PG 2014 Retailer of the Year: A Better Way to ‘Meat the Needs’

Giant/Martin’s Christopher Brand discusses Meat the Needs, one of the retailer's key anti-hunger initiatives.

As part of the company’s strong commitment to supporting hunger relief and improving the lives of children, a centerpiece of Giant/Martin’s Living Here, Giving Here program is its Meat the Needs frozen meat donation program, which since its inception has distributed more than 3 million pounds of meat, which would otherwise go unsold, to its regional food bank partners. “Ten years ago, that meat was going right to the dumpster. Sad but true,” notes Christopher Brand, manager, public and community relations at Giant/Martin’s, based in Carlisle, Pa.

Piloted in 2011 with 16 Harrisburg, Pa.-area stores and one district with 10 stores in Philadelphia, Meat the Needs is a consumable food taskforce put together to redirect unsold food to regional food bank partners. Most retailers have a day-old bread program for out-of-code stock, but Meat the Needs takes that practice a dramatic step further.

The program’s focus is on providing protein, a challenging and expensive product for food banks to provide their customers. Key partners in the program are the Harrisburg-based Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Philadelphia’s Philabundance.

The major issue addressed through the pilot program was food safety and training, ensuring that Giant/Martin’s meat associates and managers kept the cold chain intact. Managers pull the meat — including poultry, beef and pork — just ahead of expiration. The meat is scanned for donation and placed in the freezer. During the pilot, a food bank refrigerated truck would arrive at the grocery store once a week to take receipt of the meat. However, Giant/Martin’s has since taken on the additional responsibility of delivering frozen meat to the food banks.

'Innovative and Incredible'

The burden — including costly fuel, trucks and people resources — of visiting multiple stores to pick up meat has been removed from the food banks. Weekly, as the Giant/Martin’s perishables team drops off fresh product, it also takes receipt of meat to be donated, returning it to the distribution center, where it’s palletized and sent out to major food banks. This move reduces the amount of handling and makes it easier to keep track of product.

Giant/Martin’s President Tom Lenkevich describes the program as nothing short of incredible. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to help the community,” he says, and Meat the Needs is a textbook example. “All it took was a little will, and we found a way. It’s so gratifying to provide thousands of meals to neighbors in our local communities who may otherwise go hungry,” Lenkevich says.

Making a Difference at the Local Level

“We’re making a difference in our communities,” says Brand. “We’re fulfilling our mission, and we’re fulfilling the expectations of our customers, who know us as a good community steward. They’ve been terrific and loyal to us. It’s our obligation to listen to them and do good for the community.”

Today, all 200 Giant/Martin’s stores are engaged in Meat the Needs. “Our mission is to eradicate hunger and improve lives of children,” says Brand. “Grocery is a noble business, and bringing fresh, affordable food to communities is important. We equally feel that helping our less-fortunate neighbors, those who go to food banks, is part of this mission.”

Meat the Needs continues to grow throughout Ahold USA’s four divisions. The program currently supports 25 regional food banks. Like other giving initiatives, including the Bag Hunger Campaign and the annual November turkey drive — known as Turkey Express in New England — the company reinforces its community focus. “If people are donating at the register to Bag Hunger, they know the money stays local,” Brand says. “We live here and we give here.”

Laying the Foundation

While Meat the Needs has been successfully redirecting meat to those in need for five years, it took several years to develop the protocol that made the process possible. “There couldn’t be a frozen meat rescue program unless the USDA was involved, and that’s no small thing,” explains Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Giant/Martin’s, he says, made this happen.

While the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank had been running an efficient organization at the time, it wasn’t handling a significant level of meat, notes Arthur. “Giant took the lead on the process, protocol and expertise. In collaboration with the USDA’s inspection service, we wrote procedures before we ever started moving meat,” he says. Giant helped facilitate the buy-in throughout the hierarchy of the USDA inspection service, which proved tremendously helpful.

“The important part of that is what it’s done for us the past five years,” says Arthur. “By converting to a recommended 4-ounce serving, we’ve distributed more than 6 million meals worth of meat over five years. Last year alone, it was 2.5 million meals of meat. We’re good at sourcing the other dry goods, beverages and even fresh produce now, but the hardest thing is the center of the plate. That’s the grand scale of what [Meat the Needs] does for us in terms of meals.”

All told, 55,000 individuals are served by Central Pennsylvania Food Bank agency partners each week. The organization serves 27 counties in central Pennsylvania, about double the service it provided in 2007.

“As Giant/Martin’s has grown its business, stores and service, its relationship with us has grown as well,” Arthur says. “We’ve always been able to rely on Giant for food product and running fundraising campaigns ... but [now] it extends to other areas.”

Giant works creatively with its vendor partners to serve communities. For example, according to Arthur, Giant initiated a fuel program under which its vendor fuels the food bank’s fleet of trucks. “It’s cheaper fuel than we could get on our own,” says Arthur. “That saves us $25,000 to $30,000 a year. We would never have been able to put that together ourselves.”

Giant also supports the food bank by allowing its management team and select associates to attend training sessions. “We actually have a whole host of areas where Giant has been an invaluable partner to us,” he observes. “Giant has helped us adopt best practices and create some revenue streams.”