With Thanksgiving this week and Christmas a month away, food banks once again are in the spotlight -- and so are Center Store products. Though a cornucopia of grocery products is filling up food banks, industry improvements in ordering, manufacturing and distribution -- such as just-in-time delivery -- have left fewer overruns and less overstocks to donate to the needy.
As a result, supermarkets and manufacturers have developed other methods of assisting the less fortunate, including running in-store food drives, soliciting customer cash donations, sponsoring benefits and lending their expertise to the food banks.
"As [operating] systems become more efficient, there is less product for us to donate, which is good and bad," said Laura McAfferty, a spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp., the Elizabeth, N.J.-based cooperative wholesaler that serves as the supply and merchandising arm for ShopRite Supermarkets.
Though Wakefern is giving less food to the banks, it is donating in other ways, such as through the Check-Out Hunger program, McAfferty said.
Under the Check-Out Hunger program, consumers hand paper coupon vouchers located at the checkout lanes in $1, $2 and $5 denominations to the cashier, who adds the amount to the shopping order. The proceeds are donated to local food banks. In addition to ShopRite, A&P/Super Fresh, Acme, Foodtown, Grand Union, Kings, Pathmark, Shop 'N Bag and Thriftway are participants in New Jersey.
D'Agostino Supermarkets, Larchmont, N.Y., contributes to a number of local food banks and soup kitchens, said Mary Moore, director of public affairs.
D'Agostino's first priority is to try to help nearby charities. After working with local soup kitchens, it teams up with other organizations that can distribute where food is needed. For instance, it assists Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-round and Operation Issah, a program sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary that donates food to needy members of the congregation during the High Holy Days.
"Rather than send product through [wholesaler] Twin County's reclamation center, we try to get food that is usable to people who can use it," she added.
Supermarket-sponsored programs like Check-Out Hunger help food banks survive, said Kitty Schaller, associate director at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Hillside, N.J. "The retailers are the best friends that we have. They not only donate product, but also their time," she said, noting that many supermarkets send volunteer employees to help with sorting and other tasks.
"They really try to make sure that what is available in their warehouses and supermarkets finds its way to our facility," she said.
And while donations from many of the major manufacturers have declined over the years, many companies are taking steps to assist the food banks. In a six-year-old program developed by Pillsbury Co., Minneapolis, major manufacturers have assisted the Second Harvest food bank in developing the Value-Added Processing program, under which companies donate made-to-order products.
"Pillsbury has made to order for Second Harvest several of our products including our Pizza Rolls and some taco dinner kits. We have another project coming up over the holiday season where we're going to be making some B&M beans at our Portland, Maine, plant," said Susan Enright, manager of community relations for Pillsbury. The products are produced under the Pillsbury or Second Harvest labels, Enright said.
"We see this as an opportunity for companies to go above and beyond, since there aren't as many unsellable products today," she said.
Pillsbury also sponsors the Kids Cafe, a program that serves meals to inner city children in 25 communities.
Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., also sponsors the Kids Cafe, donating $20,000 to help start the program in that city, said Susan Mayo, the chain's consumer affairs director.
"The program has really taken off. Harris Teeter was instrumental in planning, developing and giving the program seed money to start," she said.
Along with Pillsbury, other companies that manufacture Center Store products are working to help the needy. This year, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., has agreed to donate 1,000 cases of soup to soup kitchens for every goal that New York Rangers star Wayne Gretzky, a company spokesman, scores during the season, said Dan O'Neill, president of Campbell's U.S. Soup division.
Despite the help of manufacturers, Schaller of the Community Food Bank said the need for food banks continues to grow. They will become ever more important next year when President Clinton's welfare reform takes effect. This year, charities drawing from Community Food Bank have seen their demand increase from 20% to 60%, she added.
In an attempt to generate more consumer interest, this year the Community Food Bank is using the cartoon character Popeye as its healthy eating spokesman. King Features Syndicate, New York, which owns the rights to Popeye, loaned the rights to the food bank.
Crystal Springs water has teamed up with Gooding's Supermarkets to donate 5 cents for every gallon of Crystal Springs water purchased during a month-long period this fall, said Amy Killgallon, public relations manager for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Orlando.
Gooding's sponsors a Help the Hungry program where shoppers can purchase premade paper bags of nonperishable Center Store items for prices ranging from $3 to $10.
Each bag contains some sort of meal-in-a-can, a dehydrated potato product, a vegetable, fruit, some type of soup, pasta/rice and some type of protein, such as tuna fish or peanut butter, Killgallon said. Excluding the busy Thanksgiving/Christmas period, the food bank received 11,138 pounds of food from Gooding's in 1994 and 12,658 pounds in 1995.
Gooding's offers the bags year-round, said Michael Garlich, vice president of advertising at the Apopka, Fla.-based chain.
"To make the bags as affordable as possible, we mostly use private label. The bags are all filled with first-quality goods that are taken right off the shelf," he said.
Retailers in Houston participate in a similar program called Stop Hunger In Our City. In addition to prepackaged bags, shoppers can donate individual food items at large red barrels placed at the front end of over 230 area supermarkets.
"The program has been going over well. We select which items to put in the bag. We use canned and boxed items that do not spoil," said Vern Buford, director of grocery merchandising at Rice Food Markets, Houston.