The Right Cause


Just about every grocery retailer engages in charitable giving — or cause marketing or corporate social responsibility (CSR) — and yet it’s viewed as a great differentiator, particularly relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Initiatives that address everything from food insecurity to cures for diseases are executed with the intention of impacting the cause, influencing consumer behavior and enhancing corporate reputation.

Respondents to the “2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study” say they have a more positive image of (93 percent), are more likely to trust (90 percent) and are more loyal to (88 percent) companies that support social and environmental issues.

Beyond the reputational boost, companies can reap real financial rewards from CSR efforts. Retailers indicate that the top three benefits of CSR are an enhanced image in the community, loyalty and increased customer engagement.

But there are many spheres of giving — from hyperlocal to global — as well as layers of complexity. With the need for support as great as it is, grocery banners make difficult choices on which causes to support.

“I’ve never met a not-for-profit mission I didn’t love. They all want to improve and help the world in a special way,” says Joanie Taylor, director of community relations at Schnuck Markets, based in St. Louis.

Supermarket banners need to consider their core mission as they determine which causes to aid. Thoughtful curation of initiatives will also help alleviate the charitable whiplash afflicting their shoppers. Consumers are no longer drawn to the cause ribbon of the day; rather, they want to feel good about their support — in terms of where their money is going, the brands they support and the time they invest.

The Causes That Align

For many years, Schnucks, a chain of 98 stores in the Midwest, tried to be all things to all people, recounts Taylor. As the company approached its 75th anniversary in 2014, it took a more introspective view of its mission and how it aligned with the many causes it supported. Schnucks supports two avenues of giving: corporate and customer-supported. Corporate support is focused on three areas: hunger, human services, and health and wellness. For customer-supported initiatives, the retailer partners with eScrip, through which qualifying not-for-profits can earn a percentage of sales from supporters who register and shop at Schnucks.

“It’s good business because it’s tied to customers who support us,” asserts Taylor, “and we in turn can support what’s important to our shoppers.”

As a regional chain, Schnucks is dedicated to causes that are local to its stores. For more than 30 years, the grocer has supported Operation Food Search (OFS) by providing food donations and financial contributions to the nonprofit organization dedicated to ending hunger in the St. Louis area. In the past five years, the company has ramped up its efforts with the creation of Meat Rescue, which ensures safe handling of meat donations to food banks. During a six-month period in 2015, for example, Schnucks added more than 500,000 pounds of meat protein to its other food contributions. Over the course of a year, Schnucks donates 11 million pounds of food, or the equivalent of 6.25 million meals. According to Taylor, every third meal provided by OFS comes from Schnucks.

Ahold USA’s charitable efforts came together in 2012 through the unification of Giant Carlisle’s Our Kids Foundation and Stop & Shop/Giant Landover’s Family Foundation. The combined entity, now known as Our Family Foundation, exercises a Better Neighbor strategy. In 2014, the company’s divisions, comprising Giant Landover, Giant/Martin’s, Stop & Shop New England and Stop & Shop New York Metro, donated $67 million to efforts focused on hunger (47 percent of all giving), children (31 percent) and building healthy communities (22 percent). Supported by skills, volunteerism, and financial and product support, the community-focused strategy aims to improve quality of life.

Ahold USA operates about 770 supermarkets in 14 eastern states, in addition to online grocery delivery provider Peapod. Being a “good neighbor” is critical to the company’s goal of offering value and better places to shop. As Ahold COO James McCann told Progressive Grocer in late 2014: “We know we’re not going to become a great retailer unless we’re also a great place to work, and a great neighbor in the communities which we serve and where we live. Every single one of our divisions has been a key player in their communities and has continuously found ways to give back.”

The grocer’s 120,000 associates are credited with bringing its Better Neighbor promise to life. By empowering associates at the store level — through training, encouragement and honest feedback — the company has created a motivated group with a common mission.

The company’s Our Family Foundation’s Fighting Child Hunger grants are awarded across all Ahold divisions and supplemented by volunteer grants that support regional food banks through associate volunteerism. The foundation disbursed more than $13 million in 2014.

Not just at Ahold, but across the entire industry, retail executives assert that a common denominator of successful programs is having associate involvement.

Filling the Need Gaps

Raley’s, based in West Sacramento, Calif, works from its Purposeful Giving pillars: Simply Sustainable, supporting the environment and sustainable practices; Local Spirit, supporting organizations in the local community; Healthy Habits, encouraging healthy lifestyles and fitness; and Plentiful Plate, providing quality food products and healthy choices.

“We serve a variety of communities, and Purposeful Giving allows us to streamline those requests in a meaningful way,” explains Chelsea Minor, director of public affairs for the 127-store chain operating in northern California and Nevada. “It’s our employees’ and team members’ time and our unique resources, knowledge, our food system — how to eat, how to source vegetables and fruit, how to create balanced meals, etc. — so we created Purposeful Giving to align with health and happiness. It’s an evolution. We’re trying to redefine the ways we give. It’s not just monetary donations; it’s also using our knowledge to benefit the organizations we partner with.”

The company’s vision is to “infuse life with health and happiness by changing the way the world eats, one plate at a time,” according to President and CEO Mike Teel, as posted on Raley’s website. One major initiative that supports this is Food for Families, which this summer launched its “refresh” campaign to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks.

From mid-June through July, shoppers at Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill Markets donated $1 and Raley’s matched the first $25,000. In the summer of 2014, customers, team members and businesses raised more than $460,000 to fight hunger in their communities. This past summer, the program raised $622,000 for food bank partners.

The retailer works with the Center for Land-Based Learning to support beginning farmers and supplement its fresh Food for Families initiative. This past May, ground was broken on a new urban farm that is open to the public for produce purchases and offers volunteer opportunities. One-quarter of the produce supports Food for Families food banks.

Additionally, through its support of the Food Literacy Center, Raley’s supports a “veggie petting zoo” as part of a Fruit-to-Root Literacy Fair. Rather than animals, kids get to touch, smell and taste produce they might never have seen before, such as nopales cactus, endive or avocado.

These Plentiful Plate initiatives allow Raley’s to support the community in different ways, according to Minor: “We increase access to food, but it also allows us to educate people. We teach people about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, as well as how to select and prepare them.”

Foundations of Giving

Fighting hunger is a natural cause for supermarket banners. Chicago-based Feeding America, a large network of food banks that provides billions of meals annually, estimates that grocery retail donates approximately 1.4 billion pounds annually to food banks.

In addition to contributing food products and other goods, supermarkets support food bank efforts through cash donations, and by providing in-kind services such as transportation and publicity. Food retailers also encourage their customers’ support of food banks by hosting food drives, offering purchases of prepackaged goods for donations and providing scannable coupons for cash donations.

Thanks to a partnership among Feeding America, MilkPEP (the Milk Processor Education Program) and the National Dairy Council (NDC), the Great American Milk Drive is national in scope, but feels very local as a scalable, turnkey campaign.

Like meat and fresh produce, milk is another need gap for most food banks. Through the Great American Milk Drive, milk donations can be made via text, online or as a voucher purchased at checkout. Those in need obtain vouchers from food banks and pick up milk in-store.

Last year, 328,000 gallons of milk were donated; 50 percent of donations were received at retail. West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee won the 2015 Retail Leader/Category Management Association Best Practices Award for Collaborative Business Planning for its work in developing the program. Just 13 of the chain’s 230 stores collected more than 20,000 gallons. The banner donated 4,000 gallons and customers contributed 16,000 gallons. Individual stores created displays that promoted the local nature of the support.

Schnucks, meanwhile, identified another need: diapers. This fall, the grocer teamed with the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank to provide diapers to local families in need. The 12-day diaper drive included donations of diapers purchased in-store, previously purchased extra diapers that children may have outgrown and cash donations added to grocery purchases at checkout.

The Might of Hometown Support

One of the largest veteran support programs is Wounded Warrior Project’s (WWP) Believe in Heroes campaign, a collaborative effort among brands, retailers and consumers, which to date has raised more than $16 million dollars for veterans. Believe in Heroes was created in 2010 in collaboration with Acosta Sales & Marketing — based, like WWP, in Jacksonville, Fla. — to help the new generation of injured service members. The campaign runs from early September through Veterans Day. By 2017, 100,000 warriors will be served, with $96 million in benefit entitlements secured for them and their families.

Retailers promote the program through POP materials and contribution tear pads at checkout. Customers shop and receive discounts in support of the nation’s injured veterans, learn about their personal stories, and invite others to join the cause.

Earlier this year, Southeastern Grocers LLC’s Bi-Lo, Harveys and Winn-Dixie grocery stores donated 100 percent of profits generated last July 4 to WWP’s Independence Program, which creates individualized, goal-oriented plans for severely injured veterans who need to rely on family and friends for support. The initiative generated more than $3 million.

“Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and Harveys operate in states with some of the highest active-duty military populations in the United States,” said Ian McLeod, CEO and president of Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers, which operates about 790 grocery stores throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, at the time of the program’s launch.

The banners’ shoppers supported the cause by shopping at participating stores on July 4 or making a donation at checkout through July 5; wearing the “I Donated” sticker handed out by cashiers on July 4 to encourage friends and family to follow suit; liking, following and sharing the banners’ Facebook posts and Twitter feeds with the hashtag #AllForHonor; and posting a dedication to a veteran or service member on a special Facebook page.

New Ways to Connect

Many charitable programs do as much for the industry as they do for those being supported. For instance, iFoster has partnered with Raley’s to develop a new hiring program for foster youth. Since May — Foster Care Month — Raley’s has hired 17 foster youths in the Sacramento, Calif., region, with the goal of expanding the program to other stores.

The Foster Youth Hiring Program seeks to find employment opportunities for foster youths who are close to aging out of the system. iFoster identifies, screens and trains both the youth candidates and Raley’s team members to make a successful match.

In sum, decide what’s best for your banner. For greater impact, seek partners with complementary resources. Align programs with shoppers’ interests and use all available tools to engage them. After all, it’s not just the good cause that stands to benefit.

“I’ve never met a not-for-profit mission I didn’t love. They all want to improve and help the world in a special way.”
—Joanie Taylor, Schnuck Markets

“We’re trying to redefine the ways we give. It’s not just monetary donations; it’s also using our knowledge to benefit the organizations we partner with.”
—Chelsea Minor, Raley’s

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