As public spending on governmental social programs declines, public-service agencies start to take a closer look at the private sector. And what element of the private sector is so obvious and so well positioned to fill basic human needs as supermarkets?
Not many others, if any at all, it would seem. As a couple of articles in this week's SN point out, requests to supermarket operators to sponsor various community projects are markedly on the upswing.
And the supermarket industry is responding. As you'll see by means of the news article on Page 10, nearly 70% of industry respondents to a survey on the matter said they have increased their community-relations efforts and budgets in the past few years. By comparison, a slim 7% said they have decreased such involvement.
Community involvement can be a costly proposition: Annual spending on community projects runs from $9,000 by single-store operators to $800,000 by chains of 50 or more stores. The industrywide average for donations is $25,000 per year.
As the gap increases between community needs and the number of entities able to help, it becomes far from easy for a food retailer to maintain a balance between requests and the company's ability to give aid.
Indeed, nearly 90% of survey respondents said the volume of requests for help is on the upswing, and that figuring out how to satisfy even a portion of them is a great challenge. One-store retailers receive a median of 100 requests per year but larger companies, chains of 50 or more stores, receive up to 2,000. In actuality, many companies are able to fulfill no more than a small proportion of the request volume.
What are some of the ways food retailers participate in community activities? According to the Page 1 news feature called "Good Neighbors," involvement takes many forms. One large chain sponsors houses in which cancer patients and their families can stay if they must be away from home for treatment regimes, another sponsors swimming lessons at city parks, another solicits donations that are used to help families defray costs of heating their homes and yet another empowers store managers to dispense gift certificates that organizations can use to defray the cost of food.
And, in the vein of the last policy, nearly all food retailers are asked to make in-kind contributions of food to various organizations.
All of this raises the real-world question: Does tangible community involvement convey rewards to participating food retailers? The news feature proposes that participating in community activity produces positive results, but results that are difficult to quantify.
"Even if it's just hamburger for a cookout, we help out whenever we can," one food retailer told SN. "It sets us apart from the competition. It is very important to keep that niche." Said another, "Awareness surveys show that people are very aware of us doing these things. We hope that we get a contribution to sales."