In recent years, supermarket chains and the companies up and down the supply chain they partner with have stepped up efforts to make sure  their employees and customers feel welcome — regardless of gender, race and a host of other factors.

For many, those efforts are categorized together under the umbrella term DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Whatever language is used, the supermarket industry’s commitment to making its tent big enough to hold people from all walks of life is transforming what it means to be a responsible corporate citizen in the 21st century.

West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee’s DEI efforts on behalf of its employees are focused primarily on ensuring that its employee owners feel valued and everyone’s unique perspectives have a place in the company, said Dawn Buzynski, Hy-Vee’s director of strategic communications.

Emblematic of these efforts is Hy-Vee’s current “Perfect” TV ad and social media campaign, which features a variety of real Hy-Vee employees from diverse backgrounds and is used predominantly as a recruiting tool. The campaign was designed, Buzynski said, to deliver the message that “anyone can find their perfect job at Hy-Vee.”

When it comes to its customers, Hy-Vee’s overarching goal is to make sure that everyone who comes into a Hy-Vee store feels valued and welcome.

“This includes having unique products that residents in a store’s neighborhood may enjoy or are important to their culture,” Buzynski said. “This is where our store autonomy comes into play. Each store has a distinct customer base and is able to stock products that are attractive to the residents in their individual communities.”

In 2020, the company solidified its outreach efforts with the creation of a Community and Diversity Relations department, which is specifically devoted to making progress in diversity, equity and inclusion.

One of the first initiatives of the department was diversity and inclusion training for employees in retail stores and at the Hy-Vee corporate offices.

That was followed by a program called Cultural Conversations, monthly programming that features panels and guest speakers on topics ranging from Juneteenth and Women’s History Month to community activism and advocacy for people with disabilities.

In 2021, Hy-Vee sponsored an event in central Iowa called the Black and Brown Business Summit, powered by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.

“It presented a great opportunity to champion both entrepreneurialism and diversity and inclusion efforts as part of their business,” Buzynski said. “Hy-Vee has also recently ramped up efforts to support locally-owned and black-owned businesses through our quarterly Best of Local Brands summits.”

Through those summits, she added, Hy-Vee has forged strong relationships with minority-owned suppliers.

Hy-Vee’s commitment to racial diversity also includes a partnership, now in its second year, with the Page Education Foundation, which provides academic scholarships and mentoring opportunities to 45 post-secondary students in Minnesota.

These Hy-Vee Accelerate Scholars have visited stores, met with company leaders and participated in professional development programs focused on job readiness. Hy-Vee employees have served as mentors or interacted with the Hy-Vee Accelerate Scholars in their stores, whether when they have visited on field trips or through a summer internship program.


Fighting hunger

Another central component of Hy-Vee’s DEI commitment is its fight against hunger. Equity, Buzynski said, means that everyone has the same opportunities in life, and nothing is more integral to equity than access to nutritious food.

“Food insecurity unfortunately is indiscriminate,” she said. “However, research shows that it disproportionately affects non-white families. As a grocer, this is an issue that we feel uniquely connected to and devote a tremendous amount of resources toward – both financially and through employee volunteerism.”

Hy-Vee fights hunger on many fronts, including its One Step program, a collaboration with customers where proceeds of select Hy-Vee products help fund important causes, such as building wells, planting trees and feeding hungry people. To date, sales of Hy-Vee potatoes and cereal products have provided more than 13 million meals for those facing food insecurity through the chain’s partnership with Meals from the Heartland.

In addition, Hy-Vee supports 17 Feeding America-affiliated food banks that operate in the retailer’s eight-state region. Since the pandemic, Hy-Vee stepped up its efforts to help keep food banks stocked. In late 2020, the company partnered with national suppliers to donate more than 1 million pounds of food for the 17 banks. In 2021, Hy-Vee partnered with suppliers and customers to raise more than $930,000, which equals 9.3 million meals for Feeding America.


Investing in the investors

Landover, Md.-based retailer Giant has stepped up its commitment to diversity with the launch of a $50 money market investment fund in Maryland that supports The Harbor Bank of Maryland, the only Black-owned and -managed commercial bank headquartered in the state.

The investment will provide the bank with greater financial opportunities for the communities it serves by being able to supply more loans to consumers and small businesses, investing in technologies and digital capabilities to better serve customers and expanding operations to serve more communities, according to Giant.

Through this investment, Giant and The Harbor Bank of Maryland build on their shared commitment to supporting underserved communities.

"We are pleased to support The Harbor Bank of Maryland with this investment to provide more financial opportunities for individual and small business bank customers in the Baltimore area," said Ira Kress, president of Giant Food. "With a shared commitment to supporting our communities with economic development, this is a natural collaboration for us, and we look forward to the continued impact The Harbor Bank of Maryland provides."


Cargill’s Black Farmer Initiative takes huge strides

Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill’s Black Farmer Initiative has made huge strides in its first year.

The National Black Growers Council, 100 Ranchers, Arkansas Land and Community Development Corp., Share Farm, Communities Unlimited, Tuskegee University’s Carver Integrative Sustainability Center and the National Minority Supplier Development Council are among the groups that have partnered with Cargill.

The aim of the program is to expand opportunities and access capital for farmers in the beef and cotton markets. The initiative will continue increasing the number of Black producers in these supply chains and will add corn, yellow pea, poultry and soybean producers in the future.

“Programs like Cargill’s Black Farmer Equity Initiative provide new ways for Black producers to access markets and sell their livestock and crops. We’re looking for an open door where they have been closed in the past,” said Kimberly Ratcliff, a second-generation rancher and executive director of the 100 Ranchers Inc. “Cargill’s support of 100 Ranchers will help increase Black producers’ bottom line and improve their livelihoods by producing high-quality products.”

Black farmers make up less than 2% of the 3.4 million farmers in the United States, and the country has seen a 90% decrease in Black farm ownership. 

“We are committed to helping dismantle racism that exists within the food and agriculture sector in the US,” said Greg Jones, chief diversity officer at Cargill. “Our efforts include purposeful work within Cargill, but we also know we have an opportunity and responsibility to advance the industry, starting with the work we do every day with farmers and within key supply chains. We listened to Black producers with our customers. We learned a lot about the barriers and history of broken trust. We know we can do better.”

Cargill has also pledged to train 10 million farmers globally by 2030 and increase supplier diversity by spending $10 billion with small businesses and $1 billion with certified diverse-owned companies globally. 


Standing Together

Cincinnati-based Kroger’s Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion strives to reflect the communities the retail giant serves and to foster a culture that “empowers everyone to be their true self, inspires collaboration, and feeds the human spirit.”

Pillars of the program include:

  • Create a more inclusive culture. Create a DE&I Advisory Council to advance the company’s long-term DE&I commitments, reporting to senior leadership, and provide unconscious bias training to every leader in 2020 and DEI training for every associate.
  • Develop diverse talent. Improve diverse talent recruiting by partnering with Historically Black Colleges & Universities, Hispanic Association Colleges & Universities and community colleges. Establish two-way mentorship and advocacy program between high-potential diverse talent and senior leaders.
  • Advance diverse partnerships. Increase spend with diverse suppliers from $3.4 billion to $10 billion by 2030. Ensure that media partners align with Kroger’s values and that the company reaches diverse customers through its marketing spend, partners and strategy.
  • Advance equitable communities. Deploy funds to support impactful approaches to advance racial equity with community partners. Encourage associates to vote and provide voter registration/ballot applications in stores.
  • Deeply Listen and report progress. Engage external stakeholders to seek perspective and co-create more just and equitable communities. Provide associates with platforms to continue sharing their stories and feedback with our leaders.