Despite the weak economy, consumers still appear willing to make charitable donations at supermarket checkstands.
“We've been stunned by the donations we're getting through the checkstands,” said Jack Brown, chairman and chief executive officer, Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., which collects for food banks and other hunger-relief organizations. “Through all of 2009 we collected a little over $400,000 total, and this year, with the biggest six weeks of the holiday season still to come, we're already over $500,000.”
Brown said he believes the reason for the increase “is that everyone has had hard times, and they remember what it was like for them, so they want to give what they can to make someone else's life better.”
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., is also seeing donations climb, Mona Golub, vice president, public relations and consumer and marketing services, said.
For example, the chain recently completed a fund-raising campaign for St. Jude's Hospital that exceeded goals. “We took in $10,000 more than the goal we had set and $20,000 more than we collected in 2009,” she said.
Part of the chain's success with checkstand donation programs is based on the strong working relationships Price Chopper has developed over the years with the companies to whom the donations are made. “Heightened awareness by consumers translates into heightened support,” Golub noted.
At Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, “customers continue to be generous in their giving,” Dan Donovan, the chain's spokesman, told SN, “with customer donation levels in 2010 equal to those in recent years.”
That wasn't necessarily the case for Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., which saw contributions to its annual drive to raise money for cancer research dip by about 10% this year to $16.1 million, compared with $18 million in both 2008 and 2009, company officials said.
“The flattening-out of donations is certainly due to the economic downturn,“ Brian Dowling, the chain's spokesman, told SN, “but $16.1 million is still a substantial number — we continue to be one of the largest corporate fund-raisers for breast cancer research, and that money will make a big difference, and we're very proud of that.”
Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., reacted to some customer comments last year by deciding to alter its Holidays for Hope program this year — giving customers the option of donating whatever amount of money they choose to support local food banks rather than asking them to “purchase” bags prefilled with private-label food products for $10 or $20 each that were donated to charity.
“Customers told us that, though they wanted to help, even $10 was a little too much at that time,” said Alicia Rockwell, the chain's spokeswoman.
As more families rely on food banks for assistance, Save Mart is also broadening its food donation program to include perishables, she said.
Denis Zegar, president and chief executive officer of Food For All, which offers turnkey checkstand donation programs for supermarket operators around the country, told SN he expects a strong season.
“Donations for our holiday program at the end of 2009, were up 15% to 20% over 2008,” Zegar said, “and we are optimistic as we begin our holiday program this year.”
All of the money raised by Food For All goes to hunger-relief charities, and there's little doubt their needs for assistance are rising, Kathy Jackson, chief executive officer for Second Harvest Food Bank, said, with demand up 31% over the past two years.
“We served an average of 270,000 people a month in November and December of 2009, whereas we've served the equivalent of nearly 100,000 meals every day during the past year,” she said.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, El Segundo, Calif., said its employees urged the company to conduct a holiday food drive this year. Rather than collecting money, Fresh & Easy is conducting in-store food drives asking customers to donate packaged goods for local charities, along with additional donations from each store.