Hickory Farms: More Than Holiday Fare

Most people associate Hickory Farms, Inc., with holiday gift packs filled with savory sausages, cheeses and other delights.

Yet the downtown Toledo business does much more than sell the makings of festive family traditions. Hickory Farms also helps ensure children nationwide get the nutritious, healthy food they need all year long.

For every Party Planner Gift Box Hickory Farms has sold since 2008, $5 is donated to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign. By the end of the 2013 holiday season, that commitment alone will equate to more than $3 million for the organization’s effort to end child hunger in America, said Mark Rodriguez, Hickory Farms chief executive officer.

“We’re a food company,” he said. “At the end of the day, we feed people.”

Added Rodriguez, a Share Our Strength board member: “We are concerned about health, nutrition and caring for families.”

No Kid Hungry

Both Hickory Farms and Share Our Strength are national partners in ProMedica’s Come to the Table advocacy initiative to end hunger and address it as a health issue. Hickory Farms, for example, helped sponsor the ProMedica: Revealing Hunger photo exhibition featuring images from northwest Ohio residents facing hunger that debuted at the Toledo Museum of Art in 2013.

The connection between Hickory Farms and Share Our Strength goes back even further – although not as far back as 1995 when Rodriguez became involved in the nonprofit organization. Besides becoming a board member in 2001, Rodriguez is a personal supporter of Share Our Strength, on its No Kid Hungry Leadership Council and was honored with the organization’s 2009 Humanitarian of the Year Award.

A Los Angeles native who has spent his career in the food and beverage industry, Rodriguez has connected several corporate partners to our efforts, most recently Hickory Farms, said Chuck Scofield, Share Our Strength’s chief development officer.

“With the partnership now in its sixth year, Hickory Farms continues its strong commitment to children struggling with hunger around the country, introducing the issue and organization to customers through their unique campaigns,” Scofield said. “We’re grateful for Mark’s passion to make a difference and for Hickory Farm’s dedication to making No Kid Hungry a reality in America.”

At Hickory Farms

HC_Mark Rodriguez photoRodriguez took the helm at Hickory Farms in October 2007 as the famed specialty food company was going through a difficult time. Even the critical holiday season was difficult that year, and Hickory Farms decided to scrutinize the company’s future.

As part of the process that returned Hickory Farms to profitability, the company adopted a mission statement. That mission outlines a quest to provide high quality food, enrich family holiday traditions, be the best specialty food company in North America – and promote giving, sustainability and community service.

Becoming a company of community activists was a novel but welcome experience for Hickory Farms employees. They selected Share Our Strength as the national organization to benefit from fundraising efforts, and Rodriguez was thrilled with their decision.

Research showed that Hickory Farms’ best customers are mothers aged 25 – 54 who first tasted its products at family gatherings while growing up. They want to both keep the family tradition alive and see an end to child hunger, and buying Hickory Farms products while supporting No Kid Hungry helps satisfy both, Rodriguez said.

Giving a holiday gift pack that benefits No Kid Hungry says as much about that customer as it does Hickory Farms, he said.

“We’re doing a good thing for the community, and we’re doing a good thing for our customers,” Rodriguez said.

Volunteering at Home

Volunteerism now is part of the culture at Hickory Farms, too. The company’s 70 full-time employees have spent more than 1,000 hours doing community service in each of the last four years, Rodriguez noted.

“It’s a large investment for us, and it’s one that we make with a lot of satisfaction and a lot of joy,” he said.

Seagate Foodbank of Northwest Ohio is one local organization that benefits from a solid relationship with Hickory Farms. The foodbank – another partner in ProMedica’s Come to the Table advocacy initiative – distributes 12 – 15 million pounds of food a year to hundreds of programs, including food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and senior centers.

“They’re angels, and they do great work for people who need them,” Rodriguez said.

Community Collaboration

Hunger can touch neighbors, friends, relatives, and anyone else who is struggling, Rodriguez said, and ending it will take strong collaboration among community partners. Rodriguez said he personally is committed to Share Our Strength because of its mission to eliminate child hunger in America.

“You have an organization of very smart, dedicated people waving a banner that says ‘It’s outrageous that a kid can go hungry in a country that is as fortunate as ours,’ ” he said.

For more information about the No Kid Hungry campaign, please visit www.nokidhungry.org/.