One plus one equals more than two.
That's the message from the supermarket industry's response to the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Supermarkets are reinforcing their role as pivotal community partners. We all knew that supermarkets would step up to the plate to aid Gulf Coast victims. No one realized how fast and how extensively.
Food retailers and wholesalers have already donated more than $40 million in aid of various sorts, including financial support and supplies, according to the latest Food Marketing Institute figures. That dollar amount is sure to grow.
Tragedy has created all kinds of alliances between retailers and other parties. For instance, Kroger and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have joined to donate and distribute 20 refrigerated trailers to American Red Cross kitchens in Louisiana in the wake of the suffering there.
Supermarkets nationwide have also partnered with their shoppers in relief efforts. Retailers have collected millions of dollars in customer contributions through fund-raising events, auctions and donations at checkout counters, according to FMI.
The industry has also reminded the government to play its part as a partner. FMI handed Congress a list of industry needs to support the relief effort. These include restoring communications so retailers can accept food stamps and other government benefits; providing inoculations, vaccines and boosters to food industry workers in the hurricane-ravaged regions; giving supermarkets and wholesalers priority on fuel allocations; and creating incentives for companies to hire displaced workers.
How is it that the industry jumped into action so fast? Retailers honed their disaster response skills years ago through countless snowstorms, hurricanes and other natural occurrences. But supermarkets learned partnership skills from more than just disasters. Food retailers regularly earn high marks as community participants through programs that support education, diversity or other topics.
Supermarkets have also learned how to partner to foster their own survival. A story in this issue (Page 12) looks at innovative independent supermarkets that have withstood extreme competition, largely by creating unusual partnership arrangements.
The creativity of these retailers is striking. Peppers Supermarket, Deming, N.M., facing a major competitive threat, developed the land around its store into a shopping plaza. It partnered with co-tenants to create a compelling destination for consumers. The sales result has been a big success.
Moundridge Food Market IGA, Moundridge, Kan., was instrumental in forming an alliance with local businesses to help deter a competitive challenge. The product of that effort is a newspaper called The Moundridge Marketplace, which spotlights these local businesses and their community roles. The campaign has already reversed much of the sales declines of local merchants.
Supermarkets make their money on concepts like convenience and variety, but they are periodically reminded that partnering is no less a core attribute.