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When Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets considers which causes to throw its support behind, it looks no further than the issues that matter most to the residents of the areas it serves.
“We lean towards supporting causes that will benefit our local communities,” affirms Gretchen Suydan, Weis’ director of marketing. “We support pet shelters and locally based food banks and pantries through our cause marketing programs in May and September,” the latter of which is Hunger Action Month. “We also support the fight against breast cancer through the sale of our Weis Quality Strawberry cheese cake ice cream, which we sell in October, as well as our pink reusable bags highlighting this cause. We are also proud to participate in the Wounded Warrior Project, which supports our veterans. In the past, we’ve also done emergency checkoffs for Haiti and the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
When it comes to mounting successful cause marketing programs, Suydan believes that well-informed employees make a big difference. “It starts with training our associates at store level and communicating the importance of the programs,” she notes. A key to our success … is the commitment of our store associates — they, along with our customers’ support, are [what] make our cause marketing programs successful. When we circle back with a store that has generated strong donation totals, we usually find that it was an associate or a group of associates who made the difference. Sometimes, they talk it up at the front end. Other times, it is a creative display or a contest.”
Also key is providing shoppers with a choice of how they can help. “Giving our customers several ways to participate is important,” asserts Suydan. “This includes allowing the customer to round up their order, allowing them to make a monetary donation at the checkout or online, or [letting them] drop off nonperishable items at our stores.”
When asked whether Weis’ corporate responsibility activities directly influence customers’ decision to shop there, Suydan responds carefully: “While it is difficult to quantify, customers notice when you are a good neighbor and when you are not. We see our customers nearly three times a week, and they are part of the community. When an area is hit by a natural disaster, our stores have been helpful to communities and local emergency organizations. Cause marketing helps reinforce our commitment to being a good neighbor.”
Like food retailers, grocery suppliers often have to make tough decisions about which efforts to get behind. “There are so many worthwhile causes that need support, and while we wish we could help them all, Café Valley Bakery supports causes that touch the lives of our teammates and customers, have a connection to our hearts, and whose mission is aligned with that of our organization,” says Amy Armstrong, VP marketing for the Phoenix-based provider of in-store bakery products.
Armstrong is a big believer in making sure such campaigns at retail are not only hard to miss, but also absolutely clear in their intentions. “Retailers that support the same causes as manufacturers are able to unite efforts to make an even bigger impact for a cause/charity,” she observes. “Consumers want to know which organization is benefiting from cause marketing programs, and by how much. That transparency builds consumer confidence in a brand and longevity in the cause marketing program as it continues to grow year over year and donation amounts increase. The best consumer-facing programs for cause marketing have strong visibility at the store level. POP signage, attention-getting displays and front-of-store or front-of-bakery placement ensure the program even greater success and participation by consumers.”
In Armstrong’s mind, there’s no question that the causes a company chooses to champion make a deep impression on shoppers. “Consumers connect with and rally behind manufacturers/brands that are successful and are willing to share that success by supporting causes important to both of them,” she asserts. “Consumers connect deeply and loyally to manufacturers and retailers that truly get behind a cause and give back to the community as a whole. For Café Valley Bakery, it’s not something that we have to do, it’s something that we love to do. The ability to be of service and to make a difference is everyone’s responsibility. Corporations are able to unite dedicated communities to make it a team effort.”
As Weis’ Suydan indicates, among the most popular causes backed by retailers and their supplier partners are hunger relief (only natural for those in the business of selling food) and battling breast cancer (also not surprising, given the fact that female supermarket shoppers are still the majority). Following is a closer look at what some grocery industry players are doing in those arenas.