Saturday, December 27, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 12: California Dreaming

I never thought of myself as a merchandiser. In fact, I didn’t know the first thing about what went on at supermarket check stands, except you put your grocery items on the belt and the checker rang them up and put them in your bag. As I began to learn about all the products that were placed in view of customers right there at the ‘point of sale’ and tried to design a display rack that would fit in to each setting, I realized that somebody had to install them and maintain them. That is the job of the merchandiser, either store employees or someone from outside paid by a food distributor.

Waldbaum's 87

I also discovered that the space at the check stand is the most expensive and sought after spot in a supermarket and we were asking retailers to give us that real estate gratis. But we had no budget to hire people to do the installation and maintenance of our displays. And I soon discovered that store employees had lots of tasks to occupy their attention. It was not going to be realistic to expect them to take care of re-stocking our FOOD FOR ALL cards. We had to devise a way to support our program. This was my job and apparently no one else was going to take it on--the ultimate on-the-job training program.

FFA Office MH

Not that I was unwilling. I had designed the very first displays, clunky heavy metal jobs with adjustable brackets to fit on top of the magazine and candy racks. The cards had dye cut oblong holes that hung on removable metal pegs. The racks cost us about seven dollars each, which is fine when we had about a dozen supermarkets involved. But now we were faced with supplying a few hundred supermarkets with an average of 10 check stands. Fortunately I had acquired some friends in the industry who helped design some more appropriate racks which were attractive and also cheaper. And we were hoping that retailers would step up and manufacture their own racks to hold our cards. I don’t remember who came up with the ingenious idea to make a simple white-coated wire with three pegs that could be attached with two metal screws to a magazine rack, but he was a genius in my book. Then the cards only needed a small hole drilled in the top center of the cards and they would hang just as easily as our old cards. That meant we had to have all new cards printed. We hadn’t paid Lucky Stores for the last million cards that their billing department kept sending us invoices for.

With this as our credential, we charged ahead with expansion plans. What was in our favor, at the beginning of our fiscal year 1989-90, was a phenomenon that would impact our future, for good and ill, called “mergers and acquisitions,” a trend in the food industry that would be accelerating in the coming years. Lucky Stores was in the process of being acquired by American Stores, Inc., based in Salt Lake City, which had already acquired the Alpha Beta chain in Southern California. We approached Alpha Beta at the very beginning of our test program and were placed “under consideration,” as we were by other retailers, including Stater Bros., Vons, Ralphs, Albertson’s, etc. Now, due to some unfathomable twist of fate, we got the go-ahead from Alpha Beta to install FOOD FOR ALL in their 160 stores in Southern California, followed soon after by Lucky Stores Northern California Division’s 153 supermarkets (we had actually clandestinely got their 7 San Leandro stores to test the program in preparation for this expansion).

I already mentioned that I was not a merchandiser. So I wondered, “How were we to install our displays in another 400 supermarkets by Christmas 1989?” To our good fortune, Mike Mathers, an Alpha Beta executive, stepped up to the plate and arranged for the printing of a million FOOD FOR ALL cards, manufacturing of racks, and installing displays in all of their stores. Not that we were off the hook. We had to arrange for the packing of 160 boxes with all the displays and cards to be picked up and distributed to their stores. So we just recruited about 20 volunteers, asked my Mentone Congregational Church if we could use the church building, and one Saturday packed up all the boxes to be picked up and delivered. We were now operational in another 160 stores.

FFT 89 Aug 1 (2)   Lucky North Adopts FFA

The installation of the program in 153 northern California Lucky Stores was not so easy. As I mentioned earlier, I was not a merchandiser. Nevertheless, I found myself in my 1970 VW bus, loaded with displays and FOOD FOR ALL cards, driving the I-5 to northern California, personally installing displays and FOOD FOR ALL cards in Lucky Stores, sometimes in the middle of the night (many supermarkets were open 24 hours). I loved it! San Francisco was my “home turf.” I “left my heart in San Francisco” many years before. My VW bus made it through many merchandising trips during this and the coming years. I was still a full time volunteer, but I had no complaints.


Don’t get me wrong. While I was having all this fun, our people were working too. Linda was writing grants and recruiting and training volunteers to sustain the grassroots programs that undergirded our program expansion. Diane Adams, our Coordinator of Volunteers was pulling off a World Food Day event involving 2000 volunteers at our participating supermarkets. Pepsi and Louis Rich supported the promotion, as well as several California radio stations. In New England, Walbaum’s Foot Mart continued its support by giving all proceeds from their annual food show to FOOD FOR ALL, and involving their employees in promotions. We were able to keep the program alive with a part time staff person and donated office space in Hartford.

By the end of our fiscal year in June of 1989-90, 650 supermarkets were participating; grants to anti-hunger agencies surpassed $1 million; there were 26 local grant committees; hundreds of local organizations, and 14 international projects were grant recipients. Ten Consensus for Action Think Tanks on Hunger were held (of the 40 over three years), resulting in new strategies to address hunger.

Five food manufacturing companies had come forward in support of the FOOD FOR ALL program. Most notable of these was Hunt-Wesson, due to the connection with Frank Quevedo, Director of Corporate Relations, who would become a significant member of our Board of Directors and a good friend in the coming years.

At the fourth annual meeting of FOOD FOR ALL, attended by 35 persons, the stage was set for a major effort to reach out to the food industry and the public. This was followed by a January 1990 planning retreat of our Board of Directors and advisors, at which a campaign was announced to extend FOOD FOR ALL to all retailers in Southern California. This was to include the media, celebrity endorsements, and grassroots education.

During the fiscal year 1989-90, our Board of Directors was increased to 12 members, including Beverly Archer, actress, and John Benner, Senior Vice President of Lucky Stores, who is to become a trusted friend and eventually Chairman of our Board of Directors. Others from the food industry are Lynda Trelut of Nob Hill Foods, Bill Christy of Certified Grocers, Dan Lescoe of Waldbaum’s Food Mart, and Bob Inadomi of JonSons Markets. Neill Richards, an original supporter and member of our Funds Distribution Advisory Board, as well as Director of Hunger Programs of the United Church of Christ, also joined our Board.

The Food Industry Advisory Board of nine added Frank Quevedo of Hunt-Wesson; our Funds Distribution Advisory Board grew to 13, and the Public Relations Advisory board had 11 members.

FOOD FOR ALL staff held at eight (again, plus yours truly, still a full-time volunteer). Our most notable staff addition during the year was Lisa Dewey, a young and enthusiastic woman who came to us because she wanted to make a difference. Lisa was hired to coordinate our newly conceived supermarket employee involvement program and Southern California store expansion effort. This was one of those initiatives that took longer to bear fruit than we anticipated. Lisa left us after a year to go on to a successful teaching career, but many of the connections she made produced results in the form of supermarket employees who became Store Ambassadors and chairs of Local Grant committees for several years to come. We remain close friends with Lisa and her husband to this day. This has been one of the side benefits of the thirteen years of our involvement in FOOD FOR ALL, that we have maintained these friendships through the years.

Lisa Dewey

So a good deal of my time during our fiscal year 1989-90 was devoted to learning the merchandising trade: many hours, days, and weeks on the road in my trusty 1970 VW bus, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of a rainstorm, once in the middle of a snowstorm, driving from supermarket to supermarket, with just my Thomas Bros. map book (we did not have GPS or cell phones). Arriving at a store, checking in with the store manager, working around the checkers and customers, beginning to install a display only to be told “you need to move to another aisle—we need to open this lane.” This was all part of the on-the-job training experience of a FOOD FOR ALL merchandiser.

FFA MH Merch (3)

The learning did not stop with installation and maintenance. When one of our store ambassadors would call with a frantic “All the FOOD FOR ALL displays are gone,” we discovered that supermarket chains had a schedule of total replacement of front ends. When this happened, store managers were notified, a crew arrived in the night and replaced everything—except the FOOD FOR ALL displays. After a couple of years we became adept at keeping in closer touch with store operations personnel, to try to get there in time to salvage our precious donation cards.

FFA MH Merch (2)

Another lesson we learned early in the year: The Alpha Beta rack designer came up with his own idea—a ‘spinner’ rack with our cards hanging on rotating hooks. The trouble was that many stores’ check stands were very close to the front entrances with sliding doors. On windy days we would often find our cards ‘spinning’ right off the racks. Then employees would solve the problem by wrapping a plastic grocery bag around the cards. Problem solved—theirs, not ours.

Thankfully, while I was learning to be a merchandiser, I had people who were continuing to build the support systems for the next phase of FOOD FOR ALL. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 12, 2014

FOOD FOR ALL ERA 11: Going North

We were young. We were bold. We were enthusiastic.  We were filled with conviction that the world needed FOOD FOR ALL. We were also perhaps a little crazy. But slowing down was not in our DNA. I believe it was at a California Grocers Convention in the Spring of 1988 that I met Lynda Trelut, this attractive young woman with the silvery hair, who happened to be Vice President of CGA and also VP of marketing in her family-owned supermarket chain, Nob Hill Foods, based in Gilroy, the “garlic capital of the world.” Lynda agreed to join our Food Industry Advisory Board and also to convince her brother, the President of Nob Hill, and the rest of her family, to take on this upstart anti-hunger program. This put us in 22 more stores scattered throughout the east and south San Francisco Bay Area, and allowed us to pick up eight more independents in the same region.

FFA Farewell 6 (2)   FFA 88-89 Annl Report 9 (3)

Fifty-three new supermarkets were added to the FOOD FOR ALL family of retail stores committed to making an impact on hunger during our fiscal year 1988-89. In addition to Nob Hill Foods, Lucky added their 16 Las Vegas stores and we installed displays in 15 more independent markets. This made possible grants of over $392,000 to several hundred more local and international programs to fight hunger during the year.

FFA 88-89 Annl Report 12 (2)   FFA 88-89 Annl Report 11 (2)

Promotional help from Nob Hill Foods at all of their stores as they introduced FOOD FOR ALL to their employees and customers through a matching contributions promotion in a kickoff week of November 1988, along with Lucky Stores teaming with KABC Los Angeles at Thanksgiving and KXTZ Las Vegas for a February Nevada kickoff, and Waldbaum’s Food Mart’s contest for employees and donating all the proceeds from their annual Hartford food and nutrition show in March ’89, kept FOOD FOR ALL in front of customers’ minds and hearts, and donations continuing to grow for local and international anti-hunger efforts.

NoCal Nob Hill Foods   Waldbaum's Food Show

The Food Industry Advisory Board added several new members. In addition to Bill Christy of Certified Grocers, Lynda Trelut of Nob Hill Foods, and Dan Lescoe of Waldbaum’s Food Mart, Bill Yingling, President of Lucky Stores Southern California agreed to join. Bill was the guy who almost kicked us out of their stores after the initial two-store test in 1986, and now became one of our enthusiastic cheerleaders.

Another important addition to our structure was the formation of a Public Relations Advisory Board, made up of persons from advertising, food industry marketing people, a handful of politicians, and media folk. This allowed us to go to busy people for help when we needed it, but not have to ask them to serve on another time-consuming board. Karen Sturgeon and Bonnie Lewis of Lucky, Mayors Carole Beswick of Redlands and Susan Hammer of San Jose, Congressmen Jerry Lewis and George Brown, and Beverly Archer, an actress who had become acquainted with FOOD FOR ALL at the South Pasadena store where she shopped, and joined our San Gabriel Valley Local Grant board. Beverly will be familiar to those who watched the syndicated Mama’s Family TV show, and as the tough sergeant “Gunny” on Major Dad. She will go on to serve on our Board of Directors for a couple of years and do a TV spot for us, as well as convince Vicky Lawrence, Mama of Mama’s Family, to sit for a spot promoting FOOD FOR ALL . . .

Beverly Archer TV Spot

Beverly Archer with TV production crew and FOOD FOR ALL founders and Scott Christiansen, FFA PR Director 2nd from right.

Our staff grew to eight during this fiscal year (plus yours truly as full-time volunteer), and included a much needed Director of Funds Distribution, as well as a New England Regional Director. Sing Baker, a highly skilled local housewife with a degree in Social Work, who wanted to get back into the workforce, took on our grant programs with a loving dedication which left an indelible mark on our young organization. Diane Adams moved from volunteer to staff as Coordinator of Volunteers.

FFT 89 Aug 5 (2)      Sing Baker

Of all the challenges of growing an organization, none proved more difficult than growing the staff. I consider us lucky in that respect. It is so easy to make poor hiring decisions and it is so clear in hindsight that you have made them. We were fortunate that the right people appeared, it seemed, at just the right time. I remember all the wrong decisions as for the most part mine. Not that things could have worked out differently than they did, but acting more quickly might have lessened some of the self-inflicted pain we were to endure. But that is for a later chapter of the FOOD FOR ALL story. For now I will share only the lesson learned by quoting some management guru whose name escapes me: “Hire slowly and fire quickly!”

It was during the fiscal year ending with June 1989 that FOOD FOR ALL established its identity as a force for bringing together new resources and directing them toward addressing causes as well as effects of hunger. Here is the mission statement that guided us:

“FOOD FOR ALL is a nonprofit public benefit corporation committed to ending hunger. Its primary purposes are to generate and distribute new resources for effective programs addressing the crises, the effects, and the causes of hunger; increase grassroots involvement in efforts to end hunger; and encourage new strategies to empower the movement toward a hunger-free society and world.”

FFA 88-89 Annl Report 5 (2)   FFA 88-89 Annl Report 6 (2)

We were positioning FOOD FOR ALL to gain the support needed from the food industry to make buying ‘food for all’ a part of everyone’s food buying habit. Yet to date only three food manufacturers had stepped forward in support of expanding the program. In the President’s Message from our annual report I tried to make the case:

“Almost everyone agrees that FOOD FOR ALL’s potential is unlimited, but we have a huge job ahead of us in developing greater public awareness and in enlisting the support of the entire food industry. This is going to take every one of us going out of our way to talk to friends and neighbors, writing letters, speaking to groups, and committing ourselves to buying a FOOD FOR ALL card every week! And most importantly, we must all be thinking together about what is needed in this country to ultimately eradicate hunger.”

We were growing in many ways during 1988-89. It was in large part the result of careful and thoughtful planning, as well as the good fortune to be riding a wave of public interest in the issue of hunger. Linda and I having spent 10 years on the staff of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), where we learned most of the methods for building a grassroots volunteer organization, gave us the tools and the courage we needed to even think about growing FOOD FOR ALL into a nationwide program. Georgianna McBurney, who had been a volunteer with the ICA during the same years as we were on staff, headed up our Funds Distribution Advisory Board and helped develop our Think Tanks on Hunger. John Oyler, a long-time staff member of ICA who had worked for many years in international village development projects, joined that board and gave many hours, along with other ICA staff members, in facilitating these Think Tanks, which were part of what came to be known as our Consensus for Action program.

FFA FDAB-2   FFT 89 Aug 4 (2)

Above Left: Georgianna McBurney on lower right with Funds Distribution Advisory Board members Darryl Brock, Mike Hayes, Gianna Hochstein, Neill Richards, Aaron Zerah, Jean Faria Walker.  Above Right: John Oyler of the ICA facilitating a Think Tank on hunger.

During this fiscal year 10 of these events were held in Southern California and a number of volunteers were trained in methods to build consensus so that they could be more effective in helping develop long range strategies for addressing the hunger issue. By the end of June 1989 there were thirteen active local grant boards in Southern California, three in Northern California, and three in New England.

An important component of our volunteer program was the engagement of customers and store employees in educating and motivating the food buying public. Our “Adopt-A-Store” program and Speakers’ Bureau brought many more individuals to an awareness that they could do something about a big problem just by remembering to include a FOOD FOR ALL card with their grocery purchases.

FFA 88-89 Annl Report 13 (2)   FFA 88-89 Annl Report 10 (3)

Helen Anderson, an early FOOD FOR ALL Adopter

A simple presentation was developed that could be given at churches, service clubs and other group settings, composed of a set of boxes that showed what made for living a productive life. The bottom tier of boxes were food, shelter, transportation, and a job. The presenter then demonstrated what happens when one or more of the boxes was removed. If a job is lost, for example, soon it may be more difficult to pay for housing. This may also mean health insurance goes away. One serious illness may take away the family’s ability to pay for housing. Then the family can no longer afford to buy food. It didn’t take long for group members to see that the issue of hunger was much more complex than they had thought, and how anyone could find themselves in the same situation.

FFA 88-89 Annl Report 8 (2)   FFA 88-89 Annl Report 7 (2)

Diane Adams, Coordinator of Volunteers, Making a Presentation

FOOD FOR ALL was poised for a major expansion in California by the fall of 1989. All of our internal support structures were in place. We were gaining momentum. Shoppers were responding. There was increasing interest among retail grocers. Our small but growing army of volunteers, now numbering in the hundreds, gave us confidence.

We still had to break through the wall of resistance of the massive and complex food industry, which had not as yet recognized the value of a united effort to address hunger, nor were we certain it ever would. The competition for profits was so fierce that it was difficult to even get the attention of the decision-makers in these big corporations.

But we were not going to give up without the old college try.