Sunday, October 26, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 8: Going Bi-Coastal

It was the Spring of 1987, one year after our Redlands kickoff in the Gerrards and Lucky stores, followed by a 12-store pilot project and the Lucky launch in Southern California which we were still installing and which would enable us to reach 187 supermarkets by the end of the summer. Calls and letters had been coming into our little office at 112 E. Olive from the time we first set up displays. One of our food industry advisors suggested that we contact a newly formed nonprofit organization made up of retired industry executives, the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger (FICAH). This group, for good or ill, will be intertwined with us in a common destiny, but we will have to wait a decade for that story to play out. The name they chose to fight world hunger should give a clue or two to their mentality. But they, like us, were responding to the growing global crisis of food insecurity. They were raising money to fund international projects run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I discovered that one of the retired executives in this food industry version of "old boys' network" lived in Southern California and had been CEO of Vons Grocery Company. When I met with Ken Olsen he listened patiently for a few minutes to our desire to get FICAH's endorsement and help in expanding our program, after which he informed me that he had his own idea for a Holiday fundraiser using coin boxes at the cash register under the FICAH banner, and he felt our program would be a distraction. He wasn't really open to considering working with us non-industry up-starts. But he didn't discourage me from going to their board meeting in Washington, DC in June. Since I had already wrangled an invitation I decided to go anyway.

But how?! We had not yet figured out how we were going to finance our operation. We had hoped that getting the retailers on board with FOOD FOR ALL would attract sponsors and funders in the vast food industry support system: the manufacturers, brokers, suppliers, advertisers, etc. Now we learned that we would be approaching the same companies that our FICAH friends were asking for donations. They were the "who's who" and we were the "who're you?" But this was nothing new to us. I had "friends in low places" (sorry Garth).

So I found myself again in the upstairs back office at Gerrards Cypress Center. "Paul, I am at a loss. We have an invitation to FICAH's board meeting. We need to get our idea in front of food manufacturing executives to get financial support for expansion. We are putting all the check stand donations into grants for fighting hunger. Any advice?"

Paul thought for a moment and then: "Let's give Bill Christy a call. He knows lots of people in the industry." Bill Christy was CEO of Certified Grocers of California, a large wholesaler supplying independent stores and small chains. Based on his friendship with Paul and his interest in our idea from the start, he agreed to write letters of introduction and make phone calls to executives he knew at General Mills in Minneapolis, Kraft Foods in Chicago, Kellogg's of Battle Creek, Michigan, and General Foods in New York. Paul then offered to pay my way on this cross country trip, up to a thousand dollars. In 1987 this would cover the entire trip. I got appointments with three out of the four industry leaders.

So, armed with my sample FOOD FOR ALL displays, letters of endorsement from everybody I thought would matter to these guys, and my one business suit worthy of making presentations, I headed east on Southwest Airlines, which became my airline of choice for the next decade. I was fortunate to have family, friends and colleagues all over the country, from my church and ICA days. My daughter lived in Minneapolis so I could bunk at her place while visiting the General Mills contact. Kitty Cole and the Myers, Sally and Kermit, in Chicago put me up on numerous occasions when in town for the big annual Food Marketing Institute conventions, and on this occasion, the meeting with Kraft Foods. I was on my own flying into Detroit for the drive to Battle Creek to meet the Kellogg folk. Neill Richards and his wife Jessie, who lived in New Jersey, would put me up many times on my east coast journeys.  Neill will play a most important role in keeping our program going in New York and New England.

General Mills Mpls


I made passionate pleas for support to these food industry giants on this trip. I came back with a feeling of failure, not a red cent pledged to advance our cause. It was not a total loss, but it would take a few years before their mild interest would produce fruit. The most illustrative story I have from that series of meetings was the one with Mr. William (Bill) Lamothe, CEO of Kellogg's of Battle Creek. I rented a car at the Detroit airport and made the two hour drive to Battle Creek, this delightful small town in middle America. I found the Kellogg's headquarters, a five story large red brick building right in the middle of Battle Creek. I entered a large atrium with an escalator running in front of me to the top floor. After identifying myself I was directed to the moving stairway, to be met at the top by the Vice President and head of the Kellogg's Foundation, a very pleasant and welcoming woman who greeted me warmly and escorted me to the executive suite of offices where she introduced me to Bill Lamothe, who impressed me as a slight man for an industry giant, and to the President of Kellogg's US.

Kellogg's of Battle Creek

The three of them sat with me for an hour and a half, asking questions about our program, its progress and our plans for the future. They seemed genuinely interested and trying to find a way that the company could be helpful to us. At one point, Mr. Lamothe made a pointed statement: "You know, if we really wanted to, we could put your FOOD FOR ALL cards into every one of our cereal boxes." That comment seemed to be his one thought about how they could help us, and it sort of hung in the air for a moment and then: ". . . not that we are going to do it." When it came time to end the meeting, Bill Lamothe, the CEO of Kellogg's of Battle Creek, said: "Wait a minute." He went to a cupboard at the side of the meeting room and pulled two boxes of cereal off the shelf. Handing them to me with an air of pride, he said: "These are two of our newest products we are introducing this year." He was giving me a gift. "This is the new Muesli." I did not blink an eye, although I was internally swallowing hard. "Thank you for these, and thank you for your interest in having me come to Battle Creek," was all I could muster. He then walked with me all the way down the long escalator right to the front door. As with the other companies, it would take a few years before this visit would bear fruit. But the irony of the meeting and the result did not escape me. Of the many chances to meet these "captains of industry" in the coming years, this story stands out in my memory.

By the time I got to Washington for the meeting with the FICAH board, I was a thoroughly humble nonprofit executive. And having my expectations lowered also meant I had nothing to lose. So I was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception I was given by FICAH's executive director, who was actually a guy with years of experience in the NGO world internationally. I was also welcomed and encouraged by the board officers, especially their president Dick Katzenbach, a retired CEO of Fleming Foods. Dick and I would maintain a cordial correspondence for the next decade. I was assured that FICAH had interest only in supporting international self-help projects, but warned that board member Ken Olsen was committed to spreading his Holiday coin box project, which might make it more difficult for our fledgling program.

National Mall

The FICAH board meeting was being held at the same time and location as a newly formed coalition of non-governmental organizations, such as World Vision, Save the Children, Freedom From Hunger, and many others. It's name was INTERACTION, and was headed by Peter Davies, formerly President of Freedom from Hunger. I was fortunate to get introduced to heads of many major nonprofits involved in anti-hunger efforts, and since FOOD FOR ALL's mission was to support these efforts through grants, they were all interested in what we were doing.

At the end of this week-long cross-country "junket" I was wondering if I had calculated all the obstacles that would possibly arise and whether we could muster the resources to meet them. As I was spending my last couple of days walking around the Capitol mall, soaking up what I could of our nation's history, I wondered just how they did it, the founding fathers (and mothers--don't forget Abigail Adams and Martha Washington). They encountered far more resistance than we had. What kept them going? And they were building an entire new country! We were just trying to get a couple of industries to adopt a new idea: the food industry and the anti-hunger industry, and, though it's a stretch to say industry, supermarket shoppers across the country.

I happened to remember that one of the letters we had received when the first test of FOOD FOR ALL was publicized in Supermarket News, almost a year before, was from a grocery chain in New England. I called the office to get the address and phone number, thinking I might as well at least touch base while on this side of the continent. The letter was signed by Daniel J. Lescoe, Vice President, Marketing of Waldbaum's Food Mart, Springfield, Massachusetts. I dialed the number and asked for Mr. Lescoe.

"This is Dan Lescoe."

Hi, Mr. Lescoe, this is Milan Hamilton of FOOD FOR ALL." (That was as far as I got).

"What took you so long. We've been ready to go with your program for a year now."

I had been in Springfield, Mass in the seventies when I was with the ICA and working for Monarch Life, whose home office is there. But I was in Washington. So Mr. Lescoe suggested that we meet for lunch the next day in Hartford, Connecticut. "There is an express train to New York and you can catch a commuter train and be in Hartford by Noon. I'll meet you at Frank's Italian Restaurant, just a couple of blocks from the station." That was an invitation I could not refuse.

Franks of Hartford

Somehow I made it to Hartford in time, found the restaurant, and during an hour and a half meeting, on a lunch napkin, planned the launch of FOOD FOR ALL in all 36 Waldbaum's Food Mart stores along the I-95 corridor, from Greenfield, Mass to New Haven, Connecticut, including all the logistics: racks, installation, employee orientation, advertising, and whatever else I thought was needed. Every time I brought up an issue that sounded to me like a potential hindrance to success, Dan would respond with "Don't worry about that. I'll handle it." That included any costs involved. And the wonder of it was, I believed him. We planned to introduce FOOD FOR ALL for the 1987 Holiday season, kicking off Thanksgiving week. This gave us a few months to make all the contacts in the local nonprofit world. Should be easy.

I returned to what was now the national headquarters of FOOD FOR ALL, Inc. with no money, no clue how we were going to finance a bi-coastal program, no firm commitments for food manufacturer sponsorship. But strangely, I felt a little like Rocky dancing on the steps. I had been in the inner sanctums of some of the leaders of the food industry. I had stood in our nation's capitol gathering courage for what lay ahead. I had been to New England, the cradle of liberty. I had almost the same feeling as in 1978 completing all of those Maine Town Meetings, a part of the massive volunteer bicentennial project the ICA conducted. After all, we now had more than 200 supermarkets participating, on both ends of the country. And No One had as yet come right out and said to us: "This is a crazy idea. It won't work."

But we have our work cut out for us.

Monday, October 6, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 7: The First $100,000 is the Hardest!

So many pieces had to come together. We needed staff to handle the accounting for donations as they came in from companies and stores. We needed funds to hire office staff. We needed office space and equipment. We needed to continue reaching more supermarkets. We needed help in promoting the FOOD FOR ALL program.

What we had was a committed group of volunteers, including our Board of Directors, now numbering seven. Mayor Carol Beswick and Darryl Brock, Executive Director of Survive Food Bank in Riverside, were captivated by our vision of FOOD FOR ALL in every supermarket. They joined our Board in the Spring of 1987. Our growing Food Industry Advisory Board of influential grocers included, besides Paul Gerrard, Bob Inadomi of JonSons Markets in Los Angeles, and Bill Christy, CEO of Certified Grocers of California, a large wholesale grocer. Both Bob and Bill would become important members of our Board of Directors as we expanded the program.

JonSons Mkt kickoff

Steve Soto, Bob Inadomi, Bill Christy, Milan Hamilton

Our Funds Distribution Advisory Board, headed by our founding board member Georgianna McBurney, was a key element in developing our policies and procedures for making grants to impact the hunger issue, locally and internationally.


Funds Distribution Advisory Board

The fledgling Public Relations Advisory Board of marketing and PR professionals and a few politicians gave us valuable guidance in how to best promote the program. But it was the grassroots volunteers, customers and store employees, anti-hunger activists and churches, who made it all work.

Store Volunteers 1   Store Volunteers 2

Because of Linda, my, and Georgianna's years of training with the ICA in methods of participation and community development, we were able to come up with a system of volunteer recruitment and training. This would generate hundreds of committed people willing to work toward common goals: The link between the supermarkets and the local agencies that would be the recipients of grants to help alleviate hunger. Our volunteer "Store Ambassadors" took on the job of educating employees and customers about the need and how their donations were helping. They helped maintain the displays and periodically would get permission to hold a promotion at "their store." Our trained Local Grants Advisory Boards (LGABs) reviewed grant applications from local agencies, conducted site visits regularly, and made recommendations to the FOOD FOR ALL Board for grants. There were ultimately about ten of these in Southern California alone, with anywhere from three to ten volunteers on each one.

We were fortunate that FOOD FOR ALL received quite a lot of recognition from the media within and outside the food industry from the start. This was probably a blessing and a curse. We were getting calls and letters of interest from as far away as Connecticut while we were still trying to establish the program in Southern California. Board member Redlands mayor Carole Beswick attracted the interest of Paul Newman who agreed to be our national spokesman before we even were national. So though his involvement gave us a shot of adrenalin and he raised about $10,000 through a letter to his friends, his involvement ended soon after when he realized we were not quite ready to "go big."

Paul Newman June 87   Paul Newman Letter May 87

By the end of September of 1987, just one year after completing our two-store test, donations had surpassed $100,000, we had completed the installation of FOOD FOR ALL in 180 Lucky stores in Southern California and Las Vegas, JonSons Markets in East LA, beginning tests in three Hughes Markets in Pasadena, and a dozen independent grocers scattered throughout the region. Grants of more than $50,000 had already been allocated to local hunger relief agencies, plus three international projects: An experimental agricultural project in Puerto Rico, a Meals for Millions (now Freedom From Hunger) program in Honduras, and Heifer Project in the Dominican Republic.

We were now in a one-room donated office at 112 E. Olive, which would grow into FOOD FOR ALL's national headquarters, thanks to the generosity of local CPA Charles Ziilch. We had somehow managed to hire two part-time staff, Jenny Foster and Norma Stumreiter. We were trying to figure how to allow Linda to quit her day job at the University of Redlands and I believe this happened during this period as well, due to a generous grant of $10,000 from World Vision, made possible by a meeting set up by Stan Matson, a development officer at the University. Things just seemed to be falling in place for this "idea whose time had come."

FFA Hub 1     FFA  2

Jenny Foster and Linda Hamilton

Now we had a six month salary for Linda to devote full-time to managing a growing volunteer and grant program. I was still a full-time volunteer. In lieu of paying me I was elected President. Our Board of Directors now numbered eight, having added Bob Inadomi of JonSons Markets and Scott Reynolds, the Redlands attorney who did our original incorporation and by-laws pro-bono.

We were ready to go for major food industry support and expand the program to other regions of the US. We were also advised by our food industry supporters to seek the endorsement of a newly formed organization of industry executives, the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger (FICAH) and the lobbying arm of the grocers, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). They were in Washington, DC. I was trying to figure out how to get to their meeting. There were also several major food manufacturers we needed to get in front of to try to gain their sponsorship. But they were in the Midwest and the east coast.

It was time to get advice and help. So I headed for Gerrards Market, asked if Paul was in, and trudged up the steps to his office.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 6: We Are Lucky!

New Year 1987 was a celebration of a successful eight month test of our "supermarket check stand customer donation program to help end hunger." It takes a while for a grassroots group of neophytes at marketing and advertising to get a concise message, but that is what was required if we were to make this work. "Simple, elegant, compelling" header cards for displays and colorful donation cards with the entire FOOD FOR ALL story on the back. We decided against the usual photos of a hungry child that characterized most appeals for donations. That is also why we spent two years in research and preparation for a public education program that involved conducting "hunger forums" all over southern California, followed by building a network of volunteers who would determine how local grants were given out and who would educate customers and employees about the hunger issue, and how giving a FOOD FOR ALL donation each time they bought groceries would help.

Lucky Redlands 86


FOOD FOR ALL at Loma Linda Market

FOOD FOR ALL had been nursed through its infancy in Redlands during the latter part of '86 to twelve supermarkets by the end of the year, raising $18,000. During this time, in addition to traveling around in our 1970 VW bus, loaded with metal racks and our supply of donation cards, I made several stops at Lucky Stores Southern California headquarters in Buena Park, getting acquainted with just how supermarkets operated, in anticipation of Lucky taking on our program chain-wide. Dick Fredericksen, VP of Marketing, introduced me to Karen Sturgeon, Director of Advertising, who reported to Dick, and Nancy Chandler, Public Relations Director, who reported to Karen. Dick was a typical marketing executive, an idea man who was always coming up with great promotions for the company to execute. Karen was a "show me" person, and "by the way who is going to pay for this?" Nancy Chandler, ah yes, dear Nancy: She was someone who quietly went about her work getting things done, cajoling anyone who needed cajoling, figuring out ahead of time who needed to be convinced of the rightness of her cause, and going around whomever needed to be gone around. Nancy was responsible for Lucky's charitable giving. Nancy got FOOD FOR ALL. Nancy got me!

When the time was right, sometime in January of 1987 I believe it was, Nancy and I devised a plan for "rolling out" FOOD FOR ALL in all approximately 170 Lucky Stores in southern California, a district at a time, LA County first, then Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside,San Diego; and finally the outlying stores in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern and Tulare. This would take some time. We only had one merchandiser to set up all these displays at the time: Me! and my trusty '70 VW bus with the middle seat removed.

The issue of how to get all the printed cards and display headers we needed was solved also by Nancy. Lucky's advertising department would print them. When Karen finally agreed to Nancy's request, she said: "Send them an invoice for the job." This was not to be the first time Nancy went to Karen and every time I would ask her "What shall we do about this invoice we got from your advertising department?" Nancy would give me a pat on the hand and smile and say "Let me worry about that."

One more minor hurdle we had to get over, I discovered, was "Operations." Don Pratt, Vice President of Operations, like Dick Fredericksen, reported to the President. We had to work with all the Lucky District Managers and Store Managers in order to actually install displays at their check stands. I overheard a remark by Don Pratt in the hallway of Lucky headquarters after a meeting with Nancy, Karen and Dick one day, Don speaking to one of his operations guys: "So what's tricky Dick up to now." Nancy couldn't help me with this one. Although everyone loved Nancy, we were going to have to win this one with a lot of hard work and bending over backwards to not make store managers' jobs any harder than they already were.

The time finally came for the "Lucky Launch." April 6, 1987. The plan was ready. The cards were printed. My VW bus was gassed up. The word was out to the District Managers to prepare their store managers for our coming. Nancy was ready with her PR plan. I forgot to mention a couple of other reasons Nancy was our champion. Nancy was a good friend of Stephanie Edwards, Lucky's TV spokesperson in those days. And Nancy's son Bill was Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's chief of staff. One day as we were discussing the coming kickoff in Lucky Stores, after I had already put up displays in many of the LA stores, Nancy said: "Why don't I give Bill a call and see if he can help us?" It happened that the Mayor was in town and it was a good time for him to hold a press conference. The media had some questions they were dying to get to him about. So Bill scheduled a press conference with the primary purpose of announcing the introduction of FOOD FOR ALL in Los Angeles.

The day came, April 6. We showed up at City Hall and were surprised and delighted to find the press room packed with every newspaper and TV outlet in Los Angeles. Paul Gerrard, Bob Inadomi of JonSons Markets, and of course Dick Fredericksen of Lucky were there. Bill Chandler had done his job. Mayor Bradley did his job, which he was good at. He introduced Linda and me as founders of FOOD FOR ALL. We gave our little spiel, profusely thanking the mayor, Lucky, and the other supermarket owners, and then the press got their opportunity to ask the mayor about what they came for, which was not FOOD FOR ALL. Nevertheless, FOOD FOR ALL became the day's story on the 6 o'clock news on all channels.

LA Mayor Press Conf

Now all we had to do was get FOOD FOR ALL displays up in all 170 Lucky Stores, four more JonSons Markets, and a handful of independent grocery stores. Lucky was pushing us to move as fast as possible to take advantage of the chain-wide advertising and promotion they wanted to do.

Lucky Launch Message

Lucky 66 April 9, 87We still had just one merchandiser--Me, and my '70 VW bus. And we still had no operating funds. Linda was still working full time at the University of Redlands. I was the only full time volunteer. We were still operating out of our town house living room. We needed HELP!