Medical professionals have emerged as one of the most vulnerable communities during the outbreak of the coronavirus, as they’ve been forced to put themselves at risk while caring for patients who’ve been infected with COVID-19.
Many restaurants are stepping up and supporting this community with food donations. That includes Sweetgreen, which last week announced its Impact Outpost Fund, a partnership with chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen that will donate free salads and bowls to hospitals in markets the fast casual already serves.
Sweetgreen’s Outpost platform was an off-premises innovation that set up central access points in office spaces across the country where customers could receive their menu orders. The Impact Outpost Fund leverages that platform and the logistics and team members that drive it, but redirects the food deliveries to hospitals. The company also has plans to contribute to other vulnerable communities, like schools and nursing homes, in the future. Customers and anyone else who wants to help can visit sweetgreen.com/donate to support the fund.
Kirby Bumpus, Sweetgreen’s head of social impact, spoke with QSR editor Sam Oches on a recent episode of “Fast Forward” about how the platform works, and she offers tips for other operators who similarly want to support medical professionals. Stream the podcast above or check out an edited version of the interview below.
What have the last few weeks looked like for Sweetgreen?
This has been an unprecedented time for everyone here. As a business, we’ve been following all social distancing guidelines and have moved to a digital-only model. So for us that means delivery via our native platform as well as third party, and pick-up only. We also turned on free delivery in order to make it easier for people to get access to real food during this time.
There have been all kinds of closures in different environments. And so that’s impacted us where we have stores in areas like malls, and we’ve been required to close those stores down. We’ve reduced store hours in specific locations, and we’ve actually stopped all Outpost office deliveries.
Our Outpost model is where we deliver salads to offices across the country. Prior to COVID, we had a team of couriers, logistics, tech, ops that were delivering to well over 1,000 [locations] before coronavirus happened. Once we started to see this shift, we wanted to make sure that we were leading with our values, and we realized that we had an opportunity to make an impact and leave people better than we found them by basically deploying our Outpost team to focus on the hospital space. We need our hospital workers. It’s thanks to their tireless and courageous efforts that we’re going to be able to get through this. And so we thought about how we can give back to that community and that workforce during this time, which is where the Impact Outpost model came from.
What are the logistics for making this all fall into place and work?
Yeah, it’s really interesting. We sat down and took an inventory of how we could have an impact. We thought we’d focus only on hospitals, and we really just put out an email and some social media, and within 48 hours, we had over 10,000 incoming [messages] from hospitals. We said, “Hey, we want to support hospital workers during this time and let us know where you have a hospital that may have a need for food.” And again, 10,000 incoming responses from the community. So our team has been hard at work reaching out to all of the points of contact that have reached out to us.
We’ve started delivering free, fresh Sweetgreen salads and bowls to hospitals in the cities that we serve. We’re already at work implementing those Outposts in hospitals across the country, and we’re continuing to set more and more up as requests come in. Our goal at this point is to just impact as many hospitals and medical personnel as we possibly can across as many different locations, because we know the need is just so great.
You’ve also partnered with the World Central Kitchen from chef Jose Andres. What are the details behind that partnership?
The Jose Andres partnership is one we were just incredibly excited by. We could not have found a more mission-aligned organization. And Jose is just such an incredible leader who, at this point, I can think of no one better who’s providing meals after natural disasters. Just the way that he is able to mobilize chefs during this time has been absolutely incredible.
Our partnership has been a big unlock for us because we’re now able to expand to other sites that World Central Kitchen has connections to. So not only hospitals but schools, nursing homes, and other vulnerable communities. The other piece of this partnership that’s been huge for us is that we’ve been able to answer the question from our consumers and from investors of, “How can we help you?” So in addition to all of those hospital workers that reached out to us when we first announced this, we also got customers and companies that said, “Hey, what you guys are doing, we want to support you in some way.” But as a private company, we obviously can’t accept donations. So this partnership with World Central Kitchen has enabled us to establish the Sweetgreen Impact Outpost Fund, and we can accept tax-deductible donations. That way we can multiply our impact even further.
Now you guys are inviting people to donate money to boost this platform even further.
Yep, exactly. And the way that we’ve set it up is that we are only using funds to go toward food, labor, and delivery. That way we can ensure that the money goes as far as possible, and Sweetgreen’s not profiting off of that. And when I think about the potential here, I get incredibly excited because it not only enables us to further our impact with hospital workers, but it enables us to provide our team with much needed work hours during a time when the business is down. Like many other restaurants, we are certainly seeing the impact. So to be able to provide our team with those work hours to prepare these salads that are fueling the front lines has been huge for us as a business, but also incredibly meaningful for our team to have that meaningful work. And then the third piece of it is that it enables us to continue to purchase from our incredible food suppliers. So there’s really an impact to the triple bottom line here.
What are some steps that other brands should take right now to similarly do what you guys are doing?
I think the biggest thing is that there are systems in place to provide food. World Central Kitchen is doing incredible work, so support their work, support the work that we’re doing through them through the Sweetgreen Impact Outpost Fund. I think Feeding America is doing incredible work.
The biggest thing here is to try to prevent these ad-hoc efforts that are popping up. That was another reason why we wanted to partner with World Central Kitchen, because we recognize that they are a leader here. They have such a good sense of what’s going on on the ground, so we could not only tap into their network, but also make them aware of what we’re doing, so that way we’re not duplicating efforts and we’re having the most impact as possible. I think the biggest takeaway is to just try to be as coordinated as possible and really work within those existing systems.
How do you work with the hospital to make sure this goes effortlessly? Because I imagine that it’s just kind of chaos trying to work with them right now.
That’s been the beauty of us being able to leverage our existing Outpost team. We have a team of people that all they do is logistics. They know how to get into hospitals across the country. And because we asked the hospital community, “What is it that you want?”, we have a point of contact in each location. We’re not just showing up willy nilly at a hospital. We’re showing up and coordinating with that person that reached out, and in some cases, it’s a contactless delivery. In some cases, we’re meeting on the sidewalk and doing a hand-off of the bag. It really is very much tailored and catered to the needs of the hospital and ensuring that we are adhering to whatever safety standards we need to apply to, especially during this time.
What have you and Sweetgreen learned, both with the Impact Outpost Fund and otherwise, that you think you’re going to take with you after this season has come to a close?
The biggest thing has been figuring out where you can make an impact. For us, it’s leveraging our product to increase access to real food and connect communities in that way.
I think we’ve also, as a brand, started to be really thoughtful and intentional in terms of how we’re showing up with the consumer. Our marketing plan has basically been thrown out the window. We’re trying to speak to our customer in a very real way during this time because you can’t speak to the consumer in the same way that you were speaking to them 3, 4 weeks ago and remain relevant. This is something that needs to be acknowledged on all fronts. And so that’s why we pivoted to free delivery to be more accessible. We have changed our tone and voice on social media and in our emails just to really speak to the realities of the situation.
Where do you envision the Impact Outpost Fund going from here? What do you think is possible?
For us, it’s just, how can we reach as many communities as possible? We’re going to continue to focus on hospital workers, but can also expand to those other communities, like schools and nursing homes and other populations that are on the front lines of this. It’s really just us being able to expand this work thanks to people supporting and donating to the Sweetgreen Impact Outpost Fund through World Central Kitchen. That is really where we are focusing all of our efforts, because we can’t be impactful unless we as a country get through this pandemic.