Retail food drives are as synonymous with the holiday season as a turkey dinner. They’re a bit of warm, fuzzy PR that gets shoppers in the holiday spirit and also does some genuine good in the community. Bring a can, save some money, and be merry.
All of which is well and good, but now supermarkets are seeing the financial benefits of donating food themselves and many, like BJ’s Wholesale Club, see this holiday season as an opportunity to showcase their new commitments.
The Westborough, Mass.-based company recently announced it will donate 10 million pounds of fresh food annually to food banks throughout the 15 states where it operates. This includes produce, meat, fish — all those perishable items that are in high need for social agencies but are notoriously difficult to transport from the shelf to the soup kitchen. For years, companies like BJ’s have declined to donate anything that could spoil.
So what’s changed? Food agencies have evolved, for one. Instead of volunteers with minivans, these organizations now have refrigerated trucks driven by employees certified in safe food handling. Feeding America, which oversees agencies across the country, has made retail partnerships a priority, and to that end has stepped up technology and food safety protocols for rescue organizations. Check out my recent feature on the topic for more.
For BJ’s, training is key, according to spokeswoman Catherine Troutman. Employees have to know what items to donate when, and how to store them. Coordinating with the company’s food safety team, Troutman developed an online training tutorial that went out to employees in all 195 BJ’s stores, detailing how to pull items and place them in cold storage. The team also developed an action memo for stores and posters with pictures of items to be diverted.
“Our employees really wanted to do this, so that helped with the learning curve,” said Troutman.
The right technology also helps, Troutman said. The scan guns BJ’s employees use to take inventory are now programmed to tell whether an item is ready to be donated or not.
To carefully manage the rollout, BJ’s began testing the system in stores in Ohio and Boston last February. New markets were gradually brought into the fold, and by August BJ’s instituted the program in one store zone (out of five total) every two weeks.
To bring the campaign out from the back rooms and get shoppers involved, BJ’s has added information to its Facebook page. For every “Like” the page gets, the company will donate $1 to Feeding America.
“We wanted to give people an opportunity to do something,” said Troutman.
Aside from increased customer loyalty, BJ’s is also banking on some serious financial savings from the program.
“We will save money on trash hauls, and there’s obviously going to be a tax savings for us in donating the food,” said Troutman. “Those are two big wins.”
Tis the season, indeed.