I’ve been really looking forward to this project. I knew it was coming months and months ago having asked a few of my friends in third year what our final term module would be, so I spent a little bit of time thinking about what I’d pick.
Our new brief is called Persuasion. We have to find a client/organisation/group that represents something we are passionate about, something that we feel strongly about. Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been speaking to the Cardiff Foodbank about helping out with donations, so I knew that they were the group I wanted to work with. I feel very passionate about this issue as it’s something close to my heart, but it frustrates me when I see the donation sites in supermarkets with a thin layer of cereal boxes and some tins of beans and nothing more. I feel like a lot more could be done to really hammer home this issue, and to ultimately increase donations.
This was the five slide presentation I gave to my peers following an initial few days of research and deciding who we wanted to represent.
What I found surprising was that several people in my peer group had no idea Cardiff even had a Foodbank, even less of an idea of just how many people rely on these foodbanks. I also showed a screenshot of the Cardiff Foodbank Facebook page, and asked why it is that in our reasonably sized city with hundreds of thousands in, their Facebook page has a paltry 700 or so likes. It doesn’t make any sense, and there’s clearly a communication problem here. As shown in the slideshow I presented some statistics (gathered from the Trussell Trust website and news articles) which showed quickly the scale of the crisis. Certainly, the issue of why so many people are having to use foodbanks is much larger, and something I’m aware of. The issue of government cuts, benefit sanctions, and general mismanagement of the welfare system is putting the people of the UK at risk. People are genuinely starving, with well publicised cases of parents missing meals in order to feed their children, and the well-known story of ‘heat or eat’, where families are being forced to choose between hunger or warmth. Those are rather large political issues, something that I’m poorly equipped to tackle on my own. Something more manageable would be what I feel is the simple issue of increasing donations to the Foodbank, and how best to do this.
Standing in front of my fellow students, I asked them “Do you donate to the Foodbank when the donation sites are in supermarkets?” Nobody raised their hands. I found this disheartening, but expected, asserting that in reality none of us are poor. None of us are poverty-stricken. We can all afford to eat, and the very fact that we’re all sat in University together means that we’re probably all fine. We can all spare 40 or 50 pence each time we go to Tesco on a few tins of something for the Foodbank, but none of us do. Why is that? I feel like there’s a real disconnect between people’s attitudes and their actions. People want to donate and most would be happy to do so, but I feel like the amount of donations doesn’t match the amount of people that are willing to donate. Why is this happening? What’s going wrong that the Foodbanks are often short of certain foods, and why the Foodbank will run out and people have to be turned away simply because they didn’t get enough donations that week. In my opinion that is a tragedy. Nearly every single person I have spoken to would gladly donate, and yet the Foodbank struggles to feed all the people that it needs to.
After my presentation I posted a status on Facebook.
As you can see, everyone’s responses are very similar. Either they’re too preoccupied whilst doing their own shopping that they simply forget, and other people saying that the locations within the stores are placed so that they’re seen on the way out rather than the way in. This seems an obvious thing to change. Something happens when you go into the supermarket, and I believe it goes something like this – you get in, you see the Foodbank sign and think “Oh yeah I’ll pick something up” but then the moment you get your trolley and start focussing on what it is that you need, you forget. A harmless mistake. This got me thinking about prompts, and that if people were gently nudged or reminded then this issue would be resolved quite quickly. In practice obviously it will require behaviour change and the compliance of the ‘Big’ supermarkets (not ASDA now, obviously.) but I think it’s something well within reach.
Getting opinions on Facebook has given me a great starting point because those who commented are a mixture of ages, genders, different professions and also students. It gave me an initial insight into what sort of things are deterring people from donating.
After the presentation I walked straight over to the Tesco Extra supermarket across the road from the campus and did some snooping. The first thing you’re greeted with is this.
It’s a fairly large piece of signage with the donation bin below it. It has just about enough information and is in the immediate entrance of the store. As you can see the crate is sort of 1/3 to 1/2 full with various non-perishable items in it – dried pasta, cans, cereals. But that’s it. That is the only thing in the store which represents the Foodbank or encourages donations. From the looks of what was in there, somewhere between 20 and 30 people had donated one thing each, which is just not okay. That store must see thousands of people a day, and that’s all that was in there. It says a lot about the scheme that they’ve only got the one little crate there.
Throughout the store then I couldn’t find a single other thing that alluded to the Foodbank or suggested in any way that Tesco were operating a collection site from within the store. And again just as the people on the Facebook thread pointed out, you see it on the way out but only after you’ve finished your own personal shopping.
As you can clearly see, there isn’t a single other thing in the store that says anything about a Foodbank. It is easy to become distracted, you focus on your shopping list, and if you’re anything like me you don’t want to spend any longer in there than you have to. A perfect example of these ‘prompts’ is the ones used by Tesco itself to sell its own produce. What would be the harm if all those ‘Brand Guarantee’ hangy things on the shelves said ‘I’m needed in the Foodbank’ or something similar. Tesco would still get its money from the sales of these items, would still turnover its millions, but the Foodbank would have plenty of food to go around. The value items are always on the bottom shelves where your eyes aren’t looking, with the pricey, well-packaged stuff sitting at just about eye-level so you spend more on the same stuff. What would be the harm in subtly pointing consumers in the direction of the cheaper non-perishable items, to possibly stick one in the trolley because it’ll only be a couple of extra pence on top?
Of course, a supermarket is aisle after aisle of self-promotion. They want you to buy their products in their stores and stay as their customers. Supermarkets have incredible brand loyalty, which I think is something to be marvelled at but also capitalised on. My mum is an ASDA shopper, I’m a Tesco, and the in-laws are Morriston.
I have contacted the Cardiff Foodbank through Facebook, which is how I’ve been in touch with them before, and have also been pointed in the direction of a lady called Catherine who works with Cardiff Foodbank. They have replied, but thus far it’s only with a telephone number but hopefully after a phone conversation I’ll be able to better explain the project and my aims. I’m really looking forward to this, and to be honest I hope it’s something that really has an impact. Ultimately what I’d like is for this to become a real and tangible thing that can be seen in supermarkets, and something that dramatically increases donations. I’d also like to speak with the manager of the Tesco Extra supermarket and find out if they have any quantifiable information on the numbers of donations, or if they receive any comments or suggestions.