After something disastrous happened in store, a Michigan branch of Trader Joe’s found itself in a tricky situation in January 2018. The supermarket’s refrigeration unit had broken down, putting produce weighing thousands of pounds and worth thousands of dollars at risk. Although a huge calamity on the face of things, the situation presented a massive opportunity to do something awesomely bighearted. The cool way the store reacted to the crisis spread a warm feeling throughout the local community.
Although it is German-owned these days, the supermarket brand Trader Joe’s is a household name in America. It is a huge chain of grocery stores with more than 470 locations across the country. Food shoppers will find a Trader Joe’s store in 43 of the 50 U.S. states, and group expansion means that there are many more outlets on the way.
But there is something special about this chain of grocery stores that helps it stand out from the rest of its competitors. That’s because Trader Joe’s has a corporate policy in place which is designed to help the communities the chain has a presence in. And, rather appropriately for a supermarket, it is all to do with feeding people.
Often, large-scale grocery outlets the size of Trader Joe’s stores often find that they have heaps of food leftover at the end of the trading day. The products are perfectly safe to eat, but are past their best. So instead of simply chucking all the produce away, Trader Joe’s has a sound policy in place which ensures that any left-over food items do not go to waste.
Every Trader Joe’s supermarket has a donation co-ordinator on the premises. This employee organizes the distribution of any unwanted products to food banks or soup kitchens at the end of every day. The benefits to the corporation are two-fold. The brand is not responsible for producing too much costly waste, and it gains respect from the community by giving spare food to the needy.
In 2016 alone, Trader Joe’s stores donated perishable food that was worth in excess of a staggering $341 million. And there can be little argument that this was not an impressive feat of generosity. But things have not always gone totally to plan for the grocery giant. More recently, something disastrous happened at one of Trader Joe’s newer locations.
It was a totally unexpected and potentially ruinous incident – in a very literal sense – which was beyond anyone’s control. It could have been a massively embarrassing mishap for the brand. But despite the difficulties that the situation created, the Trader Joe’s staff on the spot managed to turn it into something positive. The company spared its blushes and, happily, plenty of people benefited positively from the face-saving actions.
It all took place in the fist week of January, 2018. One of Trader Joe’s recent store openings, in Kalamazoo’s Oshtemo Township, MI, suffered what can only be described as a severe technical blip. The outlet had only been trading since the previous October, so perhaps it could be put down to teething troubles. Whatever it was, staff at the supermarket were given a sudden headache when its refrigerators abruptly stopped working on the morning of January 3.
Sean Clune, the assistant manager at the store in question, later reported that the fridges were out of action for about an hour in total. The refrigeration unit at the outlet had completely broken down and masses of produce was in danger of being ruined. But it is the quick-witted way the Trader Joe’s branch reacted to the near-disaster that amazed the local community. The grocery brand took its charitable tendencies to a whole new level that day.
The Oshtemo Township Trader Joe’s had already established a strong connection with Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. This is a charitable christian organization dedicated to caring for the local community with an emphasis on helping the homeless. The grocery store would donate food every Saturday to help feed the hungry at the not-for-profit’s two shelters.
“It’s a great relationship,” Clune later told local TV news station M Live. And that great relationship was strengthened mightily after the events of January 3. That’s because the Oshtemo Township branch of Trader Joe’s had a whopping donation of produce for the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission that was bigger than ever seen before.
As a result of the refrigeration disaster, the store donated some 35,000 pounds of edibles to the charitable organization. According to local news broadcaster Fox17, it was the largest amount of produce that the store had ever given to the cause. The food donation was worth something in the region of $60,000, and the director at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission was thoroughly delighted.
Greg Weaver, the not-for-profit’s director of food service later spoke to Fox17 about the supermarket giant’s largess. He said, “Corporate social responsibility is alive and well in Kalamazoo. We are really thankful. [Trader Joe’s] just really exemplified a culture of generosity and we’re just so thankful for them.”
Bearing in mind that the staff at the store had to move fast, all it took was one phone call to mobilize the entire exchange. First, Trader Joe’s contacted the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission to alert the people there to the significant donation coming their way. And then, according to Weaver, a response team at his end was assembled in less than an hour.
The produce was gladly accepted by the religious charity, but what immediately struck the workers and volunteers was the impressive quality of the food. Included in the donation were some seriously high-end edible products, including salmon fillets, expensive cuts of steak and gourmet cheeses.
Weaver explained how special it was for the mission that nourishes the homeless to receive those kinds of luxury food. “It’s one thing to eat food that gets you by. It’s another thing to eat food that ministers to your humanity,” he told M Live. “Every opportunity we have to uplift somebody’s dignity through food, we aim to do it.”
But not only was the donation worth a lot of money, but it was almost generous to a fault. In fact, Trader Joe’s had sent over so much food that staff and volunteers at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission struggled to store it all. In the end, some 4,000 pounds of produce was re-donated to the nearby Twelve Baskets food bank.
Weaver stated that his intention was for his team and himself to “cook our way through it.” In order to make enough space for the massive donation of food, it would need to be turned into recipes to fit in the charity’s freezers. But, given that the mission serves up about 600 meals every day, it wouldn’t remain too much of a problem for long.
Afterwards, Kalamazoo Gospel Mission posted a message on its Facebook page effusively thanking the supermarket for the generous donation. “We are so thankful that in the midst of their crisis Trader Joe’s chose to donate thousands of pounds of food to us,” the message read. And more than 5,000 people showed their approval for the corporate benevolence by liking the social media update.
There is no doubt that it was very unfortunate that the store’s refrigerators broke down that January day. But the way in which Trader Joe’s staff responded with the super donation was truly admirable. Not only was a whole community uplifted, but it also turned into a great PR story for the brand.