how might we
incentivize grocery store
employees to increase
food donations at
retail locations?

Over the course of 10 weeks, my team and I worked with Feeding America and the Greater Chicago Food Depository to design a service experience to increase retail rescue food donations that meets the needs of our food insecure neighbors, local agencies, and retail stores. We aimed to implement a solution that gets more food to the people that need it in a safe, respectful, and convenient manner. 

During the research phase of the project, I personally conducted in-context, expert interviews and spent over 20 hours volunteering at local pantries, observing in retail locations, and participating in analogous services. Once we syntheized our insights as a team, I created prototypes with realistic donation information to test which metrics are most appealing for different stakeholder groups.  I also led the team in designing our final presentation and poster to tell the story of the work we had done.

retail employees lack incentives to donate

By observing the donation sorting process at a local grocery chains, we realized that employees have the most influence on what food gets donated, but receive no direct incentives from taking the time to sort out food donations, and thus, don't prioritize the sorting process.   We found that the three main causes were:

  1. Managers often don't maintain donation practices because they don't recognize the benefits
  2. Inadequate and inconsistent training frustrates and confuses employees
  3. Employees don't feel emotionally connected to donating and don't prioritize donation sorting when they get busy


Corporate wants us to donate more food but we don’t see or understand the benefit, especially when it gets busy. It just feels like extra work for us. 



It's not always clear what is good to donate and I will usually throw it away in that case. I don't want to donate anything that can potentially make someone sick.


Based on our research, we created a stakeholder and process map to illustrate how the individuals and organizations involved in the food donation process are connected. 

From our insights, we decided to focus on incentivizing grocery store employees to donate more food. We used a service blueprint to map out the current process and identifed that employees lack information about the impact of their actions. 

We augmented the blueprint to include a service that provides employees with live information about donation volumes from their store and noted how that might change the employees’ experience.

different metrics engage different users

Through prototype testing, we wanted to understand what language and quantitative metrics around donations would most engage our three main user groups: managers, employees, and customers.  We conducted in-context interviews, walk-throughs of a store mockup we built, and participatory research at retail locations and analogous services.


I value the ‘family’ metric most, because it reminds me of a mother feeding her kids.




People can tangibly understand what a meal is.  Pounds are harder because no one knows what a thousand pounds of food is.



three levels of service

1. connect: employee flair

A pin that uses a passive message to convey the emotional value of food donations to employees and customers.  Through testing, we found that flair is a highly visible touchpoint for both employees and customers that would often spark positive converstations about food donations.  We also learned that a short message was more effective than quantitative metrics for this medium because it better represents the emotional intent.  For employees, wearing and collecting flair establishes a sense of pride for their work and for customers, it positively conveyed the store's impact.

2. inform: store-specific posters

These artifacts are two different poster templates geared towards different users.  The first, a store-specific donation guidelines poster, aims to tackle the issue of inadequate and inconsistent training.  We found through research that employees lacked a glaceable, accessible resource to reference in the moment for sorting donations.  Second, the monthly impact report, is a document mostly read by managers.  This would expand upon the report they already receive, but frame donations as savings in dumpster costs and impact on families and individuals, the metrics we found to be most engaging in our testing.

3. motivate: shrink management program

Reframing the role of Feeding America to include a shrink (discarded food) management program and B-corp style certification for stores.  This way, all wasted and donated food goes from the stores through FA.  FA can then better track and incentivize a store's waste to donations ratio, and directly pass the monetary dumpster savings on to stores.

service levels from the employees' perspective