Thursday, November 20, 2008

Food Retailing & Society Memo: Wal-Mart Donates $2.5 Million to 'Feeding America;' Will Also Give 90 Million Pounds of Food A Year to the Organization

America's banks and financial institutions, many of which are run by members of the "greed is good crowd," asked for and received their $700 billion bailout courtesy of former Goldman Sachs CEO and now Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush.

Yesterday the CEO's of America's big three auto makers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler LLC, spend hours with their financial hats in hand (but not letting the hats cover their tin cups) before the banking committee in the U.S. Senate and its counterpart committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, pleading for $25 billion of U.S. taxpayer money as a bridge loan to keep their respective companies, each which is burning through a couple billion dollars a month in cash, operating.

Many think the insurance industry will be the next in line asking for a bailout. AIG,which insures financial instruments for investment banks and other financial institutions already has set the stage for that, receiving something in the neighborhood of $120 billion of U.S. taxpayer's money thus far. In return the federal government now owns a big chunk of AIG. Does anybody wonder how soon that investment is going to pay off for the average American taxpayer and consumer?

All this charity being requested by banks, financial institutions and the auto industry makes the retail industry, particularly the food and grocery retailing industry seem like a quaint bunch of business people. The kind of folks who reply on the marketplace for profit and loss.

It's true economic times aren't near as tough for food and grocery retailers (they are for all other retailers though) as they are for the big three auto companies (the banks are a different matter all together), but some are struggling big time.

Why not a little bailout money for Whole Foods Market, for example, it could use it. Instead, despite a 40% drop in income and a stock worth 70% less than it was just a year ago, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) still argues Whole Foods holds a monopolist position in the supernatural foods retailing segment.

The FTC is still planning a hearing on the issue in February, 2009. We suggest President-Elect Barack Obama, who along with his wife are known to be Whole Foods Market-Chicago shoppers, put an end to that shortly after he takes office in late January, 2009. It is the height of absurdity for the FTC to continue this matter in light of where Whole Foods Market is financially and operationally currently, and will be for some time.

If anything, Whole Foods needs life support, which it recently got by selling 17% of the company to an investment group.

No, the food and grocery and related retail industries aren't asking for bailouts. Instead they are adapting to the current financial crisis and economic recession, something America's banking and auto industries have failed to do. Of course the failures of those two industries, greed in the case of most of the banks that have gone under and a failure to be consumer-driven by the automakers, are largely self-inflicted.

America's food and grocery retailers in fact are giving rather than taking -- donating tons of food and cash to the poor and hungry at this pre-holiday time. Compare that to Wall-Street and Detroit, where the company CEO's literally fly into Washington D.C. in private jets that cost $20,000 per trip, enter the capital, take out a 50-cent tin cup, beg Congress for billions, put the tin cup back in their expensive briefcases, and jump back into their private corporate jets for the return trip home, which costs another $20,000. Who said hubris is fading away in these struggling industries?

Meanwhile the world's and America's largest corporation and retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is giving big time to groups that assist the hungry and the soon to be hungry in the USA.

Yesterday the giant retailer, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said its Wal-Mart Supercenters and Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets will partner with Feeding America (formerly known as the Second Harvest Food Bank system), a nationwide charitable hunger-relief organization, to provide about 90 million pounds of food each year to needy families by the end of 2009. Yes, 90 million pounds.

Wal-Mart said it will donating produce, deli meat, beef, chicken, dairy and other groceries directly from its stores. The groups said the 90 million pounds of food is the equivalent of 70 million meals.

Also, the Wal-Mart Foundation announced a $2.5 million cash donation to Feeding America, which will help its food banks improve warehouse capacity and purchase 20 new refrigerated trucks.

"We are pleased to partner with Feeding America during a time of nearly unprecedented need and provide nutritious meals for their families," said Bill Simon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wal-Mart U.S. "Given the current state of the economy and the increased burden on neighborhood food pantries and soup kitchens, we are enlisting our entire network of stores and clubs to participate in this food donation program to provide relief to communities throughout the country."

Wal-Mart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets in Bentonville, Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Ark.; Denver; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Springfield, Mo.; and Houston, as well as 450 Sam's Club locations across the U.S., are participating in the food donation program.

By the end of 2009, Feeding America expects its affiliated community food banks across the U.S. to be connected with each of Wal-Mart's 2,724 Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, and its 594 Sam's Club locations.

This isn't a one-time donation for Wal-Mart, nor is it the only one. For example, as we reported in this October 22, 2008 piece, "Food Retailing & Society Memo: Wal-Mart Foundation Gives New York USA Food Bank System Over Half Million Dollar Cash Donation," Wal-Mart donated over half a million dollars last month to New York state-area food banks and pantry's feeding the hungry.

The retailer also made a number of similar donations in October, less than half a million but in the six figures in other states in the U.S. where it does business.

And on top of the $2.5 million national commitment to Feeding America Wal-Mart announced yesterday, it also donated $250,000 on the same day to a variety of programs that feed the hungry in its home state of Arkansas

Wal-Mart also is holding food drives for the holidays at most of its Supercenters and Sam's Club stores in the U.S. The retailer will match the donations customers make with product from the stores.

Add these donations to the one announced yesterday -- but the many more to come -- and unlike the banking and auto industries that are begging for taxpayer money, Wal-Mart is actually filling a void by donating serious sums of money to groups feeding America's hungry and food insecure. That void is the one created by the near-bankrupting of the U.S. federal government by President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress over the last eight years.

Despite the severe recession, the U.S. federal government is giving less aid to programs to help the hungry than ever before. Enter Wal-Mart, which is donating millions of dollars to these groups.

Wal-Mart has lots of haters out there. But compare what its doing to the banking and auto industries, along with those industries who you can be certain will soon be next in line with their tin cups out asking for a bailout.

Love them, hate them or have no opinion at all, the fact is Wal-Mart is walking the walk when it comes to donating real money to help feed Americans in need, which is increasingly including more middle class people.

The mega-retailer is giving while huge companies in other industries are taking. Of course the issues involving the financial crisis are more complex than just handouts -- but the fact is if America's banks had stuck to the fundamentals of their business like Wal-Mart sticks to the fundamentals of retailing, those banks, and the U.S. economy, likely would not be in the mess it is in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Got to give Wal-Mart props for doing this. I don't see "Watch Out Wal-Mart" and the other anti-Wal-Mart groups holding any food drives for Christmas, do you?