How to Avoid ‘Pinkwashing’ During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As grocers and brands launch promotions, Progressive Grocer talks to an author and life coach about importance of authenticity and action
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera
Doris cookies
Doris Italian Market & Bakery stores in south Florida will donate $1 from each cookie sold to the American Cancer Society's breast cancer program.

Breast Cancer Month is underway, and so are rollouts of limited-time products and seasonal promotions aimed at raising funds and awareness of the disease that is the second most common cancer among U.S. women. According to breastcancer.org, nearly 300,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women in 2023.

For many years, brands and grocers have focused on breast cancer programs during October, often using the signature bright pink color for signage, packaging and other forms of communication. This year is no exception.

For example, the Winn-Dixie banner of Southeastern Grocers is partnering with the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” campaign to raise funds through an in-store community donation program. Shoppers can donate $1 or $5 or round up their bill this month when checking out at stores in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Florida and Georgia, with contributions going directly to support patients and their families, conducting research and encouraging annual screening.

Food retailers of all sizes are involved in the cause. In South Florida, the independent Doris Italian Market & Bakery chain is donating proceeds of sales of special pink and white frosted cookies to the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" effort. 

Suppliers are getting in the pink, too. The Otis Spunkmeyer brand has introduced a new pink decorated cookie and will donate at least fifty cents from every case sold to a breast cancer charity. Avocados From Mexico is giving $50,000 to the Susan G. Komen organization and launched a Super Good promotion with pink packaging and displays.

While many companies are taking the month to raise awareness of breast cancer, authenticity and transparency are crucial. According to Kansas City, Mo.-based leadership coach and author Dr. Nicole Price, it’s important to avoid “pinkwashing” – the perception that companies use pink palettes and talk about breast cancer but don’t necessarily back it up with concrete, actionable support. It’s similar to claims of “greenwashing” during Earth Month in April and “rainbow washing” during Pride Month in June.

“If there is one thing to say to companies it’s to align what they do with what they say,” declared Price, CEO of Lively Paradox and author of “Spark the Heart: Engineering Empathy in Your Organization.” She got more outspoken on the issue after learning that her insurance provider didn’t cover 3-D breast cancer screening for her, although it shared social media posts about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “If it’s Ice Cream Day and you want to say, ‘It’s Ice Cream Day!’ that’s great, but for these issues, you can’t be cavalier.”

Donations  like the aforementioned retail and CPG efforts are a way to create that transparent alignment, she added. “You have to do something to show investment in the cause and some connection, like a portion of proceeds go towards breast cancer research or that you will fund an employee registration if they want to do a walk,” Price said.

She also emphasized behind-the-scenes support. “You can’t straddle the fence on these issues. If you want to help eradicate the disease and bring awareness to the issue, you can’t then have policies that don’t support screening that impacts 43% of women,” Price pointed out, adding that planning is at the crux of supportive policies and promotions. “When making decisions about these things we deem essential, it’s important to be intentional – putting together people to talk about ‘How do we make sure this aligns with our brand and follows a process that makes sense?’”

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