Progressive Grocer Reveals Inaugural Impact Award Winners
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09/13/2021

Progressive Grocer Reveals Inaugural Impact Award Winners

Outstanding efforts of 25 companies changing lives and impacting communities recognized in first-of-its-kind program
Mike Troy
Editorial Director, Grocery Group
Mike Troy profile picture

Businesses can be a force for good, and serving others is the foundation on which the food and consumables industry was built. This reality is reflected in the way that grocers, suppliers and service providers positively affect society through environmental, social and governance (ESG) actions.

These actions tend to be profound and wide-ranging, but often aren’t fully appreciated. We saw this throughout the pandemic as companies rose to the challenge of taking care of their communities, employees and customers through innovative approaches, the expansion of existing efforts, and the generous donation of time and resources.

Progressive Grocer sought to address this recognition gap with the creation of a first-of-its-kind Impact Award program designed to honor industry exceptionalism. The goal was to discover and showcase the positive impact that companies large and small are having through their ESG efforts in the following areas:

  • Sustainability/Resource Conservation
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Ethical Sourcing/Supply Chain Transparency
  • Workforce Development/Employee Support
  • Community Service/Local Impact
  • Educational Support/Learning Advancement
  • Food Security/Nutritional Leadership
  • Philanthropic Innovation/Corporate Giving
  • Entrepreneurial Support/Free-Enterprise Enablement

The call for entries began this past spring, and the reaction from the industry was outstanding. Stories flowed in during the summer of selfless acts of giving and unique approaches to address complex challenges, highlighting how special and integral the grocery industry is to society.

Entries were evaluated by the PG editorial team, and all of those received were notable, but our goal was to highlight the most inspiring, innovative and exceptional as our 2021 Impact Award winners. These are their stories.

COMMUNITY SERVICE/LOCAL IMPACT 

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Briar Patch Food Co-op

The Patchworks program, developed by the Briar Patch Food Co-Op, in Grass Valley, Calif., is an innovative approach to rewarding volunteers for their increased commitment of time. The food co-op launched the program in January 2020, just prior to the pandemic, to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships with other nonprofits and owner-volunteers. The timing was impeccable, as COVID-19 increased demand for services offered by Briar Patch and its 10 launch partners.

Co-op owners who participate in Patchworks receive 15% off a single shopping trip if they work six hours a month, or two shopping trips if they work 12 hours. In 2020, the 181 volunteers worked 2,596 hours, and as of mid-June, Briar Patch was on track to surpass that figure, with more than 1,700 volunteer hours worked at 15 participating nonprofits.

“We are thrilled by the enthusiasm behind this program, from the nonprofits and our volunteers. BriarPatch Owners are so motivated to ensure these nonprofits are rich in the resources needed to accomplish their important work. It's a true testament to the cooperative spirit,” said BriarPatch Marketing Manager Rebecca Torpie.

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Brookshire Grocery Co.

Through countless actions in support of communities throughout Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, the Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) exemplifies what’s good about the grocery industry. The company was founded by Wood T. Brookshire in 1928 to serve humanity, and that’s what the company did throughout the pandemic, with its commitment to volunteerism, philanthropic giving, and support of causes that promote hunger relief, education, family health and well-being, active-duty military, veterans, and first responders in communities that support its 185 stores.

BGC committed $1 million to community food banks and matched an additional $100,000 in customer donations. An annual food drive provided one week of meals to approximately 18,000 households, and a partnership with Hormel Foods provided $100,000 in protein donations to community food banks. BGC increased staffing and expedited the rollout of curbside service to better serve customers, particularly those with vulnerabilities; expanded its senior discount; and created a daily discount for critical and emergency service providers. The company also introduced its Community Kitchen food trailer to provide meals for hospital workers and first responders, as well as for residents affected by hurricanes.

BGC’s commitment to its communities throughout the pandemic earned Chairman and CEO Brad Brookshire a seat on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s task force focused on helping businesses reopen safely.

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Hy-Vee Inc.

The exemplary actions of Hy-Vee throughout the pandemic illustrate what a high level of community support looks like. The 280-store chain became synonymous with the word “first,” as its actions were often replicated by others. Hy-Vee was among the first retailers to offer COVID-19 testing, providing an outdoor drive-thru testing process and rapid testing. The company’s leadership was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and it was asked to be an early vaccine provider.

Community support in Hy-Vee’s eight-state footprint took other forms as well, including a Register Roundup event that raised more than $1 million in food and supplies for local food banks, and 115 drive-up contactless produce and meal giveaways that resulted in nearly 1 million pounds of fresh produce donated. A week-long Stuff a Truck campaign sent 18 trucks filled with $800,000 worth of food and supplies to 10 nonprofits and food banks in the Twin Cities.

To further show community support, Hy-Vee created a Hometown Heroes campaign, asking local heroes and essential workers to submit photos of themselves for inclusion in a series of videos that were shared on social platforms to publicly demonstrate their appreciation.

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Pompeian

There are many ways that brands can have community impact, and Pompeian showed its creativity with a program called The Olive Branch, which launched in 2015 in the company’s hometown of Baltimore. In keeping with its mission of helping people eat and live well, The Olive Branch is about empowering Baltimore’s youth and offering local schools and children’s organizations the opportunity to visit the company’s headquarters, bottling facility and lab to be immersed in the world of olive oil and healthy eating.

Pompeian partners with local nonprofits on The Olive Branch to amplify its efforts, and more recently sponsored an initiative called Taste Wise Kids (TWK). This unique program helps educate more than 1,000 students each year about healthy eating.

The company’s impact has also extended to the main waterway through which its olive oil is imported: Pompeian partnered with Healthy Harbor to adopt two of the organization’s four trash wheels, which have removed 250 tons of waste from the Baltimore harbor.

a group of people looking at a fruit stand

Publix Super Markets

Leveraging its position as the Southeast’s leading grocer, Publix launched an innovative program in April 2020 called Farmers & Families. Publix quickly recognized at the onset of the pandemic that supply chain disruptions were leaving some farmers without a market for their products, while at the same time economic disruptions were causing increased food insecurity. Publix filled the void by purchasing fruits, vegetables and milk from sources throughout the Southeast, which were then donated to Feeding America member food banks in the seven states where Publix operates.

By year end, Publix had purchased and delivered more than 18 million pounds of produce and 500,000-plus gallons of milk, but the company’s spirit of service didn’t stop there. A new six-week program was added to The Farmers & Families program to support six of Florida’s largest food banks with donations of pasta, canned vegetables, canned beans, cereal and boxed potatoes. This program provided nearly 1.3 million pounds of additional food.

“For decades, Publix has consistently looked for creative ways to support those in need,” says Paco Velez, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida. “Their leadership in 2020 has played a vital role in sustaining our clients throughout the most challenging and unusual year.”

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION 

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Afia

Syrian refugee Farrah Moussallati Sibai founded Afia in Austin, Texas, in 2017 with a commitment to diversity and inclusion. The idea for the Mediterranean food company came to Sibai while she was volunteering with a refugee organization and beginning a new life in Austin. Using her mother-in-law’s old-world Syrian recipes, Sibai created Afia’s signature frozen falafel and kibbeh, began selling the products at an Austin farmers’ market in 2017, and by 2019 had become one of H-E-B’s Supplier Diversity Supplier of the Year award recipients and a Chobani Incubator brand.

With Afia now available at 800 locations nationwide and expected to double in 2021, Sibai, president of Afia, and her co-founder, CEO Yassin Sibai, have made diversity and inclusion core to their hiring practices. The company has majority-women ownership and minority leadership in the executive positions, and 75% of the company’s growing staff are people of color. In addition, from its infancy, Afia has sought to support the refugee community in central Texas through employment, mentoring and hunger relief.

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Information Resources Inc.

As a Big Data and analytics innovator, Information Resources Inc. (IRI), recognized that it was uniquely positioned to make a difference in combating social injustice and generating economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. That’s why a group of IRI volunteers created the Diversity Advantage Program (DAP) to support minority- and women-owned CPG companies that are looking to take the next step to growth. IRI works with accredited minority- or women-owned consumer goods companies with $1 million to $25 million in annual sales, and provides free access to data, tools and expertise.

The program is a great way to level the retail playing field, because IRI is training  DAPers in skills that include understanding measurement and data sets and leveraging its visualization platform to turn data into insights. Doing so helps establish a basic foundation in category management that facilitates collaboration with retailers. Brands that have partnered with IRI provide DAPers with coaching to prepare for retailer meetings. Even with the program still in its trial phase, IRI has already confirmed the participation of nine retailers in DAP, including Ahold Delhaize, Amazon, Kroger and Target, and is on track to having 50 DAPers in the program.

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Shipt

A diverse, engaged and purpose-driven team is the key to driving innovation at Shipt. That philosophy is woven into Shipt’s purpose and embraced at all levels of the organization, as evidenced by recent initiatives. The company partnered with the Pivot Technology School to cover tuition for 30 students, including internal candidates, with priority given to those in groups underrepresented in the technology world. All of the chosen students participate in a 20-week tech boot camp. Upon completion, 30 jobs at Shipt will be available for graduates.

In addition, throughout the past year, Shipt established four employee resource groups (Black, LGBTQ+, Asian American & Pacific Islander, and Women) to provide employees and allies with an environment where they can be their authentic selves. More than half of Shipt’s 1,200 employees participate in the groups, which take the lead on cultural heritage month celebrations and company culture with respect to their group.

Over the past five months, Shipt employees have given their time and money to effect change, contributing more than $74,000 toward diversity, equity and inclusion causes and volunteering nearly 700 hours toward recent service initiatives.

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Southeastern Grocers Inc.

Southeastern Grocers (SEG) took diversity, equity and inclusion to a new level this year, when the grocer launched several new initiatives to build on its legacy of action. In 2020, The Romay Davis Belonging, Inclusion and Diversity grant program was founded to provide funds for nonprofits committed to making communities stronger by leveling the playing field for those that face racial disparities in education, health care and food insecurity. The program is named after Romay Davis, an inspirational African-American woman and 20-year veteran of the company who continues to work part-time at Winn-Dixie at the age of 101.

Grant applications were accepted and reviewed by the SEG Belonging, Inclusion and Diversity Committee, a group of nine associates and leaders from diverse backgrounds. Last October, nine nonprofits were awarded grant funds totaling $100,000 to provide inspiration and opportunities for others in the community to break barriers and push for equity.

In addition, SEG’s seven associate resource groups organize and lead celebrations aligned with events such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Juneteenth, Hispanic Heritage Month, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Veterans Day. The efforts have paid off, with SEG receiving a perfect diversity and inclusion rating from Glassdoor, in addition to being certified as a Great Place to Work in September 2020.

EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT/LEARNING ADVANCEMENT

Chi Cheng et al. posing for the camera

Hormel Foods

In August 2020, during the height of the pandemic and amid great social unrest, Hormel Foods sought to take action that would be monumental and inspirational while also having a lasting impact. The result of that thinking was the creation of the first-of-its-kind Inspired Pathways program, which provides a free college education to the children of its employees. Launched earlier this year, the program has exceeded expectations, with more than 200 students beginning classes this fall for the 2021-22 academic year. To bolster the chances of success for program participants, many of whom are first-generation college students, each is assigned a mentor to provide support.

The program has been successful in other ways, too. Hormel notes that other large global corporations, including direct competitors, have inquired about establishing programs similar to Inspired Pathways.

“We believe equality in education can be a game-changer, and we have decided to take on that challenge,” says Hormel Foods CEO Jim Snee. “When you think about how a college education can change lives and start a ripple effect that will be felt for generations, that’s the change-maker Hormel Foods wants to be.” 

a woman sitting at a table with a racket

Hy-Vee

Nutritional education can be lacking in public schools, but that’s not an issue for kids in Hy-Vee’s eight-state trading area. The grocer launched a program called KidsFit in 2015 as part of its mission to make lives easier, healthier and happier. KidsFit promotes health, exercise and nutrition by providing a free online personal trainer and nutritional programming for children, teens and families, with the goal of encouraging kids to eat well and stay physically active. Hy-Vee’s certified personal trainer, Daira Driftmier, and Hy-Vee dietitian Stacy Mitchell teamed up to provide customers with a program that teaches kids how to exercise properly and eat a balanced diet.

The program has been phenomenally successful, with participation from more than 400,000 kids since inception. It helps that Hy-Vee has gamified the program with a dedicated KidsFit app and the ability to create an avatar that can go on a virtual journey across the world, participate in educational games or view exercise videos. More recently, Hy-Vee has found even more ways to increase KidsFit engagement by offering a wellness guide for schools, fun challenges, and a “summer of fun” box filled with dietitian-approved snacks and related nutrition education products.

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Rosauers Supermarkets

A commitment to helping employees succeed in their personal education goals is part of Rosauers Supermarkets’ credo. The Spokane Wash.-based chain, which operates 22 stores, brings its education commitment to life through five avenues of engagement.

Two of the avenues involve scholarship programs at Gonzaga University and Washington State University. A third avenue is a custom-created Retail Management Certificate (RMC) Program Scholarship that covers up to eight quarters of business classes. Twelve Rosauers employees have earned an RMC certificate since the program’s inception in 2019.

A fourth avenue helps employees in their current positions through internal training videos and course materials for several departments, while working toward the goal of department-specific training for all. Nearly 800 employees have participated in this training.

A fifth avenue was created for department managers, which includes eight hours total of coursework on topics such as basic market math, understanding budgets, regulatory authorities, inventory, leadership, human resources, and department-specific policies, procedures, and measures of efficiency.

ENTREPRENEURIAL SUPPORT/FREE ENTERPRISE ENABLEMENT

a tray of food

Farmer Focus

Changing chicken farming for good is the mission of Farmer Focus, a company bringing fair trade to domestic chicken farming and transparency to shoppers. The Farmer Focus brand of chicken was born of sixth-generation chicken farmer Corwin Heatwole’s desire to promote and protect family farmers. The company that he started began with 300 birds and has grown to now support more than 60 family farms that meet Farmer Focus standards to produce 100% organic flocks of free-range chickens marketed under the Farmer Focus brand and sold at retailers such as Kroger and Publix.

A unique operating model means that farmers own their own birds and feed, and are paid a set rate per pound rather than competing for payment through a bidding process. The supportive model has resonated with farmers throughout the Virginias, helping to make Farmer Focus the largest exclusively organic chicken processor in the United States. According to the company, it has a waiting list of 100 farmers ready to participate in the network, and whose participation will be visible to shoppers, as each package contains a Farmer Focus Farm ID, which allows the product to be traced back to the farm on which it was raised.

a bunch of different types of food

The Giant Co.

The Giant Co. lived up to its name by having a huge impact on small businesses throughout the pandemic. As small businesses in Pennsylvania’s food supply chain were being negatively affected during the pandemic, Giant summoned its purpose of “connecting families for a better future” and launched the Small Business Emergency Grant Program. The initial goal was to award $250,000 to 20 companies; however, an overwhelming response quickly saw funding doubled to $500,000 to help 110 recipients. Among those benefiting were family farms, local food artisans, and manufacturers.

To quickly develop the program, review submissions and allocate funds, Giant worked with Team Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that connects private- and public-sector leaders to achieve and sustain progress for the commonwealth. Action was swift, with only about 45 days passing from the time that applications were submitted until funds were disbursed, with grants ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. A survey of grant recipients revealed unanimous agreement that the funds helped their business stay operational through the pandemic. The program was a success in another way, as it now serves as a model for Giant’s more recent initiatives focused on child care and sustainability.

SUSTAINABILITY/RESOURCE CONSERVATION

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Apeel/Robinson Fresh

Making fresh food last longer to reduce food waste is the vision behind the partnership of Apeel and Robinson Fresh. The companies began collaborating in 2020 on an initiative that protects produce with Apeel’s plant-based coating to dramatically extend the lifespan of produce. The Apeel coating provides an extra layer of protection to seal in moisture and keep oxygen out, resulting in few products thrown out.

Apeel is a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, and Robinson Fresh is one of the world’s largest produce companies. As a result of their collaboration, Apeel’s technology has increased operational flexibility for Robinson Fresh to optimize logistical efficiencies and reduce transportation impacts.

One example of success involves preventing an estimated 1.6 million limes from going to waste, in the process avoiding 110 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and conserving 25 million gallons of water. Robinson Fresh and Apeel are looking for ways to expand their impact and support retailers’ and consumers’ efforts to reduce food waste.

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The Giant Co./Flashfood

Efforts underway at The Giant Co. to reduce food waste took an interesting turn in 2020. The company’s initiatives were already yielding impressive results, including the Meat the Needs program, which saw more than 5 million pounds of safe, consumable meat frozen and donated to food banks last year more than 15 million pounds since the program began in 2009.

However, to have an even bigger impact, Giant in May 2020 began a four-store pilot with Flashfood, an app-based marketplace that connects consumers with discounted food nearing its best-by date. Shoppers browse deals on fresh items like meat, produce, bakery and snacks that are nearing their best-by dates to make in-app purchases that are picked up the same day from a Flashfood zone located in stores.

The program worked so well at reducing waste and increasing access that it was expanded to 33 stores last year, and by this fall it will be available in all 184 Giant and Martin’s stores. The expansion will have a huge impact on reducing food waste, considering that the pilot program alone diverted more than 250,000 pounds of food from landfills.

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The Kroger Co.

There’s more to being America’s largest natural and organic brand than offering great products. Kroger took a 360-degree view of its Simple Truth brand and in July 2020 launched its Simple Truth Recycling Program, offering customers a free and simple way to recycle the flexible packaging of more than 300 products. In partnership with TerraCycle, the platform enabled customers to recycle a wide range of flexible packaging not currently accepted in curbside recycling programs, including produce bags, potato chip and snack bags, and plastic overwrap. The packaging materials are collected by consumers in special containers and shipped to TerraCycle recycling locations.

The program was so effective and so aligned  with Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan  that it was expanded earlier this year. In April 2021, Kroger became the first retailer in the world to offer an Our Brands Recycling Program, supported by TerraCycle and enabling customers to recycle nearly 2,500 products from Kroger’s private label portfolio. The program is off to a fantastic start, with more than 41,000 packages collected at 5,000 TerraCycle recycling locations, and volumes are expected to build as awareness grows.

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Milo’s Tea Co.

A commitment to conservation and sustainability is part of the culture that permeates 75-year-old Milo’s Tea Co. Internally, Milo’s has teams of employees dedicated to specific initiatives, including zero waste, energy efficiency and packaging reduction, and the company’s zero-waste initiatives are a critical part of the onboarding process for new employees.

The commitment to sustainability is evident everywhere at Milo’s. Its plant in Bessemer, Ala., in 2020 achieved T.R.U.E (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) GBCI Platinum Certification. More than 98% of all waste generated at the plant is diverted from landfills, and 16,000 gallons of water is reused per day. Milo’s has gone 100% paperless in its payroll process to reduce annual usage of paper by more than 60%. Corrugated shipping boxes have been re-engineered to reduce corrugate and glue usage. A wastewater system eliminates harmful contaminants and restores natural pH levels. Those are just a few of the company’s current and planned initiatives.

Milo’s has partnered with the EPA’s Waste Wise Program and Walmart’s Gigaton sustainability efforts to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions and set metrics to ensure continued progress.

a truck is parked on the side of a road

United Natural Foods Inc.

United Natural Foods’ (UNFI) history of leadership on matters of environmental, social and governance issues was taken to a new level in January, when the company launched its Better for All framework to focus on six priorities: climate action, waste reduction, food safety, food access, associate safety and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion. To ensure progress in each of these areas, UNFI established new stretch goals, including 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2023, a 50% reduction in food waste by 2025, and by 2030, zero waste to landfill from distribution centers, the reduction of distribution center energy intensity by 30%, the donation of 250 million pounds of food, and 200,000 associate volunteer hours logged.

By year end, plans call for the launch of the UNFI Climate Action Hub in partnership with The Climate Collaborative, to spur climate action among brands and retailers alike. UNFI will provide tools, resources, education and thought leadership to help the industry deliver meaningful greenhouse-gas emissions reduction.

One way the company is doing that is through electrification of its supply chain. UNFI recently added 53 solar-powered, all-electric refrigerated trailers to its fleet in California and plans to add 1 square mile of solar capacity in North Carolina.

ETHICAL SOURCING/SUPPLY CHAIN TRANSPARENCY

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The Kroger Co.

Responsible sourcing is a key element of Kroger’s comprehensive Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, and having a massive private-brand portfolio enables the company to achieve a significant impact. Kroger partners with Fair Trade USA, a program that supports income sustainability, environmental stewardship, empowerment and the well-being of every participating farming community. Since the inception of the Simple Truth brand in late 2012, Kroger has purchased Fair Trade Certified ingredients, and the company’s global supply partnerships have positively affected the lives of farmers in countries like the Philippines, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Kroger’s Simple Truth brand has more Fair Trade Certified products more than 108 items than any other U.S. private label brand. In 2020, nearly 59 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified ingredients were purchased, an almost 100% increase from 2019, boosting premiums sent to workers by 44%.

As Kroger associate and customer interest in Fair Trade products grows, Kroger is expanding certification to its Private Selection brand, with all Private Selection coffee that’s sourced internationally to be Fair Trade certified by the second quarter of 2022.

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Tony’s Chocolonely

By developing technology and investing in novel infrastructure, Tony’s Chocolonely is demonstrating that transparency in the cocoa supply chain is achievable, scalable and profitable. The company’s mission to create a cocoa supply chain free of modern slavery and child labor is achieved by innovative sourcing measures and appeals to consumers eager to influence the chocolate industry through their purchase behavior.

Tony’s U.S. revenues doubled last year, and the company now has a 5.1% market share in the natural supermarket category. Tony’s sources cocoa beans from seven co-ops across Ghana and Ivory Coast, and by signing five-year contracts, the co-ops receive an additional premium on top of the fair-trade premium for cocoa beans. In the last growing season, Tony’s paid more than $4.3 million in premiums to 8,457 cocoa farmers who harvested 6,711 metric tons of beans.

Enabling that level of supply chain transparency is a transparency tool called the Beantracker, which leverages blockchain technology. The Beantracker digitally logs where the beans are at all points in the supply chain, starting with individual farmer deliveries that are tracked via GPS.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT/EMPLOYEE SUPPORT

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Hy-Vee Inc.

Hy-Vee has lived up to its mission to “be the best place to work and shop in America,” and then some. The operator of 280 stores, intent on creating a fun, inclusive and supportive work environment, paid more than $167.2 million in bonuses and other benefits to employees last year. It also provided a 10% discount on purchases, boosted pay for those who worked on holidays, paid appreciation bonuses totaling $28.3 million, and enhanced its 401(k) program by matching 50% of every dollar contributed, up to 7% of pay. Hy-Vee paid nearly $30 million in matching contributions last year, and also provided tuition assistance of up to $10,500 to eligible employees to attend Bellevue University.

The past year was special for Hy-Vee because the company observed its 90th anniversary by awarding more than $1 million in prizes and bonuses of $68.7 million to full-time employees. Other benefits that Hy-Vee introduced in 2020 included free employee membership for Care.com, access to PerkSpot for discounts, paid parental leave, and adoption and fertility reimbursement. Hy-Vee also deployed a mobile communications platform, Retail Zipline, across the company to facilitate communications directly with front-line employees, including weekly update videos from CEO Randy Edeker.

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Stemilt Growers LLC

Leading produce company Stemilt took its commitment to workforce development to new heights with an increased focus on helping employees achieve Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certification. To become EFI-certified, leadership teams at Stemilt’s orchards and packing facilities are trained on more than 300 rigorous standards regarding labor practices, food safety and pest management. The standards also emphasize collaboration, respect and creating a culture of food safety.

Three Stemilt employees, Marcela Covarrubias, Rosa Madrigal and Melissa Gonzalez, took the lead on the initiative, completing 40 hours of training to achieve internal training certification to provide EFI-related training throughout the Stemilt organization. Stemilt views EFI certification as a proactive step forward to continue building its company culture to reflect its vision, mission, values and goals, with certified EFI trainers responsible for understanding EFI standards, along with identifying problems that could affect compliance. An aggressive rollout of EFI training continued throughout 2021, with all orchards and operations recently certified.

FOOD SECURITY/NUTRITIONAL LEADERSHIP

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Farmbox Direct

Access to healthier food equals a healthier diet, which is why Farmbox Direct established its unique approach to providing subscription boxes that deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to homes nationwide. Beginning in April 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the company transitioned from being a premium delivery service to an essential one by safely delivering farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to those who were unable to find products at their local grocer or who simply didn’t want to risk venturing out.

Farmbox grew by 2,200% overnight and was able to meet the demand created by the pandemic, due to stay-at-home orders. Additionally, at the start of 2020, the company entered the health care industry through its FarmboxRx initiative to expand its mission of making healthy foods more accessible. This branch of the company is revolutionizing the future of health care by partnering with Medicare Advantage plans to offer qualifying members a fresh box of fruits and vegetables under their health insurance coverage or member benefit programs.

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HelloFresh

With its mission to change the way people eat forever, HelloFresh pursues a wide range of initiatives to advance its cause. To increase access to fresh, nutritious food, the company makes bulk donations to organizations near its distribution centers, and in April 2020 it also launched an initiative called Beyond the Box, featuring two major components.

One aspect involves strengthening community support by providing meals to those in need through a Meals with Meaning initiative that allows customers to add on or donate a box to the food insecure. Since January 2020, HelloFresh has received more than 70,000 customer contributions through the Add-On and Donate your Box options, and provided more than 6.6 million meals with the Beyond the Box program, via surplus donations and through Meals with Meaning.

The company also amplified education and provided nutritional leadership with @TheTable program, collaborating with the Food Education Fund and the Fund for Public Schools, in New York City. HelloFresh provided free meal kits to culinary students for hands-on experience. As a majority of the students live in historically underserved communities, the HelloFresh boxes were designed to provide extra meals to both enhance their educational experience and help combat food insecurity at home.

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The Giant Co.

To take the guesswork out of nutrition, The Giant Co. offers the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation rating system. When COVID-19 hit, however, the company needed a new way to support customers’ needs for nutrition support. Giant’s nutritionists got creative and took their traditional cooking and nutrition classes virtual. The live online nutrition classes began via Zoom in May 2020. A complete listing of ingredients needed for each virtual class was available on the event page, and customers could also earn reward points for attending the entire class.

Classes included a mix of adult and kid-friendly offerings, among them Mini Chef Mornings, when children ages 6 and younger could enjoy a story and learn to make a nourishing snack. A Junior Chef Creations program engaged those ages 7 to 18 in a seasonal nutrition topic. A Family Meals at 5 class, which started last September, helped families prepare affordable, simple meals.

The creativity and innovation of Giant’s nutritionists resulted in a new way to engage consumers in nutrition education for the future. The total monthly attendance grew to nearly 400 a month at the end of 2020 and to nearly 1,600 more recently, well above what the company was able to achieve when classes were held in person.

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Hormel Foods

As the pandemic was devastating the foodservice industry, Hormel took notice in its hometown of Austin, Minn. In addition to donating cash and products to nonprofit organizations around the world, the company implemented a unique Inspired Meals program in Austin that helped local restaurants, a nonprofit organization and seniors.

Hormel began purchasing meals to provide its employees at the start of the pandemic, but as most of its office team members began working remotely due to state orders, the company came up with another idea. Hormel began ordering meals from local restaurants each week and donating them to the Mower County Senior Center for distribution to the elderly, creating a win-win-win situation. The company’s “SPAMbassadors” also helped the senior center with meal distribution for several months when the company’s SPAM Museum was closed. In total, more than 50,000 meals were provided through the company’s one-of-a-kind Inspired Meals program.

“There was never a discussion about whether we should do it,” says Jim Sheehan, Hormel’s EVP and CFO. “There was never even a discussion where we pulled out the calculator and figured out how much it was going to cost. It was the right thing to do, and we needed to do it.”

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Thrive Market

Founded in 2014 with a mission to make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone, e-grocer Thrive Market saw how the pandemic exacerbated food affordability and access issues. To address the situation, it launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund that to date has raised more than $1 million and helped support 30,000 families while shipping 65 million healthy essential products.

Taking things even further, last November Thrive Market launched the Food Equality Fund to increase food access. The fund is expected to reach $10 million in donations of healthy groceries by 2025. In January 2021, Thrive Market onboarded FoodCorps as a partner to provide more than 10,000 families and children with access to healthy food and to fund food education for 6,000-plus kids at two high-need schools.

Underscoring Thrive Market’s consumer relevance with its offering of more than 5,000 organic and non-GMO products, the brand surpassed 1 million paid members this year. It also became the largest grocer in the nation to achieve B Corp certification and has been carbon neutral since launch, with a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2025.

PHILANTHROPIC INNOVATION/CORPORATE GIVING

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Bashas’ Family of Stores

For nearly 90 years, Bashas’ has been an integral part of Arizona. The family-owned and -operated grocery chain of more than 100 stores is one of the state’s largest employers and a community-minded organization. Since its inception, Bashas’ has given back more than $100 million to Arizona communities, and as the pandemic unfolded, the company was keenly aware of the challenges that underserved families, children and vulnerable individuals would face. This extra motivation prompted Bashas’ to double its Charity of the Month program and begin accepting customer donations at the point of sale, thanks to a recent technology upgrade.

Bashas’ generous customers donated more than $2.6 million to nonprofits in 2020, doubling 2019’s contribution. The grocer also remained steadfast in its commitment to Arizona’s nonprofits, with more than 1,400 organizations participating in the Bashas’ Community Support Card program. Through this program, the grocer provides reloadable grocery gift cards to nonprofits, which then distribute the cards to their supporters. When the gift cards are reloaded, 6% of the reloaded amount goes directly back to the card’s linked nonprofit organization. In 2020, Bashas’ gave back more than $72,000 through this program.

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FoodStory Brands

To highlight the unsung heroes behind grass-roots efforts in communities across the country, FoodStory Brands developed a campaign called Salsabrate The Good. The family-owned company committed $250,000 to be distributed among 50 nonprofit organizations. The maker of Fresh Cravings salsas and dips took funds out of its marketing budget to support nonprofits nationwide and to advance the company’s credentials as a purpose-driven brand.

Fresh Cravings sought out small, impactful organizations for its contributions, and then orchestrated in-person events with grocers meeting organizations face to face. At Kroger banner Ralph’s, teen philanthropist Khloe Thompson was able to accept her nonprofit’s donation from Fresh Cravings, its broker Empire and Ralph’s executives. Mariano’s, the Kroger banner in the Chicago area, teamed up with Fresh Cravings in its support of Project I Am, a nonprofit founded by teen Jahkil Jackson that supports the local homeless community.

These stories are brought to life by Fresh Cravings’ in-house videographer, with the vignettes posted across the brand’s social media channels to amplify each nonprofit’s important message. Stories are further promoted in partnership with Upworthy, a platform dedicated to sharing the best of humanity.

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The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co.

Tremendous demands were placed on health care workers during the pandemic, and Stop & Shop recognized that it had an opportunity to make a difference. After hearing from an emergency room doctor’s mother who was making sandwiches for the staff at Boston Medical Center, the grocer decided to leverage its more than 400 stores throughout the Northeast to donate 5,000 fresh meals each day for five months, beginning in March 2020 at major hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.

The donations also included energy and nutrition bars for when health care workers didn’t have time for a meal as they worked around the clock to care for COVID-19 patients. Knowing that hospital workers didn’t have time to grocery shop during this unprecedented time, Stop & Shop also began an Essentials for Essentials program that brought the grocery store to the hospitals. At Hartford Hospital, in Hartford, Conn.; Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston; and Mt. Sinai South Nassau, on New York’s Long Island, Stop & Shop donated thousands of bags filled with essential items. The bags were distributed to hospital workers at the end of their shifts to alleviate the burden of shopping after a long day of working.

Stop & Shop continued to support health care workers through 2021, including the donation of meals to dozens of vaccination mega-sites across its five-state footprint to support those providing the vaccines.

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