NEW YORK — A beauty firm doesn’t need to be the size of Estée Lauder, MAC, Avon or Revlon to show its altruistic side.

Those beauty powers are associated with cause marketing efforts, particularly the fight against breast cancer. Major retailers such as Target and Wegmans have established programs where a percentage of sales is donated to a charity. Target for example, is a major supporter of St. Jude’s Hospital. In total, Target donates more than $2 million a week to various groups.

Now, an entrepreneurial firm called Pookie Products is also hoping to do well by doing good. Pookie Products, based in New York, manufacturers lip balms conceived by three former sorority sisters from New York University. Pookie was born when one of the founders couldn’t find a lip balm that suited her needs. Formulas were created, packaging developed and business plans were written.

Part of the plan was to include a charity. "Right from the start, we knew we wanted to have a fund-raising effort. All three of us are philanthropic-minded," said Gianine Rothschild, a partner in Pookie along with Nicole DiPietra and Nanette Guarda.

The trio selected Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, a nonprofit AIDS research foundation. "We thought it made sense because we’re in New York where Broadway is so important." A flat percentage of sales is donated. "And we hope to grow so that can be a bigger amount," said Rothschild who added that Pookie is looking for more distribution.

Does supporting a charity make a difference with consumers? "Every few days we hear from someone who says the connection to Broadway Cares pushed them over to buy," said Rothschild. Also, whether due to Broadway Cares or Pookie’s marketing efforts, the lip balms have become popular with stars such as Rosie O’Donnell, Jennifer Garner and her husband, Scott Foley.

The cause marketing has also helped Pookie gain entry into retail doors — a hard feat for a tiny company. The lip care line is currently in 50 upscale pharmacies, specialty stores and salon stores including New York’s Zitomer. Industry sources estimate Pookie sales could hit $5 million by the end of 2003. It also operates a Web site.In addition to standing out because of its charity contributions, Pookie Products differ from many other lip balms because of an advanced moisturizing formula and clever marketing twists such as gift-giving themes. There’s an I Do lip balm, for example, in a champagne flavor for wedding toasts and an It’s a Boy and It’s a Girl gift tin for new arrivals. Pookie lip balms retail for under $8.

Retailers said cause marketing makes a difference with some consumers. "It is like being ecologically friendly," said one buyer. "There are those who’ll only buy from companies with a cause…and they are fiercely loyal."

Revlon, which is a major supporter of research for breast cancer, is planning more cause marketing in the year to come. Last year, Revlon donated 5 percent of the proceeds of a color promotional called Color America Beautiful to women and children affected by Sept. 11, 2001.

Eckerd Drug allocated funds from Mira cosmetics, its private label, to an awards dinner that singled out women who volunteer time to improving others’ lives.

Lori Konkowski, an Avon representative, said she’s proud of Avon’s efforts to support causes. "My customers who have been affected by a particular sickness really get behind products that donate money," she explained.

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