David Cantor

David CantorIn the snack food headquarters of Mars North America in Hackettstown, N.J., David Cantor, N03, sits with the other marketing managers. But while his colleagues might spend their days planning promotions for Snickers and M&M’s, two of Mars’ cornerstone treats, Cantor gets to think about rebuilding biodiversity in Brazil’s rainforests and supporting organic farmers in the Dominican Republic.

Cantor works for Seeds of Change, a tiny organic foods division of Mars Inc. He has helped the parent company launch its first organic candy endeavor, a line of premium chocolate bars that wear a certified organic seal and donate 1 percent of net sales to supporting sustainable organic agriculture worldwide.

"Seeds of Change is all about preserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable organic agriculture," Cantor says. "That is our charge. Everything we do ladders up to that mission. It’s the reason to be for Seeds of Change. It’s what motivates me in the morning."

While Seeds of Change, which also makes organic sauces, dressings and frozen entrees, is a healthy-sized business compared to other organic food companies, in the $21 billion Mars universe it is a relative Pluto. Cantor is grateful, in a way. His marketing colleagues could easily devote a year to a single advertising campaign for one of the big-name confections. But since joining the team two years ago, Cantor has had his hands in everything, from ensuring there is a customer for a dark chocolate bar flavored with mango, coconut and cashews (his favorite) to making sure it is competitively priced. He has even helped the procurement department locate sources of sustainable ingredients, which can be a challenge if, for example, "we find an ingredient we really want to use and it’s a lesser-known heirloom variety of fruit," Cantor says.

Cantor admits there was "a little bit of dissonance" at first in being an environmentalist working at a big food company, especially for someone who spent four years in the 1990s running an organic farm he co-founded in New Mexico. But he didn’t just trade in his shovel for a BlackBerry. The transition started in 1999, when he took a job at a start-up delivering organic fruits and vegetables out of New York City.

"I was working out of an unheated warehouse in Brooklyn, from 6 to 6, loading vans and driving around the tri-state area," he says. To his surprise, he liked the energy and the excitement of the business world. "I liked seeing this other side of organics, the experience in sales and customer service. I liked the hustle of it."

The next question was how to bring organics to the masses. Wanting to know more about the intersection between business and agriculture, he applied to the Friedman School. "I knew I was interested in food systems," he says, "although at the time I didn’t know what that meant."

After graduation, the first product he marketed wasn’t organic, but CocoaVia, a Mars creation, did have a heart-health claim. Cantor had the chance to run its web campaign and later helped sell it to health food stores nationwide. When Seeds of Change was readying to launch its first organic chocolates, Cantor was the natural choice to market the line.

Marketing chocolate is a little different from other organic products, Cantor says. "With chocolate, it’s tricky. It’s all about taste. It’s a selfish pleasure, and it’s personal, and it’s a little moment for you."

The USDA organic seal on the label, and the delectable product underneath, do a lot of the selling for him. "Our sustainability message, at least on our chocolate, is a little toned down," he says. "We don’t hit people over the head with, ‘Hey, you’re making the world a better place with our chocolate.’ "

But that is the hope.