Lidl Ireland: Autism Awareness Initiative

Lidl Logo

Business Type: Retail
Location: Lidl Ireland’s Head Office is based in Dublin, with 198 stores and 4 distribution centres throughout the island of Ireland.

Mission Statement:
Our vision is to make life better by providing quality food at market leading value, ensuring customer satisfaction is at the heart of everything we do.
Our mission is to deliver outstanding customer satisfaction.
We guarantee quality food through a rigorous product development and quality control process.
We ensure market leading value by constantly optimising our efficient process.
We work with business partners in sustainable relationships, contributing positively to local communities.
We achieve long term success by investing in the recruitment, training and development of exceptional talent.
No. of Employees: Approximately 5,000 employees.

CSR Initiative:
The initiative involved supporting families and people with autism through awareness building and by providing a more sensory friendly environment in stores across the country for 2 hours every week.

Project team:
It is a company-wide initiative launched by the CSR Team and supported by numerous departments and implemented in stores across the country. Autism charities helped us educate and upskill to be as autism friendly as we can for our customers.

Resources required:
In-store merchandising and adjustments, investments in product ranges, sponsoring assistance dog training and advertising in advance of upcoming events.

Lidl operates 198 stores on the island of Ireland and ensuring consistency in our autism policy can at times be challenging. One other challenge we faced was anticipating the high demand for the sensory friendly products we sold as we didn’t have them stocked previously. The stock flew off the shelves and some customers were left disappointed to have missed the offer.

We understand that the supermarket can be a trigger zone for the autism community and by taking active steps towards being as inclusive as possible we are embedding Lidl in the communities in which the stores reside across the island of Ireland. We received a huge amount of free publicity in anticipation of our sensory products launch for World Autism Day. Highlighting the relevance of taking action in this area with at least 1% of the Irish population affected by autism.

Lidl were the first retailer in Ireland to roll-out Autism Awareness evenings across all stores in the country. We have sponsored two service dogs to go into training to assist autistic persons in Northern Ireland and Ireland to help them gain independence. We also produced a bespoke sensory friendly product range including ear defenders and calming night lights for World Autism Day.

How was/is this initiative promoted?
Tuesday evenings in-store a poster welcomes customers to Lidl informing them an autism awareness evening is taking place hence the dimmed lighting and lower sounds. Social media was utilised with video content and multiple posts informing customers about the rational behind the evenings. An array of free publicity also helped us promote the initiative over traditional channels.

Do you report on CSR in the Annual Report?
We produce a bespoke CSR report.

CSR Dimension:
Towards Responsible Business’ Ireland’s National Plan on CSR 2017-2020 identifies 4 core dimensions of CSR – Environment, Community, Workplace and Marketplace.
• Environment - minimising negative environmental impacts
• Community - interaction with your local community partners and organisations
• Workplace - supporting and engaging with your employees
• Marketplace - interaction with your local community partners and organisations.

Please select the dimension(s) that you apply to your CSR Initiative and why?

The Marketplace

Autism Aware Evenings
In Ireland more than one in 100 people are affected by autism. Between the bright lights, crowded spaces, noise and sensory overload, grocery shopping can sometimes be a very stressful and triggering task for people with autism.

To play our part in helping people and families who struggle with the weekly shopping run we organised “Autism Aware Evenings” in each of our stores.

Every week we offer Autism Aware Quiet Evenings to all of our customers offering a more comfortable shopping experience. These evenings take place Tuesday evenings from 6-8pm across all of our stores. Features of the evening include:

• Reduced lighting
• No music or announcements
• Lower till scan sounds
• Priority queuing upon request
• Sensory Map of in-store environment and shopping list for children to prepare and organise their shopping trip available to download
• Assistance dogs always welcome

As part of our weekly Autism Aware Quiet Evenings we are offering customers a calmer shopping environment and the security of knowing that additional assistance is available if necessary.

Assistance Dogs
Building on this initiative, we teamed up with Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland (ADNI) and Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI) to put two dogs through training. The two dogs, named Yogi and Kyra, will be given to families of children with Autism in Ireland and Northern Ireland. These dogs will be trained to provide a steady influence for the child, especially in public and social situations. They will also be trained to meet the needs of both the child with Autism and their guardian/s.

Business Impact:
How has the CSR initiative benefitted your business and demonstrated a win:win in the short-term and/or long-term?
The initiative has and continues to deepen our relationship with our customers throughout the island of Ireland. We have received a lot of positive feedback both from media sources and importantly the communities in which we operate.

It was challenging to anticipate demand for the sensory friendly products having not stocked them previously and the products flew off the shelves. This appetite for the products, such as ear defenders which can be used to protect a child’s hearing or calm them if disturbed or overwhelmed in noisy environments, shows a real business incentive to restock in the future.

The Lidl Ireland sponsored Assistance Dogs have been popular in the media but importantly have helped convey the message that assistance dogs are welcome with their owners in all Lidl stores, always.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
Please identify which SDG goals apply to your CSR initiative.
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities - These widening disparities require the adoption of sound policies to empower the bottom percentile of income earners, and promote economic inclusion of all regardless of sex, race or ethnicity.
- It is envisioned with our small contribution to making our stores and workforce more aware of the needs of autistic people that we can empower and promote the social and economic inclusion of all.
- Educational workshops to employees around autism is the next step on our ‘A Better Tomorrow’ strategy for Autism awareness.

What did you learn from your experience of creating and implementing a CSR initiative?
The initial trialling of the autism evening was important for us to get an understanding how the initiative would work in practice in a Lidl store. In this way we could refine the concept to something that could be replicated across all our stores for greater impact.

Communication was key regarding the issues facing autistic people, what was required of our store responsible person’s and letting our customers know about the specific times.

What advice would you give a business starting on their CSR Journey?
Assess your business model and try to address the most relevant areas for your business to have the most long-term positive impact.

We are aware that autism affects more than 1 in 100 people in Ireland and that grocery shopping can be a stressful time for some of these people. Therefore, it makes sense for us to play our part and give what assistance we can. Given that we are based in communities across the breadth and width of Ireland, making our stores as accessible as possible to people is essential to our objective of being a good neighbour.

Developing your CSR journey around your business model helps to embed the initiative into the corporate DNA effectively building business resilience and the sustainability of CSR projects.

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May 2019