Lidl UK recently signed up as the second major retail partner for Neighbourly, joining Marks & Spencer (M&S) which is nearly two years into its partnership with the social venture. The Drum catches up with them about how it's going and why this isn't about marketing.
Neighbourly is social platform that matches charities and local causes with people and companies that can help. Through the platform, both Lidl and M&S can link individual local stores to a food project within a five mile radius that can then collect edible food directly from the store each day.
The ultimate aim is to help tackle food poverty in the UK and reduce the some 7 million tonnes of surplus food thrown away each year. But for both retailers, they are also facing an industry commitment to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025.
Over 540 M&S stores are now active on the Neighbourly platform which has helped us support over 560 charities who cook for those in need.
Meanwhile, Lidl is looking to sign up all 600-plus stores across the country over the next year, but by this June it wants to see at least 100 participating in the Neighbourly programme. Once all stores are on board, the supermarket expects that its food donations will amount to two million meals a year.
Prior to the roll out of the national programme, Neighbourly helped Lidl deliver a seven week pilot in 10 stores, which resulted in the donation of 3,400 meals to local charities across Yorkshire.
“It was clear from the outset that Neighbourly was the right fit for us,” Mark Newbold, CSR manager at Lidl told The Drum. “They have done a great job in helping to facilitate this interaction by connecting us with the right charities, opening up communication and helping us maintain those tight relationships. They also provide the technology that enables our stores to communicate with local charities and monitor the performance of each of our stores so we can quickly establish and tackle any issues.”
However, with 'brand purpose' increasingly becoming a buzzword among marketers , the potential for it to veer into a piece of advertising shouting about how their brands are doing good is undoubtedly there.
Just last week Tesco called a press conference to set out its commitment to tackling food waste. Although the grocer's boss Dave Lewis insisted the work wasn't about "competitive advantage" it nonetheless ploughed marketing pounds into a a national ‘No Time For Waste’ developed by creative agency BBH and MediaCom.
While both M&S and Lidl say it is a way to demonstrate to customers the role they play in the wider world, neither said it's about improving marketing metrics.
“We’ve found the Neighbourly platform has also helped us go beyond just food. Online social platforms are becoming increasingly popular, so by digitally connecting our stores with local projects we can help enable our employees and customers to take part in positive action in their own backyard,” explained Louise Nicholls, head of responsible sourcing at M&S.
“From the success of this scheme, we’ve also rolled out using the Neighbourly platform for other inspiring projects such as helping our stores to connect to their local charity of year programme for fundraising, as well as Spark Something Good projects to help our employees and customers find volunteering opportunities."
Lidl’s Newbold added that although metrics such as improved brand perception might follow as an “obvious outcome, it was never an objective of delivering the programme.”
“It is very difficult to gauge the impact of programmes like this on business performance and something we have not tried to do,” he continued. “We hope our customers recognise the role we are playing in their communities and that the programme helps to communicate the positive impact we can have.”