Grocers Promote Togetherness Through Food

National Family Meals Month is gearing up for its third annual observance in 2017, which Susan Borra, chief health and wellness officer and executive director of the FMI Foundation at Food Marketing Institute, anticipates will be “a powerful year for the movement.”

The Arlington, Va.-based foundation introduced the concept in 2015, providing resources for grocers and manufacturers to take part. This year’s agenda includes an updated website.

“The redesigned site will include toolkit elements for various functions within companies, such as communications, merchandising and marketing departments,” Borra says. “We’ll also highlight case studies from previous years and examples of how food retailers and suppliers made family meals a focus during September. The Participants section of the redesigned website will be a great resource for companies to find partners for offering family meals solutions. Whether a retailer is looking for a supplier to partner with on a family meals promotion or a community partner to work with during September, this list of Participants is designed to be a resource for those looking to do more with National Family Meals Month.”

Since it began, Family Meals Month has evolved into what Borra calls “more of an omnichannel effort, with retailers doing more in-store promotion of family meals solutions and expanding their activities while still engaging in an online dialogue about family meals solutions with shoppers via social media.”

She adds: “It’s been exciting to see how retailers and suppliers positively responded and creatively folded National Family Meals Month into their existing marketing and merchandising plans. The customizable nature of the program means retailers and suppliers can be flexible in how they participate, and they find that aspect appealing. Some are retooling existing plans to include family meals solutions during September, while others are scaling the program to meet the needs of their customers.”

Indeed, as Borra notes: “One of the things that makes this program unique is that participation in National Family Meals Month is free  — only requiring the resources you want to put into the campaign for your business. … We’re giving our industry the resources and tools to get started, but the opportunities to expand engagement with the program are there for the taking.”

Stepping Up to the Plate

To see how retailers stand to benefit from National Family Meals Month, it’s instructive to look at the 2017 strategies of recipients and runners-up in FMI’s 2016 Gold Plate Award program, which recognizes those with outstanding initiatives encouraging more family meals at home.

“As our Gold Plate Award winners and participants showcase, family meals promotion is becoming a significant part of the food retail strategy,” observes Borra. “With more shoppers looking for easy meal solutions, the grocery store is becoming a go-to resource, and National Family Meals Month is an easy way for food retailers and suppliers to join this consumer conversation.”

“We were able to increase awareness of the resources we offer at Festival Foods to help make family meals a little easier for our shoppers by bringing excitement around Family Meals Month,” says Lauren Tulig, nutrition communications manager at the De Pere, Wis.-based grocer. “In addition, one of our core values at Festival Foods is community involvement. By taking part in Family Meals Month, we were able to make a positive impact on the communities we serve.”

While last year, the company strove to remove barriers to regular family meals through an omnichannel campaign encompassing in-store demos and social media, for 2017, Festival will be “focusing more on simple meals that are also affordable,” notes Tulig. “Our emphasis will be on providing digital resources, including how-to videos, Facebook Live broadcasts, and recipe ideas promoted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. We’ve seen continued success in educating our guests on our social media platforms, and we look forward to continuing that success with our Family Meals Month campaign in September.”

Abingdon, Va.-based K-VA-T Food Stores Inc. promoted 2016 National Family Meals Month through initiatives that took place in stores, online, on social media, on television and in print, geared toward both customers and associates, with the primary goal of helping families enjoy at least one meal together at home each week.

“We had a positive response and engagement from customers and associates, I think due to the universal nature of the theme and benefits of family meals,” says Elizabeth Hall, K-VA-T’s registered dietitian. “Most individuals would agree that more meals together with the people you care about is a good thing for overall emotional health and physical well-being. The message was positive and relatable to the majority of people.”

This year, according to Hall, “we plan to continue educating and engaging our customer base and associates on the importance of family meals in an effort to make it easier and more convenient for them to make meals happen. We will continue our programs through online, print and in-store promotions, as well as community events throughout our store footprint. We also hope to tie in our online ordering/curbside pickup option this year in order to make it even easier for customers to plan, purchase and prepare more meals at home.”

At South Bend, Ind.-based Martin’s Super Markets, customers learned about the importance of family meals through the grocer’s health-and-wellness magazine, took part in fun family meals-focused cooking classes and were invited to upload photos of their culinary endeavors for a Raise Your Mitt to Commit family meal-creation campaign on social media, among other efforts.

“Looking forward to our 2017 campaign, we look to utilize some of the same successful touchpoints with our customers,” notes Martin’s Health and Wellness Advisor Kristin St. Clair. “We are looking to focus recipe ideas on easy-to-prepare one-pot, one-pan and/or one-sheet meals, showing our customers that making meals at home can be easy, with minimal prep and cleanup. We also know our loyal customers love to cook and have some extraordinary talents for creating delicious recipes; thus we will be asking customers to share their complete recipes with us for a chance to be featured in our next Eat Smart. Be Well. magazine.”

With such great ideas on deck, it seems that the family meals movement is bound to last for the foreseeable future. “We believe National Family Meals Month will continue to earn national recognition as a vehicle to connect brands with the consumer on a personal level,” asserts Borra. “As a long-term goal, National Family Meals Month will be celebrated all year long, with a special emphasis in September.”