FICAH AT 15

The food industry's own non-profit organization aimed at sponsoring self-help solutions to fight hunger -- the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger -- is now 15 years old. That's fine, and such an anniversary always represents an important milestone in any organization's progress.But, even at this important juncture there's reason to keep the celebrations to a minimum: Frankly, it's all too evident

The food industry's own non-profit organization aimed at sponsoring self-help solutions to fight hunger -- the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger -- is now 15 years old. That's fine, and such an anniversary always represents an important milestone in any organization's progress.

But, even at this important juncture there's reason to keep the celebrations to a minimum: Frankly, it's all too evident that FICAH has simply dropped from the industry's radar screen. (Disclosure: It's evident to me because I'm a FICAH trustee.)

Fifteen years ago, FICAH was founded as the industry's response to a devastating famine in Ethiopia, and was funded almost entirely by money donated by food retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. Since the time of its founding, though, the amount of direct support from the industry has trailed off quite dramatically, both in terms of dollars and in-kind support. A decade ago, the industry contributed $605,000 per year to FICAH, roughly the same amount it had contributed annually since its founding. That compares with a projected $180,000 for this year. To put the latest figure in context, FICAH anticipates raising more than $3.5 million this year. Moreover, several trade associations that were once active in supporting FICAH have ceased their support. For instance, several used to make space on their meeting agendas for a presentation from FICAH, or would lend a social event to generate funds for FICAH. Neither is any longer the case, although the Association of Sales and Marketing Cos. does allow a FICAH presentation, and one other association has agreed to do so.

Currently, FICAH generates nearly all its funding from its Food for All point-of-purchase program. The program came to FICAH by way of a merger with that organization in 1997. The Food for All program succeeds because of the generosity of numerous supermarket retailers who permit the placement of scannable coupons at the front ends of their stores. But, at the end of the day, it's supermarket shoppers who are now the chief financial engine driving FICAH, not the industry.

What happened to the industry's support? Needless to relate, the industry environment has changed quite markedly in the last 15 years. Companies that used to stand in geographical isolation are now direct competitors, wholesalers have morphed partially into retailers, and manufacturers are well along the road to consolidation. In summary, the industry is a far more competitive and complex place than it once was, and the need to produce profit is paramount. In such a milieu, a fairly dim view is taken of expenditures that, however nice, may do little or nothing to support the brand. FICAH could help itself here: If it had a program the industry could directly support, instead of asking the industry to support what is a fund pass-through apparatus, that could be a big help.

But, in any case, FICAH at 15 deserves far more support from the industry than it receives now. As you'll see by reading the news feature based on an interview with FICAH's new chairman, Bob Emmons, on Page 9, there are plans to build support. Need to learn more? There's a new Web site at www.foodforall.org. Take a look.