Cause Marketing – More Important Than Ever?

Jan. 23, 2020

We all know that Millennials and Gen Z are taking over the workplace. Multiple studies confirm that this dominant group considers brand activism to be important. Operators need to start thinking seriously about cause marketing – doing good while doing business – to avoid the risk of alienating this new breed of decision-makers, not to mention their own employees.

As it turns out, many operators and industry suppliers are actively giving back to their community. In fact, it is fair to say that they are doing a good job at doing good things. Where operators are coming up short, in many cases, is converting their good work toward a good cause into actual cause marketing – making sure that clients, prospects and employees know about their positive impact on the community.

For operators, a balancing act

“We have to work out that balance of doing good and doing good for the sake of marketing. Your heart has to be into the charitable cause first before you use cause marketing as a business development tool,” said Robert Donohue, district general manager at Gourmet Coffee Service. Gourmet provides free coffee service for multiple Ronald McDonald Houses and sells “Brew for a Cure,” a private label that gives 5% of sales to breast cancer research at City of Hope. “We get the message out in subtle ways and it clearly means something to our clients,” he added.

Joe Simonovich, chief growth officer at Corporate Essentials, said his company is committed to giving back, but it doesn’t always get the message out. For Simonovich, that’s OK.

“There are things that we tell people about and there are things that we just do from a charitable standpoint. What’s important is that people who work here know what we are doing, but the outside world sometimes doesn’t know,” he said.

“Every year, we make donations to local charities on behalf of our clients. In fact, 3% of our 5-gallon water sales is given to Charity Water, which is something we truly believe in,” Simonovich said.

Five Star – Setting the bar high

For C. J. Recher, vice president of marketing at Five Star Food Service, the value of giving back to the community is part of a companywide belief system.

“We are blessed with so much that you want to give back to the community. It makes you feel good, it sheds goodwill on your company, it strengthens community relationships. Be intentional about the giving part and the benefits will come to you," Recher said.

After seeing the impact of a joint charitable program with a supplier, Recher and his team decided they could do much more. In 2017, he co-founded Feeding the Future, a non-profit corporation that has raised over $200,000, producing over 800,000 meals to school kids who get fed during the week in school but could be without a meal on the weekends. This “backpack food program” has largely been funded by Five Star employees and matching funds from the company.

“As a foodservice company, feeding people day in and day out, it makes sense to give back by feeding people in need. It’s been easy to get a lot of people very excited about this program,” Recher said.

Moving forward from “good cause” to “cause marketing”

Getting the message of good works out to clients, prospects and the community in a manner that conveys your company’s sincere commitment to giving back takes a thoughtful approach. Five Star has slowly integrated Feeding the Future into marketing materials and is introducing the charitable cause at sponsored events, like its annual customer appreciation golf tournament and a new 5K run event.

Tom Bauer, director national sales/regional operations manager at DS Services, said his company has put together some strong initiatives as part of a cause marketing program that focuses on economic, social and environmental responsibility.

“We feel that cause marketing is very important, and we will continue to invest numerous resources to be a leader,” said Bauer, whose company uses its website as a cause marketing tool.

Josh Rosenberg, who was president and CEO of Accent before becoming CEO at PLNTSOP, said he learned that community support and cause marketing is done best on a local basis.

“It became more challenging as we grew and expanded the company,” he said. “Overall, our leadership did a good job communicating our local involvement on LinkedIn.”

Getting started with easy first steps

Not every operator can start a nonprofit corporation, host golf tournaments, create private label coffees for a cause or expect employees to donate directly to a charity. These initiatives take time, effort, money and significant staff resources. Fortunately, there is an easy way for operators to “dip their toe in the water” and experience the energy and power of giving back.

Working with local roasters who support community causes is one way to get started on carving out your own cause marketing effort. “We have found that our partnerships and support of local roasters, especially the ones who are focused on local causes, is very important to our clients,” said Simonovich, who notes that Corporate Essentials uses multiple local roasters, which is a growing trend.

Deep River Snacks offers another easy way to give back by donating 10% of their profits to charity. “It has actually been closer to 13% over the past few years,” said Larry Wolfson, senior vice president, foodservice & vending for Deep River. “We are a company that gives back to charity by selling great tasting snacks, not a company that sells great tasting snacks and by the way, we give to charity. We are not a non-profit, but charity for us is first,” he added.

“We are looking to do business with operators who are charitable minded, and we rely on those types of operators to promote our brand. We are happy to provide racks, signage and support,” said Wolfson.

Successful track record

Derek Ogren, sales specialist for Mighty Spark, just saw his company roll out a national program with Canteen that has resulted in thousands of donated meals. “For every three Mighty Spark Chicken Sticks sold, a meal is donated to someone in need – a powerful incentive for consumers and a nice way for operators to give back, just by being associated with us,” said Ogren, who adds that the program is available to all operators.

“When your team becomes a part of the solution by supporting our products, the energy and positive impact is contagious. We also put together meal packing parties to serve local people in need  an extremely uplifting event,” Ogren added.

Clients are looking for more

Many of operators’ clients today have far-reaching needs. In order to earn their business, operators need to satisfy their requirements pertaining to social responsibility. As Rosenberg pointed out, customers need to understand what you stand for, what drives your company and what your purpose is.

“They need to know your cause and your passion,” he said. “That’s what it takes if you want them to connect with your brand.”

Industry consultant Bob Tullio ( is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry how to build a successful business from the ground up. As he is a recognized industry expert in business development and sales, NAMA has hired him to write and narrate its new online course “Selling Convenience Services,” to be released in early 2020. At the 2020 NAMA Show in Nashville, Tullio is scheduled to present a pre-conference session, “Selling Convenience Services – A Business Development Playbook for Management,” and a one-hour general education session, “Organic Business Development for Sales Reps – 5 Strategies.”


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