Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Be the Change You Want to See In Your World

We’ve all heard the old adage ‘What’s mine is yours.’ As an aspiring brand manager within the packaged food and restaurant space, I decided to think of it in a way that we are taught to think at Northwestern University – from the customer’s point of view. In that case then, it would read more like ‘What’s yours is mine.’ But just how well are we as marketers making the issues of the consumer our issues in the organization?  And by issues, I don’t mean product-related needs, I mean issues – the hard-core, societal issues that affect each and every one of us and the communities within which we live.

The society we live in today is unfortunately dealing with nationwide crises like childhood obesity and child/adult hunger. Our communities are in desperate need for our help. The call to action couldn’t be any clearer. The time is now to take these serious issues and turn them into meaningful philanthropic programs within our organizations. As food marketers, we need to think about how we can truly adopt CSR programs into our organizations while contributing to the health and well-being of our communities. It could be through the donation of excess food, free workshops on healthy eating, volunteering at shelters and Food Banks, or a variety of other nutrition-related activities. But the challenge is that these programs can no longer just be a line of copy we write on our websites and expect customers to swoon over. Customers will call us on our bluff if we don’t show authenticity and belief in the cause we are promoting. By making consumers’ issues our issues is to weave these into the fabric of our organizations and recreate a focus from the inside-out.

Restaurant operator Darden Restaurants was recognized last month by NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams for their efforts to make a difference in their local Orlando community through their “Harvest” program. Darden, who owns well known brands like Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Long Horn Steakhouse, started their local philanthropic program in 2004 after employees at their restaurants started donating excess food to local food banks and hunger relief organizations. The program has been successfully employed throughout the entire organization where processes have been adopted by their 1900 locations to safely handle, package and store the food before it gets picked up by food bank partners. The food is then transported to local charities including the Boys and Girls Club of America afternoon programs where kids who don’t have easy access to nutritious foods are treated to balanced meals from these restaurants. President and COO of Darden Restaurants, Drew Madsen, admits that while it would be cheaper to just throw the food away, they see it as their company’s mission to nourish the community and this is evident in the dedication that Darden Restaurant employees have in making the philanthropy their own personal mission.

Get your organization thinking about promoting healthy lifestyles, donating excess food, teaching the youth about healthy food decisions or other ways to make a difference in your community today by following these three easy tips:
1.    Think locally
A great way to get started is to identify ways that your organization can make an impact within your local communities. If the philanthropy you identify is food or health related, start with local food banks, homeless shelters, local Boys and Girls of America chapters and other organizations that could truly benefit from the excess product and donations that you can provide.
2.    Unify the organization around the cause
The philanthropy needs to be worked into the entire fabric of the organization and customers need to feel the authenticity of the company’s passion for the cause. It cannot be something you do for show and consumers will know the authentic cause from the fake cause. From top-down and bottom-up, the entire organization needs to be aligned around promoting, believing and acting for the cause.
3.    Follow regulations for donating food
If you choose a path to donate excess food to charities, it will be critical to ensure that there are strict policies in place to follow ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ regulations. The food that you do donate needs to be in compliance with health codes in order to keep all those involved healthy. Most importantly, give excess food that will promote healthy and nutritious food choices for all, don’t give food that just contributes to the health problems of our society.


Tara Gupta is a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC marketing program and spent six years in interactive strategy and user experience design.  Tara is passionate about brand management in the CPG space and health & fitness. Tara will be graduating in December 2012. 
Follow Tara on Twitter @tbg1230 or on LinkedIn

1 comment:

  1. Very helpful and insightful tips! Darden Restaurant's program is a good example of how a large national company has built philanthropy into their mission and accordingly gets each of their restaurants involved with their local communities. They are able to unify their company while being involved at the local level.