FEATURE: Sweet charity

Charity may have begun at home, but it's increasingly finding a place in the aisles of the local supermarket. Shoppers are choosing Campbell's Soup and General Mills products to raise funds for their schools, Athena water to fight women's cancers, Our Family Farm cookies to assist children's charities, and Newman's Own groceries to support a myriad of charitable works. Add in the Children's Miracle Network paper balloons, Toys for Tots paper trains, Muscular Dystrophy Association shamrocks, plus store-run programs, and the supermarket has become the Salvation Army for many charities.

Take the Apples for the Students program at Giant Eagle. Now entering its 16th year, the program has awarded more than $21 million in educational and sports equipment to area schools. "We often do things like this to fulfill our responsibility to our communities by giving back to the localities that we serve, but it's a win-win for everyone," says Tina Thompson, marketing manager at Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh. "We certainly believe in doing more than just providing a check. We find that we benefit more by developing partnerships.

"We have shoppers who become loyal to Giant Eagle because we give back to the community," Thompson continues. "The schools win by receiving equipment completely free, and the shoppers win by not only getting great products, but by helping local schools simply by shopping in our stores."

Once shoppers had to save register receipts, but about three years ago Giant Eagle automated the program using its Giant Eagle Advantage card, building an internal system that would scan the information, turn it into points, and assign those points to the schools that have been identified. Shoppers can select up to five schools to which they'd like their points donated. Points are rewarded based on spending within a certain period, then divided up and sent to the appropriate schools. Giant Eagle supplies stores with a catalog from which they can select equipment and also sends informaton to the schools.

"We have all types of literature that is sent out to the school coordinators, providing them with all of the details on how to coordinate the program and how to contact supporters, and even providing them with posters and marketing documents for them to send out to their supporters," Thompson says.

But perhaps the most exciting and innovative fundraising effort at Giant Eagle is the Giant Eagle Cookie Card. Cards are purchased for $1, with all proceeds benefiting local children's hospitals, and each time the card is presented in the store within a year of the date of purchase, the cardholder receives a free cookie. "A lot of people think the cards are just for children, but they're not," Thompson says. "This is a delicious way for us to support children's hospitals, allow our consumers to help, and also create awareness of children's hospitals in our stores."

On the eastern side of the state, Giant Food Stores raises funds for children's hospitals through its participation in the Children's Miracle Network with a promotion that's a guaranteed hole in one. One Monday in late July, 1,300 golfers hit the links on nine different golf courses in the Hershey, Pa. area to help raise $941,000 for five local children's hospitals.

"This is primarily a vendor-sponsored tournament, and our associates also play," says Dennis Hopkins, v.p., advertising & public relations, at Giant Food Stores in Carlisle, Pa. "We had prizes for various golf scores, along with a live auction, silent auction, and Chinese auction. At the end of the day a large majority of the players gathered in Hershey, where we erected an air-conditioned tent and fed over 1,000 people."

It's easier for children's hospitals to raise more funds now that Children's Miracle Network has simplified its Miracle Balloons program. Retailers around the country generally sell Miracle Balloons for $1 each in June to tie in with the Children's Miracle Network telethon. Children's Miracle Network has developed a kit for stores that contains everything needed to participate, including posters, Miracle Balloons, and other materials. "It's fundraising in a box," says Warren Junium III, director of publicity at the Salt Lake City-based charity. "Pretty much if you have a cash register, you can raise funds for children's hospitals.

"We're focusing on our current sponsors and taking them from the model of the hospital-maintaining fundraising campaigns based on our paper icon Miracle Balloons to a program centrally distributed from our warehouse to all sponsor locations," he says. "This allows our hospitals to focus more on sponsor relationships than on 'Does Store No. 138 need 100 more Miracle Balloons?'"

This year, Food Lion participated in the simplified program with great success. "The nice thing is that this program allows for greater involvement of mom-and-pop-type stores, including independent supermarkets," Junium says.

To increase sales of balloons, he suggests retailers team up with suppliers like Coca-Cola. "Many of our retailers work with their suppliers and add coupons to the balloons to drive sales," Junium says. "The customer donates to Children's Miracle Network and then gets their donation and more back through the coupon. It really works well at driving sales."

Redner's Markets has participated in Toys for Tots for the last 21 years, and last Christmas it raised $100,549 in toys and funds to purchase toys for needy children. "Starting in November, each of our stores and Quick Shoppes becomes a toy collection point," says Eric White, consumer communications specialist at the Reading, Pa.-based chain. "Through our newspaper ads, plastic bags, in-store messages, Web site, and every form of media outlet that we have, we encourage our customers to drop off new toys."

Vendors and manufacturers also donate toys, which are picked up by the local Marine Corps League or Reserves and distributed to needy children solely in the Reading area. Redner's also raises monetary funds by selling $1 paper train wall hangers, collecting change at the registers, and peddling entertainment books. "By the end of the program we have paper trains everywhere," White says. "We collect the change through empty two-liter bottles placed at each register, and we take 100 percent of the profit gain on the sale of our entertainment books and put that into our Toys for Tots total." This past Christmas the trains raised $61,000, while the change bottles and entertainment books raised $9,000 each.

Labels and box tops

While telethons and holiday fundraisers garner the most publicity, fundraising for charitable purposes goes on in the grocery aisles 365 days a year. The granddaddy of them all is Campbell's Labels for Education, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Since the program began, Labels for Education has awarded more than $100 million for educational merchandise. Today some 80,000 schools across the country participate in the program. Consumers simply buy Campbell's products, including soup, Franco-American pasta, Swanson broth, V-8 juices, Prego spaghetti sauce, Pace Mexican foods, and Pepperidge Farm cookies and baked goods; remove the labels; and drop them off at their schools or churches.

"We have a catalog of merchandise that we update every year that includes computers and software, reference materials, and physical education equipment," says Anne Pizarro Sagel, director of Labels for Education at the Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, N.J. "We even have a minivan. You have to save about 1.5 million labels, but we usually award anywhere from 10 to 20 vans each year."

Pizarro Sagel says the economy and shrinking school budgets have caused more schools to join the program in recent years. "Our program is available for all schools and organizations from pre-k through 12th grade, including private, parochial, and public schools, and nonprofit and religious organizations," she says.

While Campbell's doesn't advertise Labels for Education per se, it does use Olympic gold medal-winning skater Sarah Hughes as its spokeswoman. This is the second year she's promoting the program.

"Sarah is our first Labels for Education ambassador," Pizarro Sagel says. "We use her for program materials that go to the schools, and she's done different public relations efforts. Sarah's a believer in the program and has helped organize a label collection program at her high school on behalf of a more needy school."

This month many retailers will build displays to promote Labels for Education as part of a back-to-school program. "The platform of education is important to many retailers, so they have aligned themselves with Labels for Education as a way to differentiate themselves in the community and support their platform of education," Pizarro Sagel says.

While Campbell's offers schools a catalog, the General Mills Box Tops for Education program rewards schools with 10 cents from every box top they collect from 800 General Mills products, including Big G cereals, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Totino's, Green Giant, Progresso, Old El Paso, and Gold Medal flour. Since it began in 1996, the program has awarded more than $90 million to 77,000 institutions of learning. "Schools can earn up to $60,000 a year," says Kelley Walhof, a spokeswoman for General Mills in Minneapolis. While no school has yet met that mark, Walhof says since the schools are paid by check, that amount could fund a teacher.

Nonprofit products

General Mills teams with retailers to promote the program, and so stores might give shoppers double points during a promotion week. "We don't put a lot of money into advertising the program because we would like for that money instead to go to the schools," Walhof says. "But each school has a coordinator for the program, and we rely on them to promote the program in their schools and communities. Every year our Box Tops coordinators are supplied with a kit that includes templates for sending letters to the editor of the local newspaper and notices to parents, and they can send away and order banners and other visuals," she says.

For the second year Box Tops for Education is including the in-store bakery department. Through Jan. 31, 2004, peel-off Box Tops for Education labels are appearing on in-store baked goods supplied by General Mills. "This year we have a point-of-sale kit for the promotion that is user-friendly and targets bakery managers and bakery personnel to help them assemble the Box Tops for Education merchandising display themselves," says Dan Huse, associate marketing manager, In-Store Bakery Division, at General Mills.

A recent trend in supermarkets has been the development of grocery products whose net profits are all donated to charity. Our Family Farm markets a line of all-natural cookies and crackers whose net profits support charities that protect, nurture, and empower children. Charities supported by Arctic Bear iced lemon cookies, Brown Bear vanilla cookies dipped in chocolate, and Wild Animal vanilla cookies are scheduled to include the National Center for Missing and Exploited children and GLAD House.

"Consumers are buying a product they enjoy, and it benefits the community," says Anne Faragher, president of Our Family Farm in Newport, Ky. "People might buy it the first time because of the charitable purpose, but if it's not good they're not going to buy it again. That's why we spent a lot of time on the product and packaging."

Having a product that supports charity also allows a manufacturer to get its foot in the retailer's door. "I think it helps us to get an appointment and have an introduction," says Trish B. May, founder and c.e.o. of Athena Partners, a Kirkland, Wash. firm that markets Athena water. Athena Partners is registered as a 501(c)(3)corporation, which means that it's a nonprofit. When the firm makes a profit—it expects to sometime next year—100 percent of the net profits will fund women's cancer research in the Northwest. It's currently sold in the 114 stores in Safeway's Seattle division, as well as in a local coffeehouse chain called Tully's.

"We're positioning Athena water as a brand that fits in with the general water category for mainstream consumers," May says. "So it's right in the bottled water section and the coolers."

Safeway is selling a six-pack of 500 ml bottles that retails for $3.29, and a one-liter bottle that sells for $1.49. When they're on deal the prices are two for $5 and 99 cents, respectively. Safeway will promote the water this month, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "That's not the time of the year when water is promoted heavily, because it's more of a summer beverage," May says. "So what we're doing is extending the life and promotional season behind the product into a month that wouldn't otherwise have yielded a water promotional opportunity."

As a result, Athena plans to build supermarket sales. Given the current state of the industry, that's charity any supermarket can definitely use.