SWEET CHARITY

RICHMOND, Va. - People like to save money, and they also enjoy giving back. A private-label program from Ukrop's Super Markets is betting that the two desires aren't mutually exclusive.When shoppers use their loyalty card to buy products from any of Ukrop's seven private-label lines - representing 7,000 stockkeeping units - the retailer will give 3% of the sale to charity. It expects to donate about

RICHMOND, Va. - People like to save money, and they also enjoy giving back. A private-label program from Ukrop's Super Markets is betting that the two desires aren't mutually exclusive.

When shoppers use their loyalty card to buy products from any of Ukrop's seven private-label lines - representing 7,000 stockkeeping units - the retailer will give 3% of the sale to charity. It expects to donate about $400,000 annually this way.

It's all part of a new partnership with Benevolink Corp., an Atlanta-based loyalty marketing company that specializes in corporate giving. In its only partnership with a grocery retailer, Benevolink automated Ukrop's 19-year-old Golden Gift charity effort and positioned it as a major private-label marketing effort. The new tag line for its private-label program, "Buy Ukrop's à Give Back," stresses the philanthropic link.

"Ukrop's is known in the community for supporting charity," Scott Aronson, Ukrop's vice president of marketing, told SN. "What we're trying to do now is tie that back to our products."

The first big promotion for the newly enhanced Golden Gift takes place this month with the Golden Giveaway. Each time a customer buys a private-label product with her loyalty card, she is automatically entered into a contest. Ten people will be chosen at random at the end of the month to win $1,000, half of which will go to the winner and the other half to her charity of choice.

Scheduled to run twice a year, Golden Giveaway replaces Ukrop's annual Brand Bonanza, in which a customer would receive a cash payout based on the number of private-label products found in her home.

Shoppers can register to create a Golden Gift account at ukrops.com or benevolink.com. They can also use one of the new computers in any of the six

stores where Ukrop's is testing them at customer service.

Each time shoppers buy a private-label product, 3% of the price goes into their account. Four times a year, they direct their earnings to the nonprofits of their choice. They also can add their own donation via credit card. All of the funds go directly to the nonprofits.

Burgundy-colored shelf talkers point out the products that come under the corporate umbrella. The program also is promoted with banners, on register toppers and in grocery-bag and circular ads.

Aronson said the program is unique in that it aids charity and connects the Ukrop's store brand to its six Topco Associates' corporate brands: Food Club, World Classics, Top Crest, Top Care, Full Circle and Paws.

"This puts an umbrella around all our brands so that our customers know they're part of our offerings," he said.

Mandy Burnette, marketing manager at Ukrop's, said the goal is to increase charitable giving while encouraging people to try the retailer's private-label products.

"If someone is looking at the shelf and trying to decide between a national brand and private label and sees that a private label gives to charity, they may be more apt to buy it," she said.

The 3% represents money the company earmarks for charity each year, so Ukrop's can give it away without raising the prices of its private-label products, she said.

Golden Gift benefits Ukrop's by giving its private label an advantage beyond price and short-term promotions, said Karen Clay, vice president of nonprofit relations for Benevolink.

Ukrop's could be setting a precedent in food retailing. While more supermarkets are involved in cause marketing at the corporate level, few, if any, have tied their efforts to their private label, said Edward Salzano, a Private Label Manufacturers Association board member and executive vice president and chief operating officer of LiDestri Foods, Fairport, N.Y., marketer of Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauce and a private-label supplier.

Getting involved in charitable giving can help Ukrop's build customer loyalty and motivate consumers to purchase a private label over another brand, Salzano said.

"It's a very smart move on the part of Ukrop's," he said. "It's a much better form of promotion compared to a regular corporate-brand sale. Even if a private label isn't the most aggressively priced item on the shelf, a consumer may buy it because they know the purchase goes to a good cause," he said.

Nearly 90% of Americans believe corporations and nonprofits should work together to raise money and awareness for causes, according to Cone, a Boston-based marketing firm.

Ukrop's is supplementing its donations through partnerships with several consumer packaged goods manufacturers who are also giving away a percentage of sales of select products sold at Ukrop's.

Campbell Soup Co. is donating 3% of the cost of 137 SKUs. Procter & Gamble was to start offering 2% and 3% on 91 SKUs beginning May 1, while S.C. Johnson plans to donate 3% on 106 SKUs by June, according to Benevolink.

Ukrop's hopes more CPGs will come on board.

"This is a tremendous way for manufacturers to connect with consumers," Aronson said. The effort may not stop there, though. Ukrop's hopes to ask non-competing retailers in the community to join the Benevolink network. "We view this as a charitable foundation for the Richmond community," he said.