Supporting charitable causes offers retailers and manufacturers a way to bond with their customer base and raise much needed funds.
On April 17 a massive explosion leveled the West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas, killing 14 people and destroying a good chunk of the small town. In addition to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, local supermarket chains United Supermarkets and Brookshire Grocery Co. did their part to assist.
Lubbock, Texas-based United conducted a cash register donation program at its six Dallas/Ft. Worth Market Street banner stores. “Even though West is 100 miles from our nearest store, our folks in the Metroplex really felt like this was something that needed our attention, and our guests responded very, very well,” says Eddie Owens, director of communications/PR for United Supermarkets. “In a two-week period they donated about $30,000 to the cause and our company added $10,000 to that, so we have $40,000 that we designated to the local Red Cross to use in that town.”
Over at Brookshire, a similar register coupon scanning program raised $25,000 for West, with the proceeds donated to the local Red Cross chapter; the company also provided food and product donations. “We don’t have a store directly in West, but we are all around that area and we have a lot of shoppers in that area,” says Rebecca Sanders, director of public relations at the Tyler, Texas-based chain.
Brookshire has a corporate donations committee that looks at different charitable requests, Sanders says. In addition, each of Brookshire’s 154 stores has a charitable budget and can make donations to a single organization up to $200. “Any request above $200 has to be sent to the corporate donations committee for approval, but say the Little League comes in and asks for hot dogs and refreshments, the store can do that, as well as gift cards, merchandise or cash donations up to $200.”
Sanders says Brookshire limits the number of fund-raising coupon scans at the register. “We’ll work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for a period of time where we’ll scan coupons, but as a company we set a budget each year that is a percentage of our previous year’s profits,” she says. “We donate to literally hundreds of non-profit organizations.”
United has established a company foundation with an endowment of $1.5 million to assist non-profits. The chain also does three register scan promotions per year, including one this Spring for the March of Dimes. “March of Dimes was chosen this year because we have a store manager who just won the FMI Store Manager of the Year Award and he is extremely active in the March of Dimes,” Owens says. “He asked that we do a scan promotion in his area and we decided to make it a company-wide effort.”
This was the second year that United participated in Lemonade Day. “Lemonade Day is a nationwide movement teaching children how to start and operate their own business,” says Shelby Crews, United’s community relations manager. “It teaches them to be entrepreneurs, with workbooks and lessons about how to set up a lemonade stand, how to handle the marketing and buy supplies. We had 40 of them set up this year. The neat thing about it is they have to give 10% of their profits back to charity.”
United’s next major promotion is for the MDA. “That is our Aisles of Smiles, in conjunction with Acosta, that always runs in late August and culminates around the Labor Day MDA Telethon,” Owens says. “In addition to the checkout donation program, Acosta’s partners also earmark certain products that drive a donation during that purchase period.”
“Acosta has been supporting the MDA and Aisles of Smiles since 1985,” says Woody Norris, president, client development at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta Sales & Marketing. “We have raised $80 million since our involvement began and last year we raised $1.6 million.”
Norris says Acosta approaches its manufacturer partners and works with them to raise funds for the charity. “They make the decisions as to which brands will participate and how. For our manufacturer partners that have been involved with MDA it has become a tradition for them.”
Organics Unlimited had already been socially responsible while meeting the requirements to be Fair Trade Certified for its bananas. However officials for the San Diego-based grower felt becoming Fair Trade Certified would lead to selling bananas at too high a cost. Instead, the company created its own foundation—GROW (Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers).
Since 2005, the GROW Fund has granted over $500,000 in support of social programs in Mexico and Ecuador, providing a hand up to workers and their families in the areas where Organics Unlimited bananas are grown. A portion of each purchased box of GROW-branded bananas is donated to the GROW Fund which is then distributed in a fair, unbiased, transparent and ethical way, says Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president of Organics Unlimited.
“We are very proud of what this label has done,” she says. “To date we have provided 75 children with scholarships, we do a couple of dental clinics a year, the good thing about this program is it is not specifically for workers, it is for the whole community.”
The Gallo Family Vineyards Every Cork Counts program was established three years ago. In this program consumers simply mail their corks back to Gallo and for each cork received the winery donates $5.00 to the Meals On Wheels Association of America. This year’s cork collection is running from August 1 through December 31, with the goal of raising $100,000.
“With the Every Cork Counts campaign, we make celebration occasions—no matter how big or small—opportunities to raise awareness and funds for this very important issue,” says Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing at Modesto, Calif.-based E&J Gallo Winery.
Meals On Wheels was chosen because it is the oldest and largest national senior nutrition program and delivers more than one million meals a day with the help of 2.2 million volunteers. “When we thought of hunger relief, Meals On Wheels Association of America shines through for the impact that they’ve made in communities nationwide,” Gallo says.
The charitable efforts of Walkers Shortbread are going to the dogs. For each box of its imported Scottie Dogs shortbread cookies sold, the East Hauppauge, N.Y.-based company donates 10-cents to the ASPCA. The promotion started when the cookies were introduced in 2012. “Given the fact that is was a Scottie Dog shape we wanted to do something cause related and that is why we chose to partner with the ASPCA,” says Lisa Sherman, brand manager at Walkers Shortbreads.
Sherman says in its inaugural year Walkers expected to donate $25,000, but ended up donating $32,000. Since it is now rolling out chocolate Scottie Dog shortbread, company officials have even higher hopes for this year. “We’ve doubled that for 2013 to $50,000, but we’ll probably end up donating closer to $100,000,” Sherman says.
Officials at Wells Enterprises, the Le Mars, Iowa-based manufacturer of Blue Bunny ice cream, wanted to do something special to celebrate their 100th anniversary this year so they partnered with the Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish Foundation to develop the 100 Years, 100 Wishes campaign. It is helping Make-A-Wish grant wishes to 100 seriously ill children. The campaign is being heavily promoted in-store through aisle banners, freezer clings and dedicated end caps.
“We wanted to do something very special for our 100th birthday and we also knew we wanted to graciously thank our fans and customers for 100 years of business,” says Mike Wells, president and CEO at Wells Enterprises.
The campaign has other benefits, Wells says.
“When you can make a worthwhile commitment to a cause, such as donating funds and encouraging employee involvement in charities, you are able to give a company a true conscience,” Wells says.
Many retailers are also assisting sick children by teaming up with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the charity famous for its paper balloons sold at check-out.
“In 2012 we raised just over $300 million—our best year ever,” says Miranda Bernard, vice president, communications, CMN Hospitals, based in Salt Lake City. “We’ve had incredible growth. Over the last year we’ve increased our fundraising over 28%, which is remarkable considering the economy and trends towards donations in general. Our model of collecting funds—$1.00 at a time—really works, especially with our grocery store partners.”