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How can grocers forge a deeper connection with the community?

Giving back to the community isn’t just about feeling good. It’s also a smart business strategy. But helping out around town is time consuming and a scattershot approach won’t provide adequate payback. You need to focus on community giving that really connects your store with your customers. Think uber-local and follow these tips.

Go really local

Mike Dean’s Super Food Stores in eastern Ontario hardly ever turn down a request from a church group or sports team. But vice-president Gordon Dean says he wants donations to have a tangible local benefit. An example: Mike Dean’s has a spare change box in its stores that used to support Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “Then, a few years ago, we told our customers the money would be used locally for kids in need or family causes,” he says.

The spare change fund now pays for local children to go to the Children’s Hospital or to provide groceries to fire victims. When the money went straight to the hospital, customers donated about $1,300 a year. Donations doubled after the new “local” fund was announced.

“Not sure what local causes to support? Talk to your customers. They’ll tell you what’s important to them”, says Ron Ballentine.

Get customers involved

Give your shoppers hands-on ways to give to charity. Last year Save-on-Foods in North Vancouver raised $11,000 for Harvest Project, an organization that helps struggling families, partly through its “fill the van” fundraising drive. Customers could buy a $10 donation bag filled with products, then load it into the van. It allowed customers to be more involved in charity giving than if they had just made a cash donation, says Ron Ballentine, store manager.

Another idea: let shoppers choose a charity. At the Country Grocer on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Paul Large oversees a program called “Save a Tape.” Customers can put their grocery receipts into one of several charity fundraising boxes. The receipts are totaled monthly and the store donates one per  cent of the sums to each cause.

Don’t get too fancy

Debbie Hargreaves, president of P&C Marketing, says a potential trap retailers can fall into is overambition. “Stores are busy and short staffed as it is,” she says. To avoid charity burnout, limit the number of big projects you get involved with to just a few every year. Or have a fundraising program that’s consistent year-to-year so there’s minimal work.

Think local products

Stocking more local items is a form of community support. So let shoppers know about it. That’s what Matt Lurie, president of Organic Garage in Oakville, Ont., does. “The majority of our suppliers have really interesting stories, like the husband and wife who had a sick daughter and there were no products they could feed her so they started their own company,” says Lurie. To build brand loyalty, he posts their stories around the store.

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