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Grocers try new tactics to help feed the hungry

Grocers that help customers feed the hungry are trying some new ways to stretch charity dollars this holiday season.

Publix and Winn-Dixie have ditched those prepackaged bags destined for food banks. Sweetbay Supermarket packaged theirs in a $10 box that's delivered to a food bank or taken by customers to donate.

It's all in response to food banks finally getting foods they actually need instead of Thanksgiving frills like large amounts of canned pumpkin pie filling.

Rather than pay people to fill and unfill paper bags with canned goods, Winn-Dixie and Publix now simply deliver what customers purchase for food banks by the pallet. Winn-Dixie lets shoppers choose how much they want to contribute, while Publix suggests a list of donation selections priced at $6.41, $10.89 or $15.63.

The lack of a visual reminder in stores like labeled bags means donations rely more on checkout clerk suggestions. One clerk wearing a "Give a Meal" badge at Winn-Dixie in Tyrone Gardens in St. Petersburg last week took in 149 contributions.

Food banks prefer dry goods; they last longer than perishables. The dry goods from supermarket customer donations also help replace supplies from manufacturers that in recent years reduced overproduction, which cut into what they sell cheaply to food banks.

"We count on these chains' customers to provide a quarter of all dry goods we need to get through the winter," said Pat Rogers, chief executive of Feeding America Tampa Bay, a 10-county food bank that distributes to smaller food banks. While most goes to Feeding America, some individual stores partner with charities in their neighborhood.

The chains, all big contributors to local food banks, sell the donated foods at a loss or break-even basis. It's mostly store brands to make the money stretch farther. Indeed, a price check of the items in a $10 Sweetbay hunger box, totals $12.20 if bought separately.

Office Depot on a diet

St. Petersburg shoppers can check out Office Depot's version of smaller stores, a trend now sweeping the retail industry thanks to the Internet and shoppers' need for speed.

In February, Office Depot moves from a former Home Depot to a spot only a fifth as big in the same shopping plaza at 1867 34th St. N. It's the same size as a 7,000-square-foot Office Depot that opened 3 miles away at 236 37th Ave. N on Nov. 7.

The smaller version has a Copy & Print Depot and Tech Services sections and a streamlined selection of 5,000 products that represent 93 percent of what the average Office Depot sells.

In other words, Office Depot covers the same market with less than half the space while cutting half of its customers' drive time in half.

Old habits do not die

When retail marketers dreamed up Cyber Monday a decade ago, they claimed the Monday after Black Friday was big for online retailers because people used computers at work to place orders. The marketers at Shop.org later admitted to embellishing the shop-at-work tale. But thanks to promotion and discounts, Cyber Monday grew in 2010 into the biggest online retail day of the year with $1 billion in sales.

Well, it's still spreading, says the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. This year, 80 percent of all shoppers will use desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones as shopping aides. Many of them are supplied by their employer and used for shopping on company time, according to the IT governance trade group.

Overall, 74 percent of workers, however, keep their mobile shopping on the QT by turning off geo-tracking on company mobile devices. How much? An average of 18 hours of shopping this holiday season, enough virus risk exposure to raise security issues, the group concludes.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Grocers try new tactics to help feed the hungry 11/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 21, 2011 10:33pm]

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