Crocs, Walmart, Unilever and others have stepped up during the coronavirus outbreak

Photo: Krispy Kreme
Mar 30, 2020
Tom Ryan

Free coffee, donuts and shoes are among the items retailers and brands are bestowing on health professionals for the risks they’re taking combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the freebies available for healthcare workers and first responders:

  • Starbucks is giving a free tall brewed hot or iced coffee from March 25 through May 3 to anyone who “identifies themselves” as a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, doctor, nurse, hospital or medical staff member or a medical researcher;
  • On March 25, Crocs began offering healthcare workers across the U.S. a free pair of clogs with free shipping while supplies last;
  • Sweetgreen is delivering free fresh salads and bowls to hospitals in the cities it serves;
  • Beginning today, Krispy Kreme will give out a free dozen glazed doughnuts every Monday to healthcare workers.

A second way companies are helping combat the virus is by providing safety equipment for health workers. Fanatics, Gap, Ralph Lauren and Canada Goose are among those making masks, gowns and/or scrubs for hospitals. Apple last week said it has sourced and is donating 10 million masks to the medical community in the U.S. Various alcohol and perfume brands are making hand sanitizers.

Crocs, Walmart, Unilever and others have stepped up during the coronavirus outbreak
Photo: Starbucks

Walmart on March 18 committed $25 million to various organizations, including: $10 million for food banks, school meal programs and organizations that provide access to food for underserved populations; $10 million to “support local efforts” in the U.S. and around the world; and $5 million to help other countries fight the virus.

Nike’s founder and top executives are donating more than $15 million to support response efforts in its home state of Oregon. created a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters.

Unfortunately, many retailers and vendors find themselves foremost seeking to preserve cash in an uncertain environment.

Unilever stands out for offering €500 million ($580 million) in “cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain,” including providing early payments to “vulnerable” small and medium-sized suppliers and offering credit to select small scale retail customers whose businesses rely on Unilever. Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO, said in a statement, “The world is facing its greatest trial in decades.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for retailers and brands around supporting health professionals and other organizations fighting the coronavirus pandemic? Have you noticed any other support efforts that seem particularly praiseworthy or innovative?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"These acts of kindness are much-needed, but are also a strong indication to consumers that these companies are good corporate citizens. "

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14 Comments on "Crocs, Walmart, Unilever and others have stepped up during the coronavirus outbreak"

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Mark Ryski

The acts of kindness and humanity by retailers and brands are truly inspiring. Congratulations to all the retailers and brands who are offering products and services to support the frontline health professionals. I suggest that retailers/brands coordinate their efforts with local health agencies and national groups to find the best way to connect with the health workers they are trying to provide support for. There is a real risk that good intentions could lead to unintended consequences if not coordinated and delivered in a safe way.

Dave Bruno

These offers and donations from the retail community are truly inspiring. Certainly many retailers will not be in a position to do the same, as the pandemic is hitting the industry extremely hard. However organizing staff to help in other ways, like sewing non-medical grade masks for food delivery workers, can make a real difference. As Mark suggests, however, I recommend coordinating any efforts with local or state governments and/or health agencies.

Art Suriano

What we are seeing is America and all these companies participating at their best. This clearly is our finest hour! I have read about and seen many local businesses providing many services, which is lovely to see. Here in my town there is a fiber optics company that is not only making masks but has engaged in a program with the local high school robotics team and is currently developing a new type of protective mask for workers in need. The support has been tremendous. All of these people and companies are spending vast amounts of money out of their own pockets. And they are doing it all for the good of everyone, and that is something extraordinary to witness. They say that something good always comes out of something terrible. The pandemic is horrible, but the good we are seeing is how so many people and businesses are working together, putting each other first and profit last.

Cathy Hotka

These acts of kindness are much-needed, but are also a strong indication to consumers that these companies are good corporate citizens. Consumers will remember this now and into the future — now let’s all head to Sweetgreen!

Jeff Sward

This is all going to be a good lesson in core values. There are corporations who are clearly demonstrating what kind of citizen they really are, both good and bad. Gotta love it when apparel makers flip to making masks and PPE. Not so much when retailers of non-essential product insist on staying open over the objections of their employees. This event will give us all long memories about corporate behavior.

Jeff Weidauer

The pandemic is top-of-mind for everyone, and putting one’s brand out there is both the right thing to do and good marketing for post-crisis branding.These brands will be remembered for their generosity and support, while those not participating will have no story to tell. I suspect that more people will remember Crocs’ donation of shoes than Walmart’s $25 million, but being seen as a company that cares is critical during this time.

Richard Hernandez

I think we should always be thankful for those on the front lines — period. We assume they are always going to be there, but I can tell you that an “attaboy” or “great job” every once in a while really helps keep the morale up, especially in difficult times like this.

Brandon Rael

Now more than ever we need increased empathy, understanding and compassion. Consumers will remember the actions companies took during times of crisis and turmoil. What these companies are doing is truly inspiring and showing what the private sector could do for those workers that are on the front lines of the crisis.

Words and inspirational advertising can only achieve so much. While the positive messaging is appreciated, stepping in and providing essential products and services for our frontline associates will be what matters the most as we navigate our way through this crisis together.

Neil Saunders

This crisis is revealing a great deal about corporate ethics. Fortunately, many retailers have stepped up and gone out of their way to help communities and the country. A minority, however, have not behaved at all well. I hope customers will recognize those differences when this is all over.

Evan Snively
Evan Snively
Loyalty Strategist, Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute
1 year 16 days ago

Supporting those in need, particularly health professionals, is a wonderful way for companies to showcase their brand values during these trying times. Hopefully in addition to helping those at the front lines, every company is working just as creatively to support its own employees through the crisis. US Bank raising the pay rate of front-line employees by 20 percent for the time being is an act that stood out to me.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
1 year 16 days ago
It is amazing and inspiring to see how so many brands, retailers, and other businesses are doing what they can to help during the pandemic. While things like free donuts and coffee may seem like small things, they are not to those healthcare workers and others who are on the frontline of the crisis and risking their own health for all of us. While many brands and retailers may not have the cash on hand to make donations, they can help in other ways such as making protective health gear, etc. I believe consumers are not only going to remember the brands that contributed during these times, but they also will remember the brands that did not, especially the larger ones who do have the cash available to do something good with it. Even looking beyond healthcare workers and other frontline workers, what about brands helping the educational system that is scrambling to learn how to deliver online classes and resources, especially to those students who lack access to the needed technology? There are many… Read more »
Shelley E. Kohan

Even small acts of kindness from local businesses that are able to stay open go a long way with community outreach. A small family catering business in our neighborhood continues to deliver meals to families but also donates meals to those families that are having a tough time putting food on the table. Everyone is ordering food to keep the small business going after things settle down and the people in need are benefiting.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, larger companies may not know how they can help. Businesses can take the lead from H&M, where the CEO Helena Helmersson reached out to the EU to understand its needs to address the pandemic and to offer help. The company immediately started to prepare for the production of personal protective equipment for healthcare providers.

Phil Rubin
1 year 16 days ago

In our COVID-19 tracking study, “Supporting local communities who are affected by the situation” is one of the three most important things a brand can and should communicate right now. Notably, this is trending higher week-to-week (up from #4 rank in Wave 1) and we would expect that trend to continue.

Obviously, leadership matters even more during a crisis and as noted above, those leaders that are doing the right thing are separating themselves from those that are not. Consumers will remember, as will employees and other stakeholders, including suppliers and shareholders.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

(Most) of the retailers, restaurants and brands stepping up are organizations with a supportive corporate strategy and culture. Their customers know and reward them with loyalty — times of crisis allows a broader swath of society to recognize this commitment.

"These acts of kindness are much-needed, but are also a strong indication to consumers that these companies are good corporate citizens. "

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