Teresa Dickerson (second from left), corporate affairs manager for Kroger Delta Division, pitches in as the Kroger team delivers as the official grocer of the 2019 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. (Photo: George W. Tillman Jr.)

The sun dominated a nearly cloudless morning sky and the temperature was steadily rising as a mild breeze comforted a team of 10 Kroger employees mobilized in signature blue shirts and on a mission – successfully manage opening day of the 42nd Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

All hands were on deck at historic Tom Lee Park in preparation for an influx of attendees from across the globe. Several brightly colored 18-wheeler trailers jam-packed with supplies and adorned with Kroger logos and branded messaging lined Riverside Dr.

Three large white tents strategically placed directly across the small breezeway were set up to support sales and protect employees from the sun’s demanding rays. The team of Kroger employees assigned to BBQ duty worked harmoniously to fill orders.

“Who doesn’t love the Memphis in May Barbeque festival?” one man asked as he whipped out a list of supplies his team needed for the competition.

“I’m glad that they’re here,” he said of Kroger. “Makes my job that much easier.”

However, Kroger’s job for the festival, while enjoyable, was not an easy one. Festival attendance was expected to reach 75,000 this year. Over 250 teams from 26 states and six countries were competing for the title of Grand Champion and monetary prizes that topped $115,000.

Teams competed in championship pork categories of ribs, shoulder and whole hog, as well as the ancillary competitions of hot wings, sauce and “anything but pork.” From sun up to well after sun down, Kroger’s 10-person team would be expected to literally deliver top-notch products and service to anyone who needed a helping hand.

“My team can definitely handle it. Kroger has 130 years of grocer experience under our belt, and we love what we do,” said Teresa Dickerson, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Delta Division, as she shifted gears in one of the Kroger buggy carts used to transport orders.

“Kroger’s commitment to Memphis is the reason why we returned again this year as a sponsor. It has always been our goal to feed the human spirit, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here today, not just literally but figuratively.  We’ve got two missions ahead of us – service and awareness.”

Kroger Delta Division had been named the official grocer of the Memphis in May festivals for 2019 during an announcement that came with much fanfare just two weeks earlier. With Kroger’s Highland location as the backdrop, the University of Memphis marching band, Mayor Jim Strickland and Reghan Strange of NBC’s “The Voice” sang “Happy Birthday” to Memphis in front of a crowd of patrons and community leaders celebrating the city’s bicentennial.

Fulfilling their role as the official grocer, the Kroger team arrived at the Memphis in May site the Monday before the festival began and set up operations, creating a mini-Kroger experience in a large tent. Industrial vans offered on-site purchases to those who walked up and online and call-in orders to those who opted to forgo the trek across 30 acres of sprawling park space with bags of food.

Many teams either purchased their ribs or seasonings from Kroger’s.

“Before the festival, our team sat down and thought of everything attendees might need, compiled a list, vetted our inventory and got to work. What we didn’t bring on location, we have on standby ready to be delivered to us at a moment’s notice,” said Dickerson.

“Plus, this event gives us an opportunity to share our Zero Hunger Zero Waste plan with more people, and hopefully, they will go out and share it with others. There is nothing better than face-to-face interaction and conversation when you’re trying to explain a vision.”

Zero Hunger Zero Waste is Kroger’s social impact plan and commitment to end hunger in its communities and eliminate waste across the company by 2025.  Dickerson explained that 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is thrown away, while 1 in 8 Americans struggle with hunger.

“Kroger’s participation solidified us a food authority,” she said, pointing toward the yellow sign on one of the Kroger’s truck that touted the initiative’s name.   “We’re going to make a significant difference for future generations through Zero Hunger Zero Waste, because we can and we should.”

(Cook Smoke was chosen as the 2019 Grand Champion. To find out more about the winners, visit https://www.memphisinmay.org.  To find out more about Zero Hunger Zero Waste and ways to participate, visit www.thekrogerco.com.)