Social Purpose

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Social Purpose

An overview of four grocery retailers is below, as it relates to showing they are doing more purposeful campaigns and have company value missions that are directed towards positive social impacts. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Kroger and Thrive Market have been used, with quotes included in each from the CEO and/or founder of the company for each. A common theme among these retailers is that they are embracing products that are better for the environment and the health of their consumers, as well as giving back a percentage of their profits towards communities in need.


Whole Foods has a long history of doing purposeful campaigns that has proven time and time again that they have an impact on sales and consumer satisfaction. In 2006, Whole Foods became the only “Fortune 500 company to completely offset 100% of energy costs using wind power credits.” On Earth Day in 2008, Whole Foods eliminated the use of plastic bags in all their stores, nationwide. Their Whole Trade Guarantee was launched in 2007, which is an initiative that “emphasizes social responsibility and equitable compensation for producers from the developing world.” Further, Whole Foods gives back at least 5% of their annual profits to communities where they have locations.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods recently coauthored a book titled “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” Various quotes on his business approach to creating a brand that embraces numerous social purposes (organic foods, decreasing carbon footprint, etc.) are as follows:
Prior to the creation of Whole Foods:
“I thought I could create a store that created more value for the customers that we traded with and the people that work there…business is the great value for other people, and it’s fundamentally a force of good in the world.”
Regarding the purpose of his new book:
“We’re trying…to get people to think about a different type of ethics to ground business in than what we have today, that the narrative that business is all about money and profit is just fundamentally wrong…if business is not allowed to create value because it’s fundamentally selfish, greedy, and it’s a sociopathic institution, then our world is not going to fully escape from poverty and prosperity. It’s going to reverse.”
When discussing the importance of establishing a purpose beyond making money, John said:
“If you ask what the purpose of teachers is, educate people If you ask the purpose of architects, they design buildings. Only business people the answer is the purpose of business is to make money. And it’s just not the right answer. And every business has the potential for some other higher purpose besides just making money…Whole Foods does feel this sense of responsibility to try to make a difference. And that filters through our team member base to our customers. We really are united around the idea of our mission as an organization. That really makes a difference.”

When discussing his consumer base after years of purpose-driven campaigns and mission values, John said:
“The people are very empowered in terms of the products that we pick. We do really focus on a lot of local products. We support local vendors. We even make loans to local vendors to help them be successful.”


From the beginning, Trader Joe’s has advocated for improving hunger in the United States, and donates 100% of products not fit for sale, but safe for consumption, to those in need. They do this by utilizing a Donation Coordinator at each store, who organizes where all products can go, based on need. In 2017, they donated almost $350 million dollars in product, “which equates to approximately 70 million pounds of food or 58 million meals to combat hunger.”
Doug Raunch is the ex-CEO of Trader Joe’s, who left to create a nonprofit grocery store called Daily table, which is tackling the issue of food waste across the United States. When discussing his approach on creating a brand that consumers wanted to embrace based on their social impact, he said “respect shouldn’t just end with your customers.” Frequently, Raunch had customers come up to him the store and say "I love being in a store where everyone seems happy."… Or they would see employees being trained, and say, "I wish that's how my boss would train me."
Doug reiterates that even if your business is lacking in big partnerships, “your first priority should be addressing a social problem that needs a solution.”


Thrive Market, an online grocery store, which has an annual fee of $59.95, which gives the user discounts on over 4,000 organic products. For each membership, Thrive Market “donates a free membership to a family, veteran, teacher, or student in need.” Further, they raised more than $125K for Hurricane Harvey relief in August 2017, and donated more than $250K to the cause.

Co-founder Gunnar Lovelace states that “We’ll continue our investment in developing a socially conscious business that speaks directly to the needs of an increasingly sophisticated consumer who not only wants low prices but wants to support products and brands that represent their values.”


Kroger has almost 9 million customers come through their stores each day, and one of their missions is to make the world a better place. #SharingCourage is an annual campaign in which they light up their corporate headquarters in pink, and encourage customers in stores to “join in the fight against breast cancer by taking action online and in their communities.”
Jessica Adelman, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Kroger, stated: “No one should face breast cancer alone, so Kroger is proud to be a partner in the fight and to share the stories of our courageous associates who are breast cancer survivors.” As of 2016, Kroger has donated over $36 million to local breast cancer organizations. Associates at Kroger that are breast cancer survivors discuss their stories through a video series campaign each year.
Beyond their annual breast cancer campaign, Kroger participates in numerous social improvement campaigns. In 2016, Kroger donated almost $4 million to the USO, and procured 86% of their seafood from sustainable sources. One of their top priorities is to be a “zero waste” company, and achieved a 78% recycling rate in 2016, and recycled 39 million pounds of plastic bags and shrink wrap.

Rodney McMullen, Chairman and CEO of Kroger announced 2020 Sustainability goals, which include a 100% sustainable seafood commitment with the World Wildlife Fund, 100% cage-free egg supply chain, and a zero-waste goal.

In a letter from McMullem, stated that “Because we know people are hungry for more than just food, our purpose is to Feed the Human Spirit. Our Associates want to make a difference in the lives of our Customers and Communities, to lift up others, and to offer the food and inspiration we need to be our best.”


Numerous grocery chains in the United States are focusing on campaigns and initiatives that have a positive impact on social issues, as they relate to helping those in need, eliminating food waste, and reducing negative impacts on the environment.
Grocery stores of all kinds (e.g. organic Whole Foods, approachable Kroger, trendy Trader Joe's, online Thrive Market) are incorporating their social purpose into their business practices.

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