How brand partnerships are moving the needle for Food Banks Canada

The charity is now working with 130 to 140 brands, 90% of which signed on in the last seven weeks.
Kraft Heinz Food Banks

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Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many brands have looked to affirm their corporate values through CSR initiatives aimed at supporting vulnerable individuals and businesses.

For Food Banks Canada, which fights food insecurity, that shift has resulted in a surge of support from corporate Canada.

In March, the national charitable organization launched a campaign to raise $150 million. To date, it has secured more than $80 million, including $50 million from the federal government, $12 million from individual donors, $8 million from a broadcast of last month’s Stronger Together concert, and another $18 million from corporate partners and private foundations. And that does not account for the value of donated food products and PPE.

The number of brands showing support for Foods Banks has exploded. As of last week, 130 to 140 national and multinational brands had signed on to help in some way, roughly 90% of which were new from within the last seven weeks, according to Tania Little, Food Banks’ chief development and partnerships officer.

“It’s an insane story of what partnership and collaboration looks like,” says Little. “More and more brands are choosing to align with us and work with us collaboratively on storytelling and alignment around their brand and their products and their customer engagement strategies.”

The support is making a difference, she says, even though there’s a lot of work left to be done.

“We’re starting to share significant funds with the [Food Banks] community. We’re bulk purchasing food, we’re manufacturing food. We’re working with processing companies and industry to repack goods that were maybe on the food service side,” she says. “But we absolutely need more support. We don’t see this as a short term issue. And given that we’ve already seen about a 20% increase in the number of clients coming [to local food banks], we don’t even think we’re at the peak yet.”

This explains why, despite the high levels of support, Food Banks today launched “I Ate,” a new campaign by Toronto-based The Local Collective, with the goal of raising the remaining $70 million of its original $150 million target from March. A microsite is being supported by social and digital ads running on donated ad space.

In a statement, Food Banks CEO Chris Hatch said there are concerns about “COVID-19 fatigue,” and the goal is to “remind Canadians that their food insecure neighbours still need help, even more so once the pandemic restrictions are eased.”

While brands have also thrown their support behind other charities, the issue of food scarcity has become more relevant over the course of the pandemic, especially as panic buying set in. “We all of a sudden went, ‘Wait a minute, I now have an understanding of what it means to go to the grocery store and not get the things that I want,” says Little. “I can’t get baby formula or flour or all these basic elements. That shared experience is, I think, a shift for companies.”

To date, partners have ranged from Kruger Products, which is raising money with Canadian NHL players as part of its ongoing #RollingItForward initiative, to companies like Kia Canada, which donated a fleet of vehicles to deliver food to Canadians in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Not every brand is choosing to activate around the cause, adds Little. Some companies have made a philanthropic donation and aren’t “necessarily looking for a ton of recognition.”

The outpouring of support has even resulted in a number of significant CSR pivots with longstanding partners.

Last week, General Mills shifted Cheerios’ long-running Olympic platform to celebrate the heroism of food bank workers, using ad space originally intended for Olympic creative. In addition, the CPG co is donating $500,000 in cash and $600,000 in food products to Food Banks.

Similarly, Kraft Heinz has worked with the organization for six or seven years, having made $28 million in food donations to communities across Canada over the last three years alone.

Over the years, Little says Kraft Heinz has donated a combination of money, surplus goods and top-tier goods. It has also worked with the charity on cause marketing, employee engagement, and knowledge and skills transfer, she says. “It’s a deep partnership. It’s multifaceted. And this latest iteration is just them stepping up even deeper as a partner.”

This year, the CPG giant has redirected resources from its decade-old Project Play platform, in support of youth sports, towards Project Pantry, a new CSR initiative that includes donating one million meals and PPE for those working the frontlines of Canadian food banks, says Matt Bruce, senior brand manager at Kraft Heinz.

“With Food Banks Canada seeing an increase in food bank use as more Canadians experience financial hardship amid the virus-related closures, we knew we had to do our part to support Canadians during this time,” Bruce says. “So we started a conversation with [Food Banks] to see where they could use that support.”

Little says the brands having the most success are those who “are authentic in their values and have already made a pathway for showing up, giving back, being present and this is just an extension for them on what they’ve always done or what they continue to do.”

The sheer complexity of Foods Banks’ model and supply chain – the charity works with a network of organizations spanning 10 provincial associations and 653 food banks to provide support to 3,000 community agencies – means there are opportunities for brands to contribute at every operational level.

Last week, for example, Quebec charter airline Nolinor Aviation helped Foods Banks get food, water and personal hygiene equipment to residents in Iqaluit by giving it free access to one of its Boeing 737-200 aircrafts.

Since the pandemic began, individual food donations have dropped by 50%, says Little, making brand partnerships all the more important now and in the future. Food bank use has increased by 20% over the last seven weeks. During the 2008 financial crisis, use jumped 28% and, defying expectations, never came down.

To ensure a steady supply of support, well after the pandemic is over, Little says companies should feel comfortable reaching out and asking if their assets can be of any use, whatever they might be.

“Having the openness to do that creates opportunities for ideation and creativity and true and deep partnership,” she says, adding that Food Banks is a sophisticated organization that understands marketing and customer engagement, and helps partners tell their stories authentically. “At the end of the day, we want them to make good strategic investments that help us fulfill our mission.”