Canadian Grocer recognizes grocery retail and CPG businesses making a positive impact with inaugural award
Carolyn Cooper, Rebecca Harris, Carol Neshevich and Rosalind Stefanac
To celebrate Canadian grocery retail and CPG businesses that are going above and beyond to make the world a better place, this year we launched the Canadian Grocer Impact Awards.
We recognized 33 winners in four categories: Sustainability; Supporting Employees; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Community Service. (Click here for the full list of winners.)
Twelve companies took home the award in the Community Service category, and here's why:
Blind Bay Village Grocer
Community has always been a focus for Blind Bay Village Grocer (BBVG), which supports a variety of local initiatives and organizations. So it was only natural the B.C.-based grocer would play a vital role in supporting local businesses during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, the importance of supporting our local community was crucial to our survival,” says president James Inglis. “We immediately rebranded ourselves with the tagline ‘Love Local.’ This tagline is all-encompassing in that we love our community, our local vendors, our local customers, and the messaging also asks our customers to love BBVG as their local grocer.” Using the Love Local branding, the store featured local businesses and vendors in its flyers, succeeding in raising awareness and sales for these companies.
The grocer also became one of the first retailers in Canada to sell Girl Guide cookies in-store to assist the group with sales during COVID-19, and it supported the small business community by offering a 10% discount on groceries from April to December 2020. Because Blind Bay has a large snowbird population, many of whom needed to quarantine when they returned home last year, the store established a personal shopper program for delivery of groceries to seniors’ homes with the help of the South Shuswap Chamber of Commerce and the volunteer group at Cedar Heights Community Association.
Calgary Co-op has donated more than $2.2 million to community initiatives during the pandemic, with a focus on food security.
Throughout the pandemic, Calgary Co-op has taken a holistic approach to supporting the community. To support its more than 1,700 local farmers and vendors, the grocer launched a “shop local” campaign in all its stores, along with a series of live Zoom cooking classes with Calgary chef Julie Van Rosendaal to encourage customers to shop local and get cooking. The grocer also delivered free care packages of non-perishable grocery items to the vulnerable in the community, and to date has donated more than $2.2 million towards community initiatives during the pandemic, with a focus on food security.
And since its staff are also community members, Calgary Co-op wanted to ensure they all felt a sense of safety, confidence and comfort, regardless of the circumstances. So, it implemented the Calgary Co-op Champions Program, which included increased wages and additional benefits. It also worked with local vendors to install stringent safety measures and video screens in break rooms to keep team members up to date on protocol.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have focused on supporting our front-line workers, providing safety and confidence to our members and helping those who are most vulnerable,” says vice-president, marketing and member experiences, Penney McTaggart Cowan. “People are at the heart of everything we do. We are so grateful to everyone who is part of the Calgary Co-op family.”
Made with Local
Since launching in 2012, Nova Scotia-based Made with Local has fulfilled its mission to be a responsible business that acts as a force of good in the community. The snack maker operates through two social enterprise production partners, which means all Made with Local products are produced and shipped by people who are experiencing barriers to the mainstream workforce, or just need an extra supportive work environment. “In working with these groups, we are providing valuable, good work for those not able to find employment due to physical or intellectual limitations,” says company founder Sheena Russell.
With its Real Food Bars and Granola Bar Mixes now sold through more than 1,500 retailers across Canada, the company has been able to increase the number of jobs at its bakery partners, expand their kitchens, invest in new equipment, and build a whole new team for shipping and distribution. In 2020, the company sourced ingredients from 11 Canadian producers and growers, nine of whom are independently owned and operated. “When we choose Canadian producers and growers, we are choosing to invest the hard-earned money of our customers back into our local economies, and this is something that makes our customers feel good about supporting us,” says Russell.
Last year, Bracebridge, Ont.’s Muskoka Brewery reached out to customers with campaigns to help support local businesses, as well as healthcare and front-line workers. When the pandemic hit, Muskoka Brewery began a series of free virtual events to support the South Muskoka Hospital Foundation, and began donating $1 per delivery/curbside order to the foundation. As a result, the brewery was able to donate $10,000 to the hospital.
The brewery also pivoted to produce hand sanitizer during the pandemic, and supplied more than 2,000 bottles to local front-line businesses and organizations. In December 2020, the company took $5 per curbside and delivery order and donated $5,000 in local restaurant gift cards to the local food bank.
In another more lighthearted campaign, for every 10 packs of beer sold, the brewery donated a four-pack to front-line workers, and every Friday last summer delivered a much-needed beer break to workers in hospitals, grocery stores and nursing homes across Ontario. In total, the brewery donated more than 4,000 four-packs of beer. “Our community is so important to us and when the pandemic started, our team got to work to find every way possible to make an impact. I’m so proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished,” says president Todd Lewin.
“Rabba Roots” helps people access food, health and emergency services.
Rabba Fine Foods
Rabba Fine Foods believes a good community starts with good neighbours, which is why the company has many long-standing partnerships and initiatives in communities throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
“Rabba Roots is a community giving program led by Rabba Fine Foods and its founding partners, and it contributes to people’s lives through access to food, health and emergency services,” says Rick Rabba, the company’s president. “Through the program we have supported Trillium Health Partners for many decades, and recently donated $20,000 to Trillium’s intensive care units. We have also supported Covenant House and Good Shepherd Ministries with a Super Bowl event for the past three years, designed to draw attention to the growing problem of homelessness, while allowing homeless, trafficked or at-risk youth a chance to enjoy the Super Bowl and to know they are not forgotten,” says Rabba.
Over the years, Rabba has partnered on many initiatives that raise awareness while celebrating music and culture. In 2017, it partnered with former child soldier Emmanuel Jal to present a fundraising concert in conjunction with World Refugee Day, and since then has been sponsoring the annual Tim Hortons Southside Shuffle Blues & BBQ Festival in Port Credit (Mississauga) featuring local and First Nation community artists and entertainers.
Rehan's Your Independent Grocer
Thanks to one Sudbury, Ont.-based grocer, hundreds of children are getting access to hot, nutritious meals, as well as education on the importance of healthy eating. Before COVID-19 restrictions, owner Rehan Iqbal and his team were preparing and serving hot breakfasts and lunches at local public schools, feeding more than 300 students at a time—and they’re heading back again as schools open. “At Rehan’s YIG, utilizing our strengths to give back to our community is part of working here every single day,” says Iqbal. “We are a food store and, therefore, giving back to the community using food—specifically a healthy, hot breakfast—is a very rewarding experience for us.”
Among its many community efforts, the grocer launched a “food bank bag” program, resulting in more than 150 bags of groceries reaching the Sudbury Food Bank weekly. It also partnered with local charities to provide Thanksgiving meals to Sudbury families and donated more than $5,000 worth of baby food. Rehan’s is also an avid supporter of local business. Last September the grocer started a local market day so vendors in the area could set up booths in the store to promote their products.
When the pandemic hit, school closures made it hard for Canadian kids who relied on school-based nutrition programs to regularly access meals. To address this, Save-On-Foods launched its Feeding Hungry Kids campaign, consisting of an initial $500,000 donation to Breakfast Club of Canada and an invitation for customers to donate at the till or online— with any customer donation being matched by the company (up to a total of $500,000). Store employees and customers embraced the campaign and quickly raised $1 million. Breakfast Club of Canada distributed the money to its school and community organization partners in the same communities where the donations came from, and Save-On- Foods’ initial $500,000 was similarly portioned out to each community. (Other partners in this campaign included I Can for Kids, a Calgary-based charity supporting kids in need of food over summer break; and Backpack Buddies, a B.C.-based charity that helps fill the weekend hunger gap.) All told, Save-On-Foods’ customers donated 200,804 times at the till, and the campaign supported 182 communities across Western Canada.
“A stable supply of nutritious food has long been linked to better school performance and higher functioning in kids, and we are committed to helping our community partners continue their critical work of feeding young Canadians,” says Darrell Jones, president, Save-On- Foods. “Together with Breakfast Club of Canada and our other lead partners in this effort, we are proud to give back to schools and students across Western Canada. Our generous customers share our commitment to our communities and have absolutely blown us away with their support.”
Sobeys is helping fund mental health programs at 13 children’s hospitals.
Mental health issues are on the rise among Canadian kids, yet most don’t (or can’t) access help until their situation hits a crisis point. That’s why Sobeys and the Sobey Foundation partnered with Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations to launch “A Family of Support: Child and Youth Mental Health Initiative.” The initiative is aimed at funding local mental health programs at 13 Canadian children’s hospitals, helping reduce patient wait times, create and adapt clinical spaces, expand capacity across the healthcare system, and enhance training for mental health leaders, pediatricians, and front-line healthcare workers.
“Our company’s purpose of being ‘a family nurturing families’ was our inspiration for this initiative focused on child and youth mental health,” says Sandra Sanderson, senior vice-president of marketing for Sobeys.
Launched in August 2020, Sobeys committed to donating and raising millions of dollars for the initiative. From September 17 to October 1, 2020, Canadian shoppers were able to donate in what Sobeys is calling its largest in-store fundraising campaign for a single cause. By the end of the campaign, the initiative surpassed its fundraising goal, raising $2.1 million during its first fundraising drive. According to Sobeys, the initiative has made 15 unique programs possible across 10 provinces through the partnership with 13 children’s hospital foundations. “These innovative programs are unique and diverse in nature, with a few very important elements in common: they put children and youth first; they work to support the full family; and they identify and seek to address mental health challenges early,” says Sanderson.
Stong’s support for local community initiatives and charities began when it opened its first Vancouver store in 1931, and continues today. Since 2016, Stong’s has partnered with Harvest Project, an organization that helps North Shore residents experiencing challenging life circumstances by providing physical, emotional and spiritual support. The organization offers a grocery support program, clothing donations, workforce re-entry support and client coaching.
Throughout the year, Stong’s encourages customers to donate to Harvest Project at checkouts, and has raised more than $60,000 and donated thousands of pounds of necessary food items to the organization. “We are amazed by the generosity of our customers and the impact we can have as a community when we work together,” says president Brian Bradley.
The grocer also provides lunches to five local schools for professional development days in support of teachers. “Our community in Dunbar is very close to the schools in this area; 60% of our part-time staff members are currently attending or have attended these schools in the past,” explains Mike Ngsee, store operations manager. “The [parent advisory council] members are loyal, long-time customers and we just wanted to support them along with the teachers for all their hard work on the front lines.”
Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD)
It’s called “period poverty”: when women are unable to access or afford essential menstrual hygiene products. And it’s a critical public health issue that SPUD has tackled as part of its commitment to cultivate healthy communities. “We have committed to the Period Poverty campaign for the past three years and continue to explore ways we can help the members of our community who need it the most,” says SPUD’s director of marketing, Arndrea Scott.
For the March 2021 “Period Poverty” campaign, SPUD teamed up with two of its vendors: DivaCup and Organyc. Customers could participate in any (or all of) four ways: buy any Organyc product, and 25% of the proceeds would go towards purchasing menstrual hygiene products for those in need; buy a DivaCup and one would be donated to a local organization; donate unopened menstrual hygiene products to their returnable e-commerce grocery tote; and make a physical or monetary donation at Blush Lane retail locations.
The campaign also worked with organizations near SPUD’s three distribution facilities. Donations in Vancouver were given to BC Housing’s This is Me.Period project; Calgary donations were given to Humainologie’s The Period Project; and in Edmonton, all donations were sent to No Woman Without. Period. The campaign raised nearly $10,000 and collected approximately 9,800 units of cups, tampons and pads across all three cities. Soon after the campaign ended, the City of Edmonton announced it would provide free menstrual products to all women’s and gender-inclusive city-owned washrooms. SPUD hopes its campaign played a small part in the city’s decision.
Unilever's Courage is Beautiful campaign recognizes the sacrifices of essential workers.
During the pandemic Unilever recognized the need to help front-line workers in a meaningful way. Through its Dove brand it launched the Courage is Beautiful campaign in 2020 to recognize the sacrifices being made by essential workers, and donated $1 million of Dove and Dove Men+Care products to front-line medical workers and hospitals across the country. And in response to shortages of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, Unilever’s Simcoe and Rexdale, Ont. plants donated 30,000 surgical masks and 2,000 N95 masks to front-line healthcare workers.
Other initiatives launched in the last year include a commitment of $500,000 over three years to organizations creating a more equal society for BIPOC communities, including Black Moms Connection, FoodShare and Innovate Inclusion. Unilever is also building an incubator program to support early-stage Black social entrepreneurs, and through its SheaMoisture brand launched the Salon Relief Fund to provide financial support to Black female entrepreneurs in the hair care industry.
In addition, Unilever employees donated their time to community action during the company’s September 2020 Day of Service campaign, as well as $17,600 to various charities, which was matched by Unilever. Employees donated an additional $5,200 to food banks during the 2020 holiday season, which was again matched by Unilever. In total, the company donated more than $3 million dollars of food, soap, personal and home hygiene products to food banks across Canada.
Back in 2018, the owners of Ontario-based Vince’s Market wanted to make a powerful community impact, even as a smaller, independent grocer. They launched the Community Product Initiative, with a unique fundraising concept: 15% of sales for one product featured for six to 10 weeks across Vince’s stores went to an annual fund for a year-end donation to a local non-profit. Different products were featured from across categories, and vendors who brought forward featured items also participated with a one-time donation. “We realized if we worked with our partners and provided a share of our margins, we could do something really meaningful to align with our mission to make a difference in the communities we serve,” says partner Giancarlo Trimarchi.
Initially each store chose one not-for-profit to receive its donation of $4,000 to $5,000, but in 2020 the grocer decided to pool efforts for an even bigger impact. This year’s entire fund will go to the Southlake Regional Health Centre Mental Health Program. In four years of fundraising efforts, Vince’s Market has collected more than $58,000 to benefit life-changing community organizations. “It just goes to show that with a little creativity you can make a big-impact initiative,” says Trimarchi.