Is Supermarket Cause Marketing Worth the Effort?


Grocery shopping is a part of everyday life for most Americans.  Food and consumer packaged goods manufacturers are big players in the cause marketing arena, but what about the supermarkets that retail these products to consumers?  What's the best way to manage vendors, each with their own cause programs?  Is it even worth the effort for supermarkets? We caught up with Phil Lempert, editor of, about their newly-released Consumer Panel Survey.  For the first time in the 15-year history of the report, they asked the 1805 respondents about cause marketing in supermarkets (data below).

Authentic is Important Anecdotally, Phil shared that a general tenant of cause marketing applies for supermarkets as well:  make sure you're authentically supporting a cause.  Vendors will negotiate for shelf space and visibility for their latest cause promotion but if it doesn't align with the supermarket's cause philosophy, it won't resonate with consumers.

Human Resources are Critical  Additionally, Lempert advises that the ability to execute a cause initiative from a human resources perspective is equally important.  Most store managers don't have the time to correctly oversee a cause effort  because they're busy running a store.  Without designated staff to truly implement these initiatives, they won't be successful.  This is where programs designed and supported nationally and then implemented locally can alleviate the human resource demands. Similarly, a specific cause focus can help local stores leverage vendor relationships where cause efforts align to combine forces for good (and authentic) programs.

Their survey revealed that:

1)  When asked if consumers were more likely to shop in a supermarket that supports causes, the answer was a solid "It Depends" for most consumers.  While a flat 33.1% said "no" and a mere 13.3% responded "yes", the rest said it depends on:

Prices (15.8%), Causes (10.9%) or Both price and cause (26.9%)

2)  Interestingly, consumers were tolerant of price increases to allow for donations.  More than half (56.7%) said they'd tolerate a price increase if it was no more than 2%.

3) While most consumers (53.9%) wouldn't travel further to shop in a "causes" supermarket, up to 46% are open to the idea in varying degrees.  By distance:

Up to a mile or two further (24.2%) Up to 5 miles further (16.1%) Up to 10 miles further (5.7%)


4)  There may be additional room for supermarkets to leverage their private label brands into a cause marketing effort, based on the study's responses.  Sixty-two percent of consumers said that if private label sales determined a store's donations, and those prices rose, they would buy the same amount of them.

 What's your experience with cause marketing as a supermarket from the retail or national level or as a vendor?