WASHINGTON -- The Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger is hoping to involve more industry players at all levels in its ongoing efforts to wipe out hunger worldwide.
"FICAH is a food industry crusade, and ending hunger is one of the foremost humanitarian efforts there can be -- and it's one in which all segments of the food industry should be involved," Bob Emmons, FICAH chairman, told SN. "What better role could you ask of an industry than to have a hand in restoring the dignity of people who are down and out and don't know where to turn?"
FICAH was created by the industry in 1985 in response to a famine in Ethiopia, Emmons said, "but over the years FICAH seems to have fallen off the radar screen. Now we're trying to re-energize the program by getting more suppliers and wholesalers involved in the crusade against hunger, and I think we're making some progress."
That effort is being headed by Denis Zegar, who was installed as FICAH president and chief executive officer earlier this year.
While FICAH intends to continue its push for greater retail participation in its Food For All checkstand program, it is also directing its efforts in two new directions, Zegar said -- getting more support from retailers and wholesalers, who have traditionally been the backbone of FICAH, and from manufacturers, who have not been tapped in the past.
FICAH will initiate a new "partners program" early next year in which it will solicit contributions from the food retailing industry in return for certain rights to use the FICAH name in their marketing. Zegar said those funds will be directed toward creating a prototype program somewhere in the United States that ties education and business together -- possibly along the lines of the ongoing program in Holyoke, Mass. (see story, Page 15), "and that can provide a blueprint for economic self-sufficiency that can be implemented by any community in the U.S.
"We'll be encouraging the food industry to own a piece of the rock by becoming partners with FICAH in this project through contributions ranging from $250 up to $10,000, with certain benefits tied to the amount donated," said Zegar.
FICAH's goal this year is to boost donations by $250,000 to $500,000 through cooperative retail promotions in which vendors will donate a portion of the proceeds to FICAH, Zegar said.
Most of the manufacturers FICAH has contacted so far have been receptive, he noted, "though that might not translate to 100% participation. But vendors are telling us the concept looks like a win-win situation for everyone, and some have indicated it will fit well with plans they have for national programs."
Several examples of supplier partnerships include Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., which kicked off this month a FICAH promotion involving Pepsi-Frito Lay-Tropicana. Pepsi will make a donation to FICAH each time a shopper makes a designated purchase at a Publix store. On Nov. 23, Miller Brewing and Publix will kick off an integrated sweepstakes promotion themed, "Catch the Holiday Spirit at Publix," in which FICAH will benefit from beer sales and an auction.
Earlier this year the Association of Sales & Marketing Companies and Unilever sponsored a golf tournament that raised $20,000 for FICAH during the food brokers' annual executive conference in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Next spring FICAH in conjunction with the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers of America and Food Distributors International will sponsor its first Congressional golf tournament to raise funds for the organization.
Although some companies say they don't want to participate in FICAH's Food For All program because they have charity programs of their own, "our hope is they will be willing to participate in cooperative promotional programs where some of the profits will go to FICAH," he said.
Food For All has been the core of FICAH's funding over the years, accounting for 75% of its income base, Zegar said.
Under the Food For All program, consumers can add $1, $3 or $5 to their grocery bills using point-of-sale coupons that can be scanned along with their grocery orders. That money is directed by FICAH to various local and international agencies, based on a formula worked out with each retailer, Zegar said.
But not all retailers have been willing to support the Food For All program, he pointed out.
"We've lost some companies over the years to industry consolidation, as regional chains that were active participants were acquired by larger chains that are not involved with FICAH," he said. "We're meeting with some of those chains now and hoping they will reconsider."
Other retailers have their own reasons for not participating, Zegar added.
"One chain executive told me her company thought all money raised by FICAH stayed with FICAH. When we told her the money goes to support local community efforts as well as overseas development, she was surprised and said that perhaps her company would reconsider its stand."
Since FICAH is intended as an industry-backed charity, Emmons told SN he is unhappy that so much of its funding comes from consumer contributions through the Food For All program. "We'd like the ratio to be closer to 50% from suppliers and wholesalers and 50% from retailers through Food For All, and that can happen," he said.
Zegar said he believes FICAH is a good business proposition "because it serves the community and fulfills the industry's philanthropic needs -- and it is also the most efficient way to fight hunger."
What makes FICAH so efficient is its multidimensional approach, he explained. "Unlike programs with a single focus, FICAH funds a variety of domestic community efforts -- homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food banks and AIDS hospices -- plus international development programs in 64 countries."
The central core of FICAH's mission, he said, is to encourage self-help programs through the agencies to which it donates. "We want to educate recipients and teach them how to raise themselves up out of poverty by providing solutions," Zegar explained.
The more funding FICAH gets, the more help it can provide to those in need, he explained, "and our biggest challenge is to get the grocery industry to recognize the tremendous value in this approach."
Zegar spent 20 years in the food industry prior to joining FICAH, including nine years as chief lobbyist for the National-American Wholesale Grocers Association (forerunner of Food Distributors International), five years as president of the Mid-Atlantic Food Dealers Association, and most recently as principal in DRZ Management Associates, Columbia, Md.
At FICAH he succeeded Michael Donkis.
Emmons told SN he is particularly interested in seeing more FICAH money go for hunger relief overseas. "I don't want to see us lose our international presence because the need around the world is so great and the money can go so far in Third World countries. For example, an irrigation program in Zambia that costs $50,000 can double the family incomes of 10,000 people and relieve some of their hunger problems.
"In Africa nutrition is so poor that the immune systems of workers can't combat the AIDS virus. But if we can educate those people and improve their level of nutrition, we could go a long way to slowing down the AIDS epidemic there."