The Supply Side: Suppliers benefit local nonprofit groups such as NWA Food Bank

by Nancy Peevy ( 304 views 

At about 1,300 in number, Walmart supplier companies have a strong presence in Northwest Arkansas. They are here to make sure the retailer has what it needs, but their involvement in the community doesn’t end there. The supplier community is also dedicated to making a difference beyond the bottom line.

Companies like General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Unilever, The Hershey Co., Coca-Cola, Spectrum Brands and Reynolds Consumer Products also invest their resources in local charities.

With more than 2,500 nonprofits located in Northwest Arkansas, choices for philanthropy range from the American Heart Association, Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, Jones Center, Boys & Girls Clubs, Mercy Hospital, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Saving Grace Transitional Home, the Children’s Advocacy Center and others. The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank especially benefits from the presence of area suppliers.

“I think (the supplier community) does a great job of rallying around causes that are improving the quality of life for all people,” said Mike Williams, director of development for the food bank. “Especially, from my perspective, for those who lack basic needs like food.”

In 2017 the food bank served 71,230 people through more than 150 partner agencies in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties. Williams said the most common way supplier companies help the food bank is through volunteering.

“Almost every day of the week we have a group out here, helping us sort food, helping us put food away, helping us build meal boxes to distribute to hungry families. All of that work is done by volunteers, and many of those volunteers are groups from the supplier community,” he said.

Suppliers also support the food bank through cash donations, sponsorships and corporate gifts, as well as through food donations.

“We’re seeing an increase in product donations from some of the food consumer product companies, like Kraft Heinz, Smithfield and Tyson Foods,” Williams said. “They’re donating very large quantities of product so that we have product to distribute to hungry families.”

Kraft Heinz donated over 100,000 pounds of macaroni and cheese and Stove Top Stuffing last year, and Tyson Foods donated 1 million pounds of protein over the past year.

“General Mills is more on the cash end,” Williams explained. “I would say General Mills’ support is between 600,000 to 700,000 meals to our community. Additionally, they bring out volunteers regularly to help sort product and build meal boxes for hungry families.”

The food bank doesn’t track how much suppliers give as a group, but Williams said the supplier community provides a significant part of its support.

“If the suppliers quit supporting the food bank, our operation would be greatly hindered, and our ability to feed people would decrease in double-digit percentages,” Williams said. “Because of the efforts of the supplier community, we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor expenses in the services they provide. We’re able to reallocate those towards purchasing and securing donated food that we can then distribute to the community. In addition to that, their cash donations are fueling our operations. (Their) impact would be in the millions of meals.”

Spectrum Brand’s Walmart team is one local supplier that feels a responsibility to help those who are in need, especially those who are food insecure. Daniel Boone, Spectrum Brand’s vice president and general manager for Walmart and Sam’s Club, said the reality of the situation came home to him after visiting with Kent Eikenberry, president and CEO of the food bank.

“Kent was telling me that one out of four families have food insecurity, and that for me is alarming because in our circle as vendors, we don’t see that happening here in Bentonville,” Boone said. “In NWA we see these high-end (houses), a lot of executives, nice neighborhoods, zero unemployment, but that’s not the reality.”

In light of that, Boone and his staff came up with a unique way to support the food bank. Three years ago they created the Spectrum Challenge, a food drive competition among the supplier community. Participating companies compete during a 30-day time period, from Nov. 1-30, to see which can collect the highest average pounds of food per person in their group. The winner receives the Spectrum Cup.

Companies benefit from the satisfaction of taking action to meet a need in the community and from the team-building element of working together for a common cause.

“It is a lot of fun to have the competition. It gives us a special camaraderie. There are no losers in this event,” Boone said. “At Spectrum, the teams are across our divisions which enhances interaction between them. Sales teams are, by nature, very competitive, and so an activity like this one definitely energizes the team.”

That competition even extends to team members’ families who get involved and engage their neighborhoods and even their children’s school classes, Boone said. In 2016, the first year of the competition, nine companies participated and raised 17,000 pounds of food. Last year, the challenge grew to 17 companies, including Spectrum Brands, raising a total of 133,885 pounds.

Participants in this past year’s challenge included Cargill, Castrol Oil, Englander, Signature Bank of Arkansas, Johnson Controls, Smuckers, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Shell Lubricants, Newell Brands, PepsiCo, Simmons Bank, Unilever, ITW, Johnson & Johnson and Mondelez International.

Johnson Controls won both years of the challenge. In 2017, the company collected 759 pounds per each of its five employees. Spectrum Brands raised a total of 32,000 pounds of food, or 581 pounds per person. General Mills raised the most pounds at a little more than 41,000.

Boone was pleased with the response from the supplier community to the Spectrum Challenge.

“Many companies are looking to do good, but there were no channels for them to engage,” he said. “When we explained the program and how it can help them internally, people were just jumping in.”

The Spectrum Brands team hopes to grow to 30 companies participating and to raise 250,000 pounds of food this year. Companies can sign up by calling Spectrum Brands or the food bank.
Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.