Charity has always been important in business. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop supermarket paying for youth baseball jerseys in exchange for their logo on the sleeve, or a large corporation handing out an oversized check in front of cameras and reporters, giving back helps a company connect with its customers while also making itself a little more visible.

Today, along with nearly everything else in the industry, even the importance of charitable work is changing. It’s even more essential, simply because younger shoppers hold it in high regard. According to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study, 81 percent of millennial shoppers expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. According to The Millennial Impact Report, that number is even higher. That report says that more than 85 percent of millennials correlate their purchasing decisions — and their willingness to recommend a brand to others — with the responsible efforts a company is making.

 Those in the retail foodservice and grocery industry are taking note. As we are in the middle of Thanksgiving, Christmas and all other winter holidays, it’s a good time to reflect on how we give back and what it can mean. Here, we take a look at five different ways companies have connected with shoppers and given back to their communities at the same time.

Keeping it simple

While some initiatives are rightfully and purposefully a little more complex, a company can sometimes gain a good amount of traction with a simple, limited-time promotion. That’s what Kretschmar and Cub did earlier this year for its partnership with Make-A-Wish Minnesota.

Specially marked deli sandwiches — made with Kretschmar’s premium meats and cheeses — were sold at Minnesota Cub locations. Every time a consumer purchased a sandwich, the companies donated 50 cents to Make-A-Wish Minnesota, helping grant the wishes of children battling possibly terminal illnesses.

“Kretschmar is committed to supporting the important efforts of Make-A-Wish and helping to make wishes come true for children with life-threatening medical conditions,” says Michael J. Sargent, Kretschmar’s senior brand manager. “We are privileged to have the opportunity to make unforgettable experiences possible with help from Make-A-Wish and Cub.”

The end result of the quick promotion was a $15,000 donation to Make-A-Wish Minnesota in August. Since 2012, Kretschmar has contributed more than $515,000 to Make-A-Wish nationally and has sponsored more than 12 wishes with local chapters through its Legendary Wishes campaign.

Along with retail partners like Cub, the company has raised additional funding through sales of Make-A-Wish paper stars sold at store registers for $1 donations, employee donations, and sandwich fundraisers. The efforts have raised $75,000 locally.

“Make-A-Wish Minnesota relies on the help of supporters such as Kretschmar, Cub and their customers to grant wishes for Minnesota children with life-threatening medical conditions,” says Mia Broos Hoagberg, Make-A-Wish Minnesota president and CEO. “We are grateful to Kretschmar and Cub for their support, which allows Make-A-Wish Minnesota to provide life-changing experiences to kids, giving them hope as they return their focus to the future.” 

Answering a call

Not all charity work can be planned or prepared for. Many times, needs arise very quickly. That was the case earlier this year, when Hurricane Matthew impacted the southeastern US, killing 49 people and causing at least $4 billion in damage.

The Kroger Co. announced shortly thereafter that its family of companies was donating nearly $450,000 for relief efforts, combining associate contributions, food and water donations, and more.

Kroger raised nearly $106,000 from customer and associate contributions, a move that let both groups connect with the company in its recovery efforts. Kroger and its subsidiaries also delivered in-kind contributions of food and water valued at more than $235,000 to local food banks and Red Cross relief stations, as well as $52,000 in pet food to animal shelters in storm-impacted areas.

“We are grateful to both our customers and associates for their generous support of the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts,” Kroger’s Group Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Jessica Adelman, said in October. “Our combined efforts will help our communities recover more quickly in the aftermath of these very devastating storms.”

Many Kroger and Harris Teeter stores throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions made it easy for customers to donate in a number of ways, including setting up coin boxes at registers.
Helping consumers connect

Kroger has gone above and beyond when it comes to helping its customers feel like they are helping the company in its charitable efforts. In 2013, the company rolled out Kroger Community Rewards, a nationwide program that lets loyalty card holders choose charities to which Kroger will donate, based on the dollars they spend in stores.

The program was another step in the company’s history of bringing help to the communities it serves. Community Rewards accounts for nearly one-fifth of the more than $280 million that Kroger annually contributes in funds, food and products.

According to a USA Today story on the subject, analysts say that connecting a grocer’s local giving to shoppers’ purchases could help drive sales if it motivates target customers. “The expectation is they will spend more of their grocery budget at Kroger, knowing they’re racking up points that will help their favorite cause — whether it’s the United Way, an animal shelter or their kids’ band practice,” writes Alexander Coolidge.

In the system, shoppers sign up online, choosing a preferred charity from a list of local nonprofits with which Kroger has partnered. Kroger then keeps track of all the customer’s purchases, outside of alcohol, tobacco and gasoline. Every dollar spent counts as a vote for the shopper’s preferred organization.

At the end of each quarter, the company totals up the money spent by card holders and then doles out the dollars proportionately to the charities. With this system, consumers aren’t losing any in-store discounts or points on their Kroger card. The reward of helping the charity is just another bonus.

Kroger works with more than 100 local Feeding America food bank partners, the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and organizations that promote the advancement of women and minorities. The company also collaborates with local outlets that work for women’s health, schools, grassroots organizations, as well as reuniting soldiers and their families. Kroger is also a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable, which recognizes and celebrates corporations that achieve spending of at least $1 billion annually with those suppliers owned by woman and minorities.

Spreading smiles with buttercream

Nielsen-Massey Fine Vanillas & Flavors, a Waukegan, IL-based manufacturer and supplier of extracts, has found a way to join its partners in giving back to those families dealing with a child’s illness.

Nielsen-Massey is the title sponsor of the Chicago Buttercream Ball, the second of which was held in November. The ball was hosted by — and is a fund-raiser for — Icing Smiles, a non-profit organization that provides custom celebration cakes to families impacted by the critical illness of a child, with the goal of providing a temporary escape from worry and creating positive memories during a difficult time.

Cakes are provided to both children themselves and their siblings, who are often the unsung heroes of these families, according to the organization. The cakes are created to match a theme chosen by the family. Icing Smiles has delivered more than 11,000 cakes, all without even having access to a kitchen.

“We are not a bakery. As a matter of fact, Icing Smiles doesn’t even have an oven,” says Tracy Quisenberry, Icing Smiles’ founder and executive director. “We rely on a generous team of volunteers spread throughout the US to fulfill our mission.”

That’s where suppliers like Nielsen-Massey step in.

“As a father, Icing Smiles’ mission to deliver a moment of respite from the daily routine of an ill child or sibling by providing a beautiful, flavorful work of art at no cost to the family rang true to me,” says Matt Nielsen, COO of Nielsen-Massey. “What this organization does is no small thing, reminding us the joy that food, and especially cake, brings to people, and the opportunity it provides to celebrate someone. It’s a simple act of kindness that has a lasting impact.”

The Buttercream Ball was a high-energy, interactive event, according to Icing Smiles. It included dueling pianos, a live cake demonstration, gourmet savories from David Burke’s Primehouse, and signature cocktails from Nielsen-Massey and CH Distillery.

Celebrating everyday people

Armour — makers of meal solutions, ingredients, meal kits and more — has found yet another way to help, this time by  highlighting the everyday people who go above and beyond in their communities. While charity work with the sick, hungry and needy is obviously important, celebrating those who could use an extra boost after working to help others has its deserved place in a company’s community work as well.

Armour does this with its Great Moms campaign, which hosted a surprise event in November at the Fiesta Bowl Museum in Scottsdale, AZ, to recognize Eve Vance as part of the brand’s effort to spotlight moms across the country.

Vance has two daughters and coaches with the Special Olympics, where she has become a mentor, friend, and teammate to many.

According to Armour, Vance’s tireless efforts have allowed a multitude of individuals to gain confidence and self-worth through sports competitions, which has also allowed Vance to experience things like carrying the Olympic torch in Brazil.

“Eve Vance exemplifies the spirit of the Armour Great Moms campaign,” says Jennifer Zmrhal, senior director of marketing for Smithfield Foods, the owner of Armour. “She has not only shown dedication to coaching, but is also a great mom to her daughters.”

Vance was celebrated by Armour in front of her family, friends, co-workers and those she coaches. She was also given $2,500 in free groceries from Albertsons Safeway.

“This really means a lot,” Vance said. “This is fabulous that Armour does this for moms.”