PITTSBURGH — Giant Eagle here is a firm believer in giving something back to the communities that have supported its stores for 73 years.
"We believe we have an obligation to give back to the communities from which we earn our living," David Shapira, chairman and chief executive officer, told SN.
"We also believe strongly that the best community outreach is that of giving combined with human interaction and ongoing support, rather than one-time monetary gifts.
"Any community outreach is positive, and we pride ourselves on our ability to take a hands-on and, quite often, unique approach to community outreach by looking for opportunities that provide the most benefit to a particular group or organization and that provides a chance for our customers and employees to actively participate."
"We believe in doing good because it's the right thing to do, and that's always been part of our corporate culture," added Tina Thomson, Giant Eagle's marketing manager for community relations.
One of the keystones of Giant Eagle's community outreach is Project Opportunity, a 13-year effort to provide jobs for physically, mentally and socially disabled teenagers. (Click on "Project Opportunity: Mentoring Special People" for the story.)
Other efforts include:
— Be a Smart Shopper, a program that educates schoolchildren about nutrition, which the chain initiated 12 years ago, prior to its national rollout.
— The Race for the Cure, putting emphasis on breast-cancer survivors to highlight the positive potential of the national fund-raising effort.
— A cookie card program in which customers buy a card for $1 annually that entitles them receive a free cookie on every store visit, with all proceeds from the card sales going to local children's hospitals.
— Ongoing support for local, regional and national food banks.
— An aggressive energy conservation policy.
— Participation in national programs like Upromise, which enables customers to accumulate savings designated for future spending on college, and Apples for Students, which provides educational tools and equipment for local schools.
Giant Eagle's involvement in community relations tends to be very hands-on, Thomson told SN, "because it's crucial for us to get involved with the initiatives we support and to understand the specific cause better."
Race for the Cure
One example of hands-on involvement is its sponsorship of the annual Race for the Cure, a nationwide event in which participants raise money to find a cure for breast cancer. Giant Eagle originally got involved with Race for the Cure here 11 years ago, "when just several hundred people showed up for the race," Thomson recalled.
"But starting about seven years ago, when we moved into the Cleveland market, we decided we wanted to celebrate cancer survivors to emphasize the reason we have to find a cure. So we attempt to make survivors feel special on the day of the race by having our employees host a continental breakfast in a special survivors' tent so the survivors can meet and have fellowship.
"That's something different than what some other sponsors do, and it makes a connection between employees and customers who may have cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most common diseases that affects women, as well as some men, and a major part of our workforce and our customer base is women, so it's something that matters to our employees and our customers."
The survivors' tent has subsequently been expanded to Giant Eagle's home base here on race day, "and last year we had 3,500 survivors there, which was very powerful. And for us, it's also very empowering knowing we are helping the fight against breast cancer and knowing we are providing a place to hear all the positive feedback from people who are surviving the disease," Thomson said.
The Race for the Cure at Giant Eagle is held on Mother's Day in Pittsburgh and in October in Cleveland.
Giant Eagle is also an avid supporter of food banks on the local, regional and national levels, Thomson said.
Food Bank Projects
At the local level, its stores donate perishables daily to neighborhood food banks, "who we consider our food partners," she said.
The company also supplies non-perishables to larger area food banks here and in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and mid-Ohio — all of which are members of America's Second Harvest — which serve as holding facilities that distribute groceries to thousands of food banks within each marketing area, Thomson pointed out.
Giant Eagle was named retailer of the year by America's Second Harvest for 2004, she added.
Thomson estimates the company donated more than 6 million pounds of food to food banks last year, worth about $9 million.
Besides corporate donations, Giant Eagle offers customers the chance to contribute to food banks through two major food drives each year — a month-long Harvest for Hunger program in Ohio in March, in which cash donations are encouraged, and a Fall Food Share for a single weekend here in October, in which food donations are encouraged.
Harvest for Hunger raised $172,000 in cash earlier this year, while over 100,000 pounds of food was donated by customers during the Fall Food Share here, Thomson said.
Giant Eagle also conducts about a dozen campaigns a year with vendors to promote certain items whose sale benefits the food banks, Thomson said, with vendors donating a certain amount of money for every product purchased, and either the vendor or Giant Eagle selecting the specific food bank.
"We leverage our relationships with our vendor partners so we can both do good for the community," Thomson said.
Through the sale of cookie cards for $1 each, Giant Eagle donated $185,000 last year to local children's hospitals, Thomson said. In the 15 years since the company launched the program, it has raised more than $1 million for children's hospitals, she added.
Giant Eagle launched Be a Smart Shopper 12 years ago to educate elementary school students about nutrition. After a year of working with Giant Eagle, Field Trip Factory, the Chicago-based company that developed the program, made it available nationwide to retailers who do not compete with Giant Eagle.
Originally, the program supplied the schools with a curriculum involving various life-training skills that utilized math and reading, after which students took a field trip to a Giant Eagle store. In recent years, the school curriculum aspect has been eliminated and the store tours have become the focus of the program, Susan Singer, president of Field Trip Factory, told SN.
Shortly after instituting the Be a Smart Shopper program, Giant Eagle installed a full-time food nutrition adviser to develop a script for the tours that ensures the information disseminated on the tours is accurate, Singer added.
Each Giant Eagle store has an employee specially trained to conduct tours — 60-minute tours for children in kindergarten through second grade, 90-minutes tours for students up to grade six, Thomson said. "Each stop on the store tour aligns with something they've been learning — for example, in the deli, we talk about low-fat, healthy foods and give them samples. But the tour is not an eating frenzy."
Thomson said the number of school tours totals more than 2,000 per year.
The tours often make a strong impression on the kids, she added. "Store managers tell us that kids often come back with their parents and introduce them to some of the store personnel they met on their tour."
Giant Eagle also has an adult version of the store tour that is adaptable to different organizations with special dietary requirements, such as diabetics, vegetarians, people on gluten-free diets or senior citizens with specific diet-related needs, "and we've had more of those in the last year — perhaps 50 or 60 of them," Thomson said.
Another national program that Giant Eagle was the first to offer is Upromise, in which customers are able to accumulate savings by purchasing certain products, with a few cents per purchase donated by vendors into an account designated for future spending on college. Giant Eagle launched Upromise one month ahead of the national launch in 2002, Thomson pointed out.
The company also participates in Apples for Students, to which the chain has donated more than $23 million in educational tools to local schools over the past 16 years, Thomson said. "We were one of the first supermarkets to participate, and we're one of the few companies still participating." The program involves donating everything from computers to playground equipment to area schools, she said.
To support United Way, Giant Eagle employees make donations through payroll deductions that totalled more than $2 million last year, Thomson said. The chain supplemented the employees' effort for the first time last year by enabling customers to make donations to the United Way through the purchase of cards at the checkstands for $2 or $5, whose value was added to the customer's total bill — an effort that raised more than $46,000, she said.
The chain uses its Giant Eagle Advantage Card to offer discounts to museums, zoos and other local attractions, Thomson said, and it makes its stores available for blood drives, in which employees and customers participate. "The store is a good, convenient location in which to give blood," Thomson said, "and in most markets we're No. 1 or 2 in donations to the local blood bank."
Giant Eagle is also actively involved in promoting energy conservation, Brian Frey, marketing assistant, corporate communications, told SN, noting that the chain was named one of 57 Energy Star Partners of the Year this year — along with only two other food retailers, Wal-Mart and Food Lion — for its ongoing commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for implementing innovative energy management technologies at the store and corporate levels.
"We understand that more energy-efficient operations not only makes perfect environmental and business sense, but it also has a positive impact on employee morale and customer satisfaction," Frey explained.
As a partner in the Energy Star program since late 2001, Giant Eagle has access to benchmarking data to compare its operations and performance against those of its peer group, Frey noted.
Of Giant Eagle's 131 corporate stores, 17 have achieved Energy Star certification, and the chain hopes ultimately to achieve certification at 80% of the corporate stores, Jim Lampl, director of the chain's conservation department, said.
Giant Eagle has had a corporate conservation department since 1992 to uphold its commitment and corporate responsibility to the environment, Frey told SN. Its efforts include recycling more than 100 tons of cardboard per day and more than 20 million grocery bags per year, he said.
"We continuously examine and evaluate new developments that will efficiently utilize natural resources while providing a more enjoyable shopping atmosphere for our customers and a more enjoyable work environment for our employees," Frey said.
Giant Eagle also supports educational efforts by local, regional and national environmental organizations, he said. At the local level, for example, Giant Eagle offers a program for elementary school students that defines natural resources, their scarcity and the importance of recycling, Frey pointed out.