Vendor Programs and Cause-Related Marketing

It’s no secret that cause-related marketing is typically aimed at consumers. But that doesn’t mean that the sales relationship from manufacturer to consumer is direct. The Internet notwithstanding, most manufacturers require sales channel partners. Sometimes more than one.

For instance, the delivery of the O-Cedar mop you bought at your neighborhood grocery store was probably enabled not directly by Fredenberg Household Products (which owns O-Cedar), but by a third-party manufacture’s rep, who made sure the product was on the shelf and well displayed and that the annual spring cleaning special pricing is properly executed.

Moreover, in the last 15 years ago in the United States the balance of power shifted from the manufacturers to the retailers. Retailers realized that the 15 feet on shelf space they might give a product… in store that can only carry so many SKUs… is foot-for-foot the most valuable real estate in America. Hence the rise of slotting fees and the like.

So if you’re a manufacturer and one of your principal retailers comes to you and says they’d like your support in a cause-related marketing campaign they probably have you over a barrel. You could say no, of course. But let’s be honest, the only dickering that goes on is over the amount of vigorish the manfacturer will pay.

To be fair there are retailers which have internal policies that preclude them from fundraising from their vendors. I know for a fact that Albertsons had a policy against approaching vendors for donations, although the grocery giant had also made exceptions.

A vendor program is what’s at work with this pink packaging from Sargento Foods, the $500 million Wisconsin cheese maker. Over the signature of Lou Gentine, the company’s CEO, a letter on the back of the packaging says that, “This year in America, over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. So, in partnership with the Kroger Co. family of stores, Sargento and other brands are making a donation to breast cancer awareness to fight this terrible disease.”

Those ain’t exactly the words of a company that’s in the ‘fight’ against breast cancer heart and soul.

What did Sargento get out of their donation and specialty pink packaging? Maybe they got favorable space allocations in Kroger stores, or an appearance in the weekly Kroger flyer. Non-refrigerated items might get a special end-cap. It wouldn’t surprise me if golf foursomes were somehow involved, too.

So you can understand why Sargento isn’t exactly forthcoming about the donation amount, who the money is going to, or exactly how the donated money will aid the fight against breast cancer.

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