#21interviews: Community support will win loyal customers

by Louise Burgers. The COVID-19 pandemic is a dry run for climate change challenges, says Shoprite's Sanjeev Raghubir.

by Louise Burgers. Many believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is a dry run for climate change challenges, says Sanjeev Raghubir, the Shoprite Group’s sustainability manager, who recounts how Shoprite deployed its mobile soup kitchens to communities in need of food under hard lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic in South Africa; refitting more of its trucks as the need increased.

He said part of Shoprite’s mission was to do business with “heart” through its charitable initiatives and corporate social responsibility. The retail group served 1000 meals a day from each of the 25 trucks mobilised, seven days a week. Those helped, were the most needy: orphanages, schools, early childhood development centres and old age homes. In total, they served about 20,000 meals a day in partnership with their suppliers, like Sasko, which donated bread. This rapid response by Shoprite’s mobile food kitchens also saw them recently deployed at the fires which ravaged the Free State.

In order to build resilient communities and with hunger relief at the heart of its corporate social investment (CSI) programmes, the Group in the last financial year donated surplus food to the value of R95 million, while ploughing a cumulative R26.5 million into community food gardens since starting to support such gardens in 2015. It also invested just over R490 million in training and skills development programmes rolled out to both employees and non-employees. The Shoprite Group is committed to fighting hunger across South Africa and has since 2015 partnered with 119 community food gardens and 475 home gardens, benefitting over 28 000 people.

Committed to reducing its environmental impact while promoting operational efficiency, the retailer has aligned its goals focused on climate change, water security, sustainable packaging, waste management and responsible sourcing, with that of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The retailer also formulated position statements on climate change and water security in the last year. “Our approach to the problem of climate change is twofold: In the first instance we try to mitigate its effects by for instance increasing our reliance on renewable energy sources and rolling out energy efficient lighting in our stores. The other way is through adaptation, where we seek to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of our operations and that of the communities in which we operate, by ensuring food security through the extensive support of community food gardens, surplus food donations, and disaster relief through our fleet of mobile soup kitchens,” explains Raghubir.

Covid is a dry run for climate change

This is a key strength of the retailer in meeting community needs and supporting its consumer base through these various initiatives. Something which has become a key marketing advantage in this global pandemic. Consumers are more likely to support brands which have supported them during challenging times. “Community food gardens are our way to help communities to become more resilient and adaptive. An even more pressing issue is climate change, and that will have much more impact than Covid. Many say that Covid is a dry run for climate change. It is a challenge from a supplier point of view. How are communities going to survive this? It is important to build resilience in our communities,” says Raghubir.

And he says the only way organisations can be resilient, is if they are agile. When the reality of COVID-19 translated to lockdowns, Shoprite set up a crisis committee very quickly, led by CEO Pieter Engelbrecht. “We have never seen anything like this… regulations changed, trips to stores dropped – although  basket sizes grew. Behind the scenes, we had to keep supply chains going to keep food supplied. The only way the business was able to be responsive is because it is agile. We could make decisions quickly and deploy plans and strategies almost instantly. We are known to be an action-oriented retailer, and in a way, Covid helped us get into that mindset again,” says Raghubir.

The first fatalities from Covid were in the retail sector, among the frontline staff. Heart breaking videos were shared at the beginning of lockdown of staff at a Shoprite store in Cape Town, mourning the death of two colleagues, brutally driving home the impact of the pandemic right at the start. Raghubir says Shoprite’s obligation to provide staff with the correct PPE and training extended to booking out hotels for distribution centre staff so that they did not have to travel on public transport; providing meals in store; as well as an incentive bonus for all staff, totalling R120 million, in recognition of the role they played in keeping the nation fed.

In advising companies in responding to the Covid crisis, Raghubir said the textbook answer was that yes, an organisation had to look at all the issues it faced; but to overlay that with the issues being faced by our country and our continent. “We know our continent is facing issues of food security. How can we address that? Businesses need to support their communities… moving to becoming businesses with shared value… creating value for all stakeholders, from communities to shareholders. Purpose-led can become a buzzword. It is how you are able to respond to that in an authentic way. Of all the things we do in our marketing, we do that first. One has to be authentic and real. That is the agility I spoke about – to be able to respond quickly and effectively. To have that care for people and the planet and for customers.”

Innovation was also a consequence of the group’s agility as it rolled out its one hour delivery app Sixty60, at speed; as well as electronic vouchers people could send via mobile phone to be redeemed in store. As to the future, Raghubir says retailers need to be resilient and adaptive. “We saw the supply chains were severely disrupted. Many retailers are looking to source locally. That ranges from apparel to food. In terms of food, one needs to look locally. That way you are able to build resilience in the supply chan. I am going to buy from five suppliers not just one. What would happen if you can’t source from a supplier? That is important. You can ensure you will have a full range of products. Next year, organisations need to focus on being more innovative – there is still room for lots more innovative products. We  haven’t seen this level of innovation before. It is unprecedented, particularly online. We will continue seeing those innovations. And then, like we said, climate change is important. We can’t put that on the back burner either.”


For more insights from retail and brand leaders in the #21interviews series publishing 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:


#21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer, by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com.

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave, says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix.

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value, by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar.

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021, says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group.

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion, by Craig Bellingham, Founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack.

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability, says Elouise Brink, Senior Marketing Manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings.

#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’, with Economist and Author of the post-pandemic book, FutureNEXT, Dr Iraj Abedian, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Embrace technology at all levels, says Thabani Maluleka, Business Development Director for Rogerwilco.

#21interviews: It will not be business as usual, by Dave Nemeth, Trend Forecaster & Founder of at Trend Forward.

#21interviews: Lessons from an unprecedented year in retail, by Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO, Teljoy.

#21interviews: Beware ‘Covid fatigue’, by Guy Yehiav, General Manager, Zebra Analytics, part of Zebra Technologies.

#21interviews: Be deliberate in listening, says Zizwe Vundla, Marketing Director of Diageo South Africa, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Critical factors for retail growth, by Enver Groenewald, Group CEO, Ogilvy South Africa.

#21interviews: The future of micro-commerce in Africa, with Vahid Monadjem, CEO and Founder of Nomanini, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Plan for a ballet of black swans, by Rachel Irvine, Founder & CEO, Irvine Partners.

#21interviews: Consumers are investing to connect, says Shani Naidoo, Group Director, TFG (The Foschini Group).

#21interviews: Data is key to the future of shopping, by Nompumelelo Mokou is the Intelligent Customer Experience Executive at Dimension Data.

#21interviews: Direct to consumer is the future for some brands, says Will Battersby, CEO, BOS Brands, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Our products need to make a difference to society, says Natasha Maharaj, Marketing Director, Distell.



Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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