what is right. I’m placing an order today. Thank you Penzey!” reads one comment, which received nearly 4,000 reactions.
In the Trump era, some corporations have vaguely aligned themselves with social justice movements as rallies, boycotts, and public outrage make national headlines. In September, a handful of retailers including Ben and Jerry’s, Lush Cosmetics, and Patagonia closed retail stores and halted online sales to participate in the Global Climate Strike — emphasizing corporate solidarity with protesters.
However, there are also brands that have waded into politics only to receive backlash for campaigns that are perceived to be contrived or inauthentic. Pepsi’s ad that featured Kendall Jenner attempted to be political — it featured the model at a fictional political protest — but failed, since the campaign appeared to promote a product rather than champion a clear cause.
Penzeys Spices has yet to reject revenue for a cause like climate change, but the company’s long-standing political voice appeals to customers. Penzey is aware of how his opinions have driven the business, but even after his diatribe against Trump’s election in 2016, he initially expected a 10 to 30 percent sales hit. The drop in online sales didn’t happen, but it was still a risk for Penzey.
“There are times in history where … you’ve got to be on the right side of the issues, if that’s who you are,” Penzey told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And for the most part, customers have responded to him. In the tens of thousands of emails he’s received months after his post-election diatribe, a majority were positive.
As Congress gears up for impeachment, Penzey wants a stake in swaying public opinion — through Facebook ads.
“This president and the media that is supporting him are really, really unpopular right now,” Penzey told Fox Business. In fact, support for impeachment is increasing with a majority of Americans backing it, according to recent polling data. A vast majority of Democrats now support impeachment, and independent support is also strong.
The spice business, on its surface, seems like an apolitical venture. The company’s logo is a messily sketched red heart and its mission is “promoting and protecting the kindness found at the heart of cooking.” Still, Penzey is a firm believer in putting politics first, and so far it hasn’t hurt him — or his spices.
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