A celebration of corporate kindness

How companies like Labatt, Vans, Knix and Endy are easing feelings of isolation through solidarity.

In this together
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of strategy.

Did you know that the “caremongering” trend – an online movement where people do good deeds for thy neighbour during the pandemic – began in Canada? And that our very own Telus is ranked #1 on DidTheyHelp.com, a global viral site that lists corporations and public figures in “hero” and “zero” leaderboards, based on how they’ve acted during the crisis? (Loblaw is tied with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo at #4 on the site run by a worldwide team of editors.)

We’re a nation of givers, with a culture of kindness. And we expect nothing more from the brands we buy. In fact, Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports 90% of people want them to do everything in their power to put people ahead of profits. Here’s how some Canadian companies are doing just that.

Labatt Breweries of Canada-Labatt Breweries of Canada Shift ProdMobilizing supplies

We’re in a war with coronavirus. Frontline workers are our troops and, much like wars of the 20th century, the mobilization of a defense system allows us to plan for the ultimate surprise attack – a vaccine.

It didn’t take long for businesses and individuals to rush in when governments put out calls to produce medical equipment and PPE for Canada’s battle against the virus. In Ontario alone, between March 21 and April 11, more than 14,000 manufacturers and entrepreneurs offered to build new or retool facilities to create critical supplies.

Over the last two months, we saw fashion brands – from small to more established players with manufacturing facilities in Canada such as Frank & Oak and Harry Rosen – sewing face masks out of discarded materials, like shirts and ties. Some apparel brands manufactured and sourced surgical gowns, including Arc’teryx (promising 30,000 coveralls in B.C.), Canada Goose (10,000 scrubs in Toronto and Winnipeg) and Stanfield’s (a whopping 2.6 million gowns in Nova Scotia and across Canada).

CCM hoodsIntimate clothing brand Knix, on the other hand, looked to get PPE into hospitals, stat. Instead of finding or reorganizing supply chains through the government, which would have taken additional time, Knix rallied Canadians to help raise funds for the ordering of masks, gowns and gloves to be delivered directly to hospitals through its own suppliers. In just four weeks, the brand raised $210,000 through GoFundMe. Jaguar Land Rover Canada took a similar route, asking Canadians to donate any of their unused supplies to “#ThePPEDrive.” The brand dispatched teams to collect the goods, driving them directly to hospitals in a fleet of Land Rovers.

Spinmaster and CCM are making face shields, with the game developer repurposing headbands from its popular Headbanz board game and donating 200,000 to healthcare workers. The sports equipment company created 500,000 “full head protective hoods” and is inviting manufacturers to access its open source assembly instructions to speed up production.

And finally, hand sanitizer was developed and packaged in retooled factories of L’Oreal Canada, alongside La Roche-Posay as part of its “Coronavirus Solidarity Plan.” Labatt Breweries, J.P. Wiser’s and Spirit of York also joined the likes of brewers and distillers that pivoted manufacturing to feed a diminished supply of the virus-killing gel.

Banding Together

Nothing brings rivals together like a pandemic.

“The priorities in business have been clearly established when Coke and Pepsi come together for a greater cause,” said Ron Tite, founder of Church+State in a LinkedIn post about the conglomerates standing together – their logos an inch apart on an image for the “Great American Takeout” campaign to support the restaurant industry.

“Their rivalry may run deep but their support of the greater good runs deeper.”

Here in Canada, competitors are also saving themselves by saving each other. In April, a coalition of Quebec brands, 19 in total, chose collaboration over competition to build a movement around “buying local.”

Led by Lg2, the network of cross-category brands, from Aliments du Québec and Boréale to Ricardo Media and Producteurs de lait du Québec pooled their marketing dollars to create a campaign that highlighted local companies. In ads, Quebeckers were encouraged by a business owner to purchase products of another, creating a chain of entrepreneurs supporting each other.

Knix and Pizza Pizza
Strange brand-fellows have also been working arm-in-arm to either deliver essential goods to those who need or to keep their employees safe.

Pizza Pizza delivery vans were seen toting boxes of protective gear from Knix to shelters across cities. Toilet paper and tissue products (both victims of panic buying) from Kruger brands Cashmere, Purex, SpongeTowels and Scotties were escorted to hospitals in Mercedes-Benz cars. And finally, Harvey’s partnered with Bauer to rig payment terminals with its hockey sticks so that the QSR’s drive-thru workers could practice physical distancing.

Thanking Heroes

While many are fortunate to be able to hunker down in their homes all day, essential workers – a.k.a heroes – go outside and work long, difficult and dangerous hours in hospitals, stores and streets. They deserve all the donations, discounts and deliveries companies can give.

EndyWhen Endy discovered that medical workers were sleeping on stretchers and in overfilled on-call rooms, the bed-in-a-box brand came to the rescue with mattresses, pillows and protectors. Endy donated its products to ICU and CCU staff so they get proper rest during breaks while dealing with an influx of cases in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Sleep Country donated $1.5 million worth of mattresses and bedding to at-risk and vulnerable communities and shelters impacted by the pandemic.

Essential workers are on their feet all day, so, naturally, shoe brands stepped in with donations of their own. Vessi, Dr. Scholl’s, Ardene and Allbirds were among the many footwear donors. Some even donated shoes to frontline workers when shoppers purchased a pair for themselves.

Making essential workers’ lives easier outside hospitals has also been a focus for several brands and retailers. Larger fast food chains like Nando’s, Earls, Tim Hortons and Paramount are discounting food or handing out free coffee and meals for hospital staff. Grocery runs were also made easier for those on the frontline and for at-risk Canadians, with retailers creating dedicated shopping hours for their safety and convenience.

Essential workers on highways need help just as much as those in hospitals. Some truck drivers cook in their vehicles, but with food in shorter supply on shelves, many rely on QSRs at truck stops for sustenance. However, with physical distancing forcing restaurants to close their doors, drive-thru is the only option. Recognizing that large commercial vehicles can’t fit in those narrow pick-up spots, McDonald’s created a dedicated curbside area (parking spot #99), where its crew brings food directly to drivers, so that no essential worker is left hungry.

Rally for Resto Stella2Buying Local

The movement to support small businesses is not new. However, it’s never been more crucial or evident than during the crisis.

Every big business was once a small business. Take Vans. The Van Doren brothers opened their first store over 50 years ago. Now their brand is a global skateboard shoe mecca. Having been on the other side, the Vans family decided to “Foot The Bill” for its small business partners. It’s giving back to local skate shops, restaurants, art galleries and music venues, by donating the proceeds from the sale of custom Vans to help keep them afloat during the pandemic.

Other big brands like Stella Artois, London Drugs and Greenhouse are also pitching in. The Labatt-owned beer brand joined a growing movement where people are asked to exchange cash now for goods later. Its “Rally for Restaurants” platform asks Canadians to buy a $25 or $50 gift card to local restaurants or bars, which they can redeem when doors open once again.

Vans2London Drugs is transforming centre store aisles into “Local Central” spaces dedicated to small businesses that apply. Similarly, juice company Greenhouse is partnering with food brands for its “Plant Pantry,” a shoppable collection of locally sourced goods from companies that previously also supplied to now-closed restaurants, like Fresh City Farms, Mabel Bakeries, Pluck and Terroni. The items are delivered to homes the next day, bringing cash flow to businesses and food to pantries that may be a little bare thanks to panic buying.