Retailers highlight food insecurity this holiday season

Last year 60 million people turned to food banks and community programs for food assistance
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Browse a Crate & Barrel wedding registry, and you’ll likely find a variety of items for lovingly creating and sharing meals. But this holiday season, there’s something else on the table: The ability for couples to add a donation option for Feeding America. Every dollar donated by friends and family helps provide at least 10 meals for those facing hunger.

A Chicago couple forced to cancel their wedding due to COVID-19 inspired the Crate & Barrel campaign; the couple donated their $5,000 catering deposit to help those in need. Crate & Barrel launched the campaign with a $250,000 gift to Feeding America and will continue the partnership with a Love&Gifts Wedding Registry Contest in early 2022.

Winter holidays

Learn more about what retailers are doing this holiday season.

Grocers might more easily come to mind when thinking about retailers tackling food insecurity. It’s an easy association; consider the Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, which offers funding and partnership opportunities to nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Kroger also supports the global 10x20x30 initiative, working with key suppliers to reduce food waste, and provides customers with recipes, fridge tips, recycling and other ways to reduce food waste at home.

Meijer has its longstanding Simply Give program. Albertsons Companies Foundation has Nourishing Neighbors. There’s the Walmart and Sam’s Club Fight Hunger. Spark Change. campaign, now in its eighth year. And efforts from Dollar General work on a variety of fronts.

But during the pandemic, food insecurity hit closer to home for retailers, associates and customers of all stripes. The result? New and expanded partnerships and campaigns — in sometimes surprising places. Beyond Feeding America, there have been retail partnerships with No Kid Hungry, Meals on Wheels and others.

Retail ‘leads the way’

Charisse Brown Marcus, partner at social impact consultancy Good Scout, says even though many retailers and corporations already had core pillars — and philanthropic efforts — in place, food insecurity loomed large.

“Historically, donors have stepped forward to give to relief efforts around emergency situations like hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters,” she says. “Food insecurity has always been a facet of these relief efforts. With the pandemic, we saw food insecurity take its own path, one that has become a critical cause that is a result of the pandemic, and we are only seeing the beginning of this.”

Lauren Biedron, Feeding America’s vice president of corporate partnerships, says the pandemic created a “perfect storm” for the charitable food system, with disruptions to the supply chain, increased need for help and shifts to distribution models for safety protocols. The challenges continue.

“There were tens of millions of people in America facing hunger before the pandemic, and that is still true today,” she says. Some 38 million people — including nearly 12 million children — are food insecure, meaning they lack access to lack of access to sufficient food because of limited financial resources. In 2020, an estimated 60 million people turned to food banks and community programs for food assistance.

“Some people don’t realize that hunger is an issue in every community in the U.S.,” Biedron says. “People all over the country, in every county, parish and borough, make difficult choices when it comes to food insecurity. It’s also true that some communities, including rural communities and communities of color, make those choices and face hunger at disproportionately higher rates.” Being there for others, however, helps increase food security for all.

Retailers have a large part to play; they “lead the way when it comes to engaging in cause marketing,” Biedron says. Besides, “Customers engage with brands that support a cause.”

Focus on employee engagement Inc. held its first campaign with No Kid Hungry, a national effort run by the nonprofit Share Our Strength, over Mother’s Day 2020. Subsequent marketing campaigns with No Kid Hungry followed from mid-October through Christmas Eve in 2020 and 2021.

During the holiday campaign, Inc. donates 20 percent of net proceeds from gifts in its Season of Sharing collection, in addition to accepting straight cash donations through its various brand sites and providing educational content about childhood hunger. In 2020, the partnership helped No Kid Hungry provide up to 1 million meals, and response is already strong for 2021 — both inside and outside the company.

“Not surprising, but certainly gratifying, is the internal support we receive to develop and launch this holiday campaign,” says Sloane Lucas, director of corporate social responsibility for Inc.

“Everyone from our enterprise marketing team and merchants to IT and finance are involved. Equally gratifying is the support we receive from our customers. While our holiday campaign just recently launched, and we won’t know full results until January, we are already seeing strong sales from the collection, as well as generous monetary donations from customers.”

There’s a focus on employee engagement when conceptualizing and communicating cause marketing efforts, she says; it not only helps raise funds and awareness, but also fosters pride. Beyond No Kid Hungry, Inc. has contributed to food insecurity efforts for many years. In 2020, the company donated more than $4.8 million of perishable products to nonprofit organizations in local communities that provide direct assistance to families facing hunger.

Retail Gets Real

Listen to how another major retailer is vowing to end hunger in this RGR episode.

High-impact storytelling

In the beginning of the pandemic, Brown Marcus says, organizations not normally on companies’ radars were suddenly receiving large gifts of unrestricted funds in efforts to help. For those companies, there’s value in circling back with customers to be specific about the impact that money has made.

But overall, she says, the most effective partnerships between companies and nonprofits have a clear through line or good story. It might be — as with the Crate & Barrel registry — that customers have deemed the issue important. It might be that it’s personally important to employees.

Regardless, she says, the right partnership must come from an “authentic” place. There was a time that retailers dared not be decisive about social issues, but that has changed.

Diana Hovey, senior vice president of corporate partnerships at Share Our Strength, says one of the reasons childhood hunger is an important target for philanthropy is that it is “solvable;” the U.S. has the food supplies and robust, effective nutrition programs that can reach those in need. But programs need to be stronger reach them all.

She views the most successful and meaningful partner campaigns as those with “a common thread of strategic amplification, meaningful consumer and employee engagement, and high-impact storytelling.” Hovey points to, for example, a longtime partnership with Williams-Sonoma Inc., which hosts an annual Tools for Change campaign. Consumers are encouraged to purchase kitchen spatulas designed by celebrities, chefs and influencers to support No Kid Hungry.

Williams-Sonoma also hosts engagement opportunities throughout the year. Madewell has engaged chefs and culinary supporters such as Paola Velez, Hawa Hassan and Brooke Williamson to create holiday-themed recipes for customers while encouraging donations to No Kid Hungry. And Circle K’s Holiday Stationstores hosted a “Fill Up. Feed Kids.” campaign, donating $0.02 for every fuel transaction to No Kid Hungry during the summer of 2020.

Supporting local efforts

Qurate Retail Group, with seven retail brands including QVC and HSN, first partnered with No Kid Hungry and Meals on Wheels in April 2020. Across the seven brands, $2.6 million was generated for food insecure children and seniors. The company is partnering with both again this holiday season.

“As a company, we understand the importance of supporting organizations that are committed to providing access to healthy meals to the most vulnerable members of our society: seniors and kids.”

Suzanne Quigley, Qurate Retail Group

“As a company, we understand the importance of supporting organizations that are committed to providing access to healthy meals to the most vulnerable members of our society: seniors and kids,” says Suzanne Quigley, Qurate Retail Group’s director of global corporate responsibility. “And we also know that our customers are well aware of the challenges in providing care to both kids and their aging parents.”

As for the holiday season, “food is the common thread that brings people together. No matter your background or what holiday you choose to celebrate, the holiday season is anchored by meals with family and friends. And now more than ever, because of the pandemic, people need help putting food on their tables.”

Qurate Retail Group has also worked with Feeding America, providing more than 3.3 million meals over the 2020 holiday season through team members, customers and vendors. In July 2021, QVC teamed up with the Housewares Charity Foundation to debut a “Living for Giving” multimedia housewares shopping event benefitting Feeding America, and the QVC and HSN corporate offices support local food insecurity organizations in Philadelphia and Tampa.

These days, Brown Marcus says, partnerships with nonprofits are more than just a marketing play. “The public wants more than that,” she says. “They want to be part of something that resonates with them.”

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