Food waste is an ongoing challenge and balancing act for grocery stores. How much of a challenge? Digest these statistics for a moment.
- According to a recent NRDC issue paper on food waste, ‘in-store food losses in the United States totaled an estimated 43 billion pounds in 2008, equivalent to 10 percent of the total food supply at the retail level.’
- In 2010 alone, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance estimates that around 60 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S., of which nearly 40 million tons went to landfill. The FWRA is a collaborative effort of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and the National Restaurant Association.
As you can see, we’re not talking about a few barrels of apples being thrown out. We’re talking about billions — with a ‘b’ — of pounds of food waste according to the above. Consumer behavior, particularly expectations of food aesthetics, plays a large role in contributing to food that ultimately goes unpurchased. And yet consumers and their behaviors are only part of the equation — grocers and their behaviors being one of the key players. So all of this begs the question: What are grocers doing to address this problem? As it turns out, one national grocer is doing a great deal when it comes to reducing food waste — with a goal to reduce it altogether.
Zero food waste?
As part of its’ zero waste initiative, national grocery chain Kroger is addressing the challenge of food waste head on with the opening of the new Main & Vine concept store in Gig Harbor, WA. With Main & Vine, Kroger believes it has found the perfect recipe for offering both fresh, healthy food and achieving zero food waste. Here’s how.
No stranger to sustainability
Kroger is no stranger to sustainability. They are committed to using natural resources responsibly and minimizing waste wherever possible. In 2014, Kroger was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its leadership, innovation and education efforts to feed hungry people, protect the environment, and save money through food recovery. A participant in the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, Kroger was named winner in three categories: Leadership, Innovation, and Education and Outreach.
The national grocery focuses on sustainability year-round and subsequently publishes an annual sustainability report. The annual CSR focuses on their four core sustainability initiatives —energy/carbon reduction, water reduction, zero waste and logistics. Kroger uses the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) zero waste diversion benchmark as its goal — 90% or higher diversion. So how does Main & Vine plan on achieving zero food waste?
For starters, Main & Vine will have a smaller building footprint that your traditional grocery store. In addition to the less shelf space (which comes along with that strategic decision), Main & Vine has focused its efforts on offering fresher foods which don’t require food packaging. All of this was selected deliberately.
“Through their efforts, Main & Vine are truly becoming the change they want to see in the world – seeing the importance of a robust diversion program and its positive impact on environment,” said Sonya Betker, Quest’s Project Manager. “Upon completing our rollout training it was evident to me that each department will embrace their ‘role’ to ensure the Main & Vine actually reaches zero waste. The staff was also able to relate to the ‘local loop’ element of program – learning that they could realistically buy locally compost which may have elements of the Main & Vine program in it,” added Betker.
Like its parent company Kroger, Main & Vine will be utilizing the expertise of Quest Resource Management Group to manage their recycling and diversion program. Quest currently manages recycling programs for all of Kroger’s national retail locations.
With Quest’s guidance, Main & Vine diverts all food waste (also referred to as organics) to composting. The food waste is taken offsite to a compost facility, composted and then sold as a high quality compost product called P.R.E.P. (Pierce County Recycled Earth Products). Built-in environmental and management controls at the compost facility ensure that it is an upstanding neighbor and member of the community – in addition to meeting demand for these products.
For food that is still consumable, food donation plays a large role in helping Main & Vine keep food waste out of area landfills. Remember, just because food didn’t sell doesn’t necessarily mean the food cannot be consumed.
The retail concept will also be participating in single stream recycling program serviced by a local hauler for all traditional recyclable items – papers, metals, plastics, etc. Recycling glass is handled separately because it is not currently part of the hauler partner’s recycling program. Main & Vine collects glass separately and recycles it through one of several drop-off sites in the area. All cardboard is baled onsite to then be recycled offsite.
What little ‘waste’ is left is then sent to a waste-to-energy landfill in the local area.
More than a food focus
In addition to a heavy focus on food waste and producing zero waste, Main & Vine also incorporated other sustainable elements into its design — elements like energy efficient lighting throughout and a living wall (pictured below).
Kroger is confident that the success of Main & Vine will blossom into future locations across the U.S. For the time being, they’re proving that zero food waste is achievable.
Imagery credit: Sonya Betker