From food donations, to cooking demos, to “Healthier for You” checkout lanes, these stores increase produce consumption using philanthropic muscle.
When it comes to community outreach programs, supermarket produce departments often benefit directly and indirectly from their halo effect. St. Louis, MO-based Schnucks’ approximately 100 Midwest stores focus on a wide variety of programs and organizations, with a particular emphasis on those that focus on hunger, human services and health and wellness.
Hunger, health and wellness and education also are key initiatives at Keasbey, NJ-based Wakefern Food Corp.’s more than 280 ShopRite stores, located across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland.
Giving back has been part of the culture at Publix’s 1,116 stores in the Southeast ever since the company was founded in 1930 by George W. Jenkins.
“It’s what we do on a regular basis,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for the Lakeland, FL-based chain. “Stores and associates play a big role in this.”
Large and small retailers across the country are putting forth great efforts to reach their shoppers beyond the four walls of their stores. With community outreach programs, corporate foundations and charitable donations serve as part of public relations campaigns to bring goodwill to the supermarkets and their fundraising crusades.
Recently, Publix was named the March of Dimes’ No.1 National March for Babies Corporate Partner after raising more than $7.3 million during its annual three-week fundraising campaign. In the past 21 years, the chain donated more than $65 million to the organization.
“We ask customers and associates to donate at the register, and our associates and managers also hold separate fundraising efforts for the March of Dimes,” says Brous. “In addition, we have teams that participate in local March of Dimes walks.”
As extensive as its support for the charity is, Publix puts forth similar efforts for a number of other organizations. These include the Children’s Miracle Network, which supports local hospitals, and the United Way, for which Publix employees raised $33.4 million, mostly from payroll deductions.
“Publix Charities matched 75 cents on the dollar for United Way, donating $25.3 million, for a total contribution of $58.7 million,” says Brous.
The chain established its Publix Serves Day in 2015, a designated day of service to encourage associate volunteerism. This year, it resulted in more than 4,000 employees donating their time for hunger and homeless charitable organizations. This included retiring Chief Executive Ed Crenshaw, who spent his last day on the job volunteering with Publix associates.
Safeway Inc., Eastern Division, headquartered in Lanham, MD, which has 125 stores in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Delaware, focuses on community outreach programs to provide support and also to develop positive relationships in its communities.
“Like our customers and neighbors, we are part of the communities we serve, and we have a vested interest in making our communities better places to live, work and spend time with family and friends,” says Beth Goldberg, senior manager, community and public affairs. “To help us reach our goal, we invest resources in our local communities from our corporate division and stores and from The Safeway Foundation.”
Safeway’s Eastern Division and each of its stores support local communities with donations of gift cards, product and cash donations and sponsorships. Safeway employees throughout the division also contribute time to volunteer as individuals and teams.
For Thanksgiving, the chain presents a community event called Feast of Sharing in Washington, D.C., which involves thousands of guests and volunteers putting together a traditional Thanksgiving meal for those in need.
“Safeway stores also provide space for community organizations to fundraise on behalf of their missions and to share educational materials with customers and visitors,” says Goldberg.
The chain’s charitable arm, The Safeway Foundation, supports causes that impact customers’ lives and provides the opportunity to mobilize funding and create awareness in neighborhoods through employees’ partnerships with vendors and contributions by customers. The Foundation’s focus is on giving locally in the areas of health and human services, hunger relief, education, veterans and helping people living with disabilities. The Foundation also gives out grants to support educational organizations and schools.
Currently, Safeway’s Eastern Division conducts annual store checkout fundraising campaigns. The charities it supports include Easterseals, Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Children’s Cancer Foundation, March of Dimes, the Capital Area Food Bank, and the Maryland Food Bank.
As part of Wakefern’s efforts to fight hunger for almost two decades, its ShopRite stores donate unsold foods totalling more than $3 million each year.
“Our ShopRite associates at retail assist in annual fundraisers, and at Wakefern, we have teams of associates who regularly volunteer at the food banks in our region,” says Karen Meleta, vice president of consumer and corporate communications. “Our stores participate in Check-Out Hunger, a fundraiser for regional food banks, and Hunger Action Month in September.”
Other causes the chain supports include: the Special Olympics of New Jersey, where more than 400 of its associates volunteer to cook and serve meals to the athletes and their families; and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, where snacks and refreshments for runners are provided and corporate as well as store associates participate as a team.
Grassroots efforts of Schnucks’ in-store teammates and managers, as well as the chain’s corporate leaders in community-wide
programs, helped a number of charitable organizations.
“Schnucks provides support in the form of financial, promotional, volunteerism, food banks/product donations and urban community support,” says Joanie Taylor, director of community affairs.
In its effort to combat hunger, each store partners with at least one food bank or pantry. For example, in St. Louis, Schnucks primarily works with Operation Food Search (OFS) and its member agencies. In 2015, the chain donated more than $13 million in food to the organization. In 2014, Schnucks held a gala to celebrate its 75th anniversary that grossed more than $860,000 for OFS.
The chain also participates in a campaign that benefits 18 United Way organizations throughout its trade area. Last year, through pledges and fundraising events, teammates gave more than $1.68 million to these organizations, which includes pledges made at the corporate level.
The company recently partnered with the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank to benefit families in need as well as St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness (SLOCA). “Using our purchasing power with a reusable bag vendor, we were able to help spread SLOCA’s message regarding the early warning signs of ovarian cancer,” says Taylor.
“I reach out to non-profits and health providers, tell them what I’m planning to do with back-to-school, and ask if they’ll sign up for the stores they cover.”
—Teresa Blanco, Northgate González Markets
Anaheim, CA-based Northgate González Markets, a 42-store operation in Southern California, manages about 65 community outreach events per month that are mainly focused on nutrition, health screenings and chef events.
“Every month has a specific theme, and right now we’re focusing on back-to-school,” says Teresa Blanco, the chain’s Viva La Salud wellness manager. “I reach out to nonprofits and health providers, tell them what I’m planning to do with back-to-school, and ask if they’ll sign up for the stores they cover.”
The stores request items or resources, which are promoted in Northgate’s weekly circular, in the stores and around the community.
The chain received much positive feedback from the community with its wellness initiative. One customer who attends the monthly events was able to identify and address his high blood pressure and
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the stores typically host free mammograms for women over 40 who don’t have health insurance. More than 100 women have been alerted and have subsequently had breast cancer since the program was instituted in 2010. Northgate also hosts monthly immunizations for children in its San Diego stores.
“Health and wellness aren’t only about nutrition, but also about free resources and screenings,” says Blanco.
Each year, Sunbury, PA-based Weis Markets, a chain of more than 160 stores, makes direct and in-kind donations to charities and organizations, including food banks, schools, pet shelters and the United Way.
“Giving back to the communities we serve is part of our corporate mission statement and an integral part of who we are as a company,” says Patti Olenick, sustainability manager.
The annual Weis Markets Paws for Pets program offers customers the opportunity to donate pet food and supplies to local animal shelters and rescue organizations. Approximately 90 local pet shelters and rescue organizations will participate in this year’s program, and more than 50 stores hosted pet adopt-a-thon events with local pet organizations.
Weis’ Fight Hunger annual campaign connects monetary and food donations to those in need through local organizations.
“In 2015, Weis donated more than 800,000 meals to help feed those in our communities who need assistance through our customer and associate contributions,” says Olenick. “This is being expanded this year to now include a new program in partnership with the Penn State football program, as well as the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to increase awareness and donations.”
A number of retailers’ community outreach programs are produce-centric. For example, Publix collaborates with Feeding America for the chain’s perishable recovery program.
“We go through our perishable departments, including produce, to look for less-than-perfect produce or products past the ‘sell by’ date that we can donate, rather than discard,” says Brous. “Feeding America comes to the stores once a week to pick up product, loads it in refrigerated trucks, transports it back to their facility and distributes the food to those in need.”
In 2015, after donating more than 100 million pounds of food, Publix was named one of only 13 Feeding America Visionary Partners.
The company continuously re-evaluates the products it includes in this program, conducting time and temperature studies as well as past “sell by” date studies, since many recipients of these food items have compromised immune systems.
“While we don’t donate every perishable item, we look at everything and donate what we know is safe to consume,” says Brous.
Publix also has an affiliation with Orlando, FL-based Produce for Kids and runs a fundraiser twice annually in its stores. When customers purchase certain produce items that are part of the program, a portion of the proceeds is given to charities. This initiative is promoted with signage and educational materials at the store level.
Wakefern’s ShopRite stores often provide fresh fruit for snacking at the community events the chain sponsors, and produce is made available at ShopRite tents at the New Jersey Special Olympics and Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Schnucks includes many produce items in its donations to food banks and food pantries throughout its trade area. “And our produce teammates at every store are important parts of our community outreach,” says Taylor.
The Cranberry Marketing Committee in Wareham, MA, is involved with a number of charitable initiatives in conjunction with retailers.
The Committee recently partnered with Big Y, a 61-store chain based in Springfield, MA, and its supermarket dietitians on a summer promotion freaturing cranberries.
“Produce departments played an important role in the community outreach, featuring shelf-stable cranberry products, such as dried cranberries, along with recipes and websites to provide shoppers with usage ideas,” says Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Wareham, MA-based Cranberry Marketing Committee.
“The Cranberry Marketing Committee takes social responsibility seriously and always looks for ways to expand community involvement beyond store promotions.”
Northgate González Markets’ stores that include Viva La Salud chefs create three recipes centered around produce each month. For example, in June, for Men’s Health Month, the recipes were created in partnership with Avocados from Mexico.
“Chefs perform cooking demos with educators from two different healthcare locations, and we cover 12 locations every month,” says Blanco. “We incorporate different products and recipes each month, and this encompasses many produce items.”
In August, for a back-to-school focus, Northgate partnered with Champions of Change, a White House health and wellness and climate change initiative, to host events at 23 store locations.
The events included healthy cooking demos, store tours, information on how to pack healthy school lunches, and visits by chefs from the Jamie Oliver Foundation who offered children’s cooking classes focused on packing healthy lunches and experimenting with fruits and vegetables.
Along with health screenings, Northgate hosts employee sports tournaments, and associates participate in a number of 5Ks throughout the year where the store makes free bananas available as part of a partnership with Chiquita.
“When we give donations to the communities, we try to make it produce,” says Blanco.
Northgate recently instituted a new program in late April at its South Los Angeles store that incorporates a Healthier for You checkout lane. This provides baskets of produce and small coolers with chopped fruit for consumers seeking convenient grab-and-go options by the register.
“It’s doing very well, and as a result, our new Anaheim store will be adding it,” says Blanco. “These checkout lanes are doing more than double the business of our traditional lanes.”
The chain also regularly partners with nonprofits for grants.
“They want to feel good about where they shop and the companies they support, so it’s a win-win for everyone. There’s definitely a movement for giving back.”
— Maria Brous, Publix
The Center for Community Health, part of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, recently received a $3.4 million grant from the USDA to increase affordable food access to low-income community members who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
Working in conjunction with Northgate, the Center will develop a program to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among SNAP participants by providing incentives at point-of-purchase at Northgate stores in Los Angeles and Orange and San Diego counties.
The goal is to promote long-term health for SNAP participants. The program will include financial incentive rebates on fruit and vegetable purchases, special fruit and vegetable promotions, in-store cooking classes, store tours and education on food labeling. It will also provide researchers with key data to better understand healthy purchasing behaviors.
“This program helps low-income consumers increase their consumption of produce, and it will include a lot of education at the store level,” says Blanco. “With this grant, our stores will receive additional education, especially from the county program, which will provide nutritionists in our stores.” The plan is to launch the program this fall.
Northgate’s stores also hold a high school culinary program in partnership with a Santa Ana nonprofit. Chefs from local restaurants advocate for healthy foods and dishes that utilize more produce, building recipes that go through many steps for approval. A competition is held, and students present the dishes themselves. City council members, store owners and nonprofit staff taste the food and serve as judges. The winning team competes at a national level in Washington, D.C.
“Those member-owner families are active in the communities where they live, work and operate stores, and it is a commitment that goes back to our founding as a supermarket cooperative.”
— Karen Meleta, ShopRite
“Four out of five of our teams that went to D.C. came back as winners, and the fifth team got second place,” says Blanco.
At the annual Ta-Ta Trot, a local run/walk for breast cancer research and awareness fundraising, Weis Markets donates bananas and soft fruits to more than 1,500 participants.
The chain also initiated a new Free Fruit for Kids program that provides a basket with free apples, baby carrots and raisins for kids in the produce department.
In addition to serving communities and those in need, supermarkets are benefiting directly from community outreach efforts.
“The benefits are two-fold, since giving back and helping others is what we do,” says Brous of Publix. “But it also reinforces our culture of giving back.”
Not only are its programs good team-building exercises, but these also have been beneficial for the morale of the associates.
The chain’s foundation will donate upward of $40 million in 2016. “Customers are savvy in this age of social media and increased awareness,” says Brous. “They want to feel good about where they shop and the companies they support, so it’s a win-win for everyone. There’s definitely a movement for giving back.”
Local involvement helps Wakefern’s ShopRite stores make direct connections with communities.
“Our ShopRite stores are individually owned and operated by families,” says Meleta. “Those member-owner families are active in the communities where they live, work and operate stores, and it is a commitment that goes back to our founding as a supermarket cooperative.”
The benefits of these programs are countless for Schnucks, which seeks to assist those less fortunate.
“Since we operate 99 stores in five different states, one of the challenges we face is the large number of organizations that reach out to us for help,” says Taylor. “As a solution to this, we offer all customers the My Schnucks Card [loyalty program].”
Customers can use the card to designate up to three nonprofit organizations, and then their purchases at Schnucks will create an automatic contribution of up to three percent to the organizations.
Community outreach initiatives help retailers build better relationships with customers and staff members who participate in events with their families. They also help retailers build partnerships with schools and other organizations.