CSR, SMEs AND FOOD RETAILING: SMEs, CSR, and catering

Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on January 04, 2014
Retailing

 CSR, and catering

One area which illustrates how SMEs are able to use their limited resources to implement successful CSR initiatives is in catering for the preferences of an ethnic diet in areas of mixed ethnicity. Since EU enlargement in 2004, for example, many communities have witnessed an altered and enhanced demographic representation of migrant groups. This has often demanded a rapid response to transformation in the local community as many ethnic minorities have their own set of food preferences which may not be adequately met due to, for example, economic and cultural factors. The consequences of the absence of culturally familiar or favoured foods can result in a poor diet, with attendant health issues and this has a detrimental knock-on effect within these communities. Instructively, small businesses in these areas have been particularly successful at responding quickly to the changing needs of their local neighbourhood environment whereas “the mainstream supermarkets have been too slow to cater for Asian and African customers and mainly aim specialist foods at the non-ethnic minority consumer” (Nazir M, 2007:6). Eco-Tourism

In localities with a number of ethnic minorities, there are usually a large number of independently-owned grocery shops, catering for their local dietary preferences, as well as the more general ‘continental’ stores offering a range of world foods. These small grocery shops have often changed their offerings in relatively little time in order to successfully cater for the ethnic palate where it has been evidenced that a local market has development for this endeavour. The mainstream supermarkets have already entered many ethnic-food markets, predominantly Indian, Chinese, Italian, and to a lesser extent, Thai and East European; although mostly in relation to selling ready-meals influenced by well-known ethnic recipes. This means it is still very difficult to find, in a large supermarket, the dedicated spices and other essential ingredients for home cooking of authentic ethnic dishes in these large supermarkets. There are also smaller ethnic-food markets such as Greek, Jewish and Vietnamese, which are catered for by the small retail operation but not by the supermarkets, because of a lack of economies of scale.

Nutritional information is another area in which the SME can have an important role, as many ethnic minority groups are in need of better nutritional advice, especially when they are incorporating some national staples in their diets. Camden Primary Care Trust recently successfully used the Bengali Channel to promote its anti-smoking message, which inspired the Smethwick Bangladeshi Centre to use this channel in order to alert members of the community to which foods are high in salt. They combined this initiative with printing dietary advice booklets and posters and deposited these at Asian-owned grocery stores and small supermarkets. This is an area where SMEs need further guidance in that Asian grocery stores are often cramped and filled to capacity which may mean less room for displaying diet and nutrition-related posters, also booklets might be ignored by many consumers especially if not available in a particular language. A multiplicity of languages is necessary for this sort of initiative as India alone has 24 languages with a million speakers each and an estimated 415 extant tongues. A small independent Asian retailer might not be able to bear the cost of producing such literature, although medium-sized Asian chain stores might fund this as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative. Asian food wholesalers might also promote healthier food consumption at ethnic minority community centres, perhaps paying for this advertising by sponsoring use of these facilities where such financial arrangements were appropriate (Shaw

H, 2007:21). The larger ethnic minority charities might contribute to the production and dissemination of dietary information, for example Islamic Relief (Islamic Relief, 2008)); also a community centre in Smethwick successfully held ‘taste tester’ sessions, promoting healthier foods from a range of different cultures. On a wider scale the Local Public Service Agreement team in Liverpool set up a scheme in 2000 whereby local doctors gave their patients vouchers redeemable for fruit and vegetables from local Co-op stores (Baines C, 2006). Although the fruit and vegetable consumption in many households returned to pre-scheme levels once the voucher scheme had ended, it was noted that there were improvements in the diet of others, especially schoolchildren. This is a good example of collaboration between local suppliers of goods and services in promoting healthy lifestyle options. Schools with high numbers of ethnic-minority pupils could also be the venue for educational initiatives, either by local retailers and wholesalers or by other agencies such as health or government bodies. There are a number of ways in which SMEs can enhance their contribution to the local community although in respect of the relationship between food and health, further research is needed to determine which form of initiative produces the most effective and enduring improvements in diet.

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