By: Kelli Windsor, Director, Digital Communications, FMI

I recently read a New York Times article about Sonoma County citizens who were forced to evacuate because of fire and took up residence in a local Walmart parking lot. Many had stayed there before when evacuating from other fires and finding hotels and shelters full. Walmart supported these fire evacuees by providing portable toilets and washing stations. But more than that, the store was a safe place for people to be and provided access to basic needs.

Through FMI’s Community Outreach Awards program, I often hear about the good grocers do across the country. Nominations outline programs that help feed those in need, support the growth of local youth and strengthen neighborhoods. It’s the stories that all food retail members can tell, but don’t often get heard.

According to The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2019 report, 93% of grocers who responded to the survey use community support and ties as a service differentiation strategy and 73% see it as successful—the highest of any strategy. These stats make me think that while, yes, community support might be a strategy for a grocery store to set themselves apart, perhaps since so many are using this strategy and seeing success, community support is really just a part of the core nature of grocers.

Here’s another Speaks stat that makes me think community support is ingrained in grocers—45% of survey respondents plan to increase community donations or outreach programs over the next two years. Grocers are doubling down on investing in their communities and programs that are proven to support them.

In an era of digital mayhem, grocery stores are finding a benefit in going back to their roots and supporting the communities they serve. One of those Sonoma County fire evacuees said, “Walmart feels like home.” When the world spun out of control, these customers trusted their grocery store as a community cornerstone. I think that’s what most food retailers are—a trusted member of the community.

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