As consumers call for more sustainable packaging, grocery retailers are working to reduce their use of single-use plastics and embrace eco-friendly options for their own-brand products, foodservice containers and more.
The Kroger Co.—which was WGB’s Grocery Business of the Year in 2021, in part for its sustainability efforts—has pledged to switch to 100% recyclable, compostable and/or reusable own-brand packaging by 2030, and plans to eliminate single-use plastic checkout bags by 2025.
The company is also venturing into zero-waste packaging. In February 2022, Kroger launched a partnership with Loop to offer products at select Fred Meyer stores in the Portland metro area from popular brands such as Nature’s Path and Gerber in reusable packaging. Customers pay a small deposit on the container, which is fully refunded when it is returned to the store (see photo above). Loop then cleans the packaging and reuses it.
Albertsons Cos. has made similar sustainability commitments through its Plastics and Packaging Pledge, vowing to make 100% of its own-brand packaging recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025. Additionally, the retailer will include 20% recycled content in plastic packaging for its own-brand products.
“To help our customers better understand package recyclability claims, we have worked with key suppliers to deliver more on-pack and digital recycling information,” said Darcie Renn, senior director of sustainability for Albertsons Cos., “and we will be working to implement more reusable and refillable choices for customers in the future.”
The grocer recently teamed up with materials science company Footprint, based in Gilbert, Ariz., to expand its eco-friendly packaging offerings. Made from 100% bio-based, biodegradable, compostable and recyclable fibers, Footprint’s products include own-brand packaging, along with plant-based fiber bowls, clamshell containers and other foodservice items.
“Demand is rapidly increasing for plant-based solutions,” Footprint co-founder and CEO Troy Swope said, “and the combination of consumer demand, corporate climate-pledge goals specifically related to packaging, and regulations banning certain single- and short-term use plastics will continue to accelerate this trend.”
Large grocery chains are not alone in their sustainability efforts. Oliver’s Market, which operates four stores in Northern California, has been certified through the Sonoma County Green Business Program since 2011. For its 2021 recertification, Oliver’s created a companywide sustainability policy banning the use of Styrofoam products for stores’ prepared foods packaging, and requiring that any food packaging provided by Oliver’s stores must be reusable, recyclable and/or compostable. The market also encourages customers to bring in their own containers to use in the bulk, produce, deli and bakery departments.
“While grocery stores have become places for convenience, this has also created the potential for them to be places of waste.”
“While grocery stores have become places for convenience, this has also created the potential for them to be places of waste,” said Annie Sherman, sustainability coordinator for Oliver’s Market. “However, the winds are shifting due to both customers demanding more sustainable options, and the rising economic and environmental costs of waste.”
With more than 100,000 grocery stores across the United States, she added, “That’s an incredible amount of purchasing power and influence that grocery retailers have on what type of packaging is promoted and normalized.”
Being good environmental stewards can also help grocery retailers attract shoppers and build customer loyalty.
Nearly 70% of food retailers polled for FMI’s The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2021 survey said they use social and environmental policy as a differentiation strategy, and of those respondents, 52% said the tactic has been highly successful. The organization’s research also shows that nearly 40% of shoppers rate sustainable business practices such as recycling among their most important considerations when selecting a primary grocery store.
“While price, taste and convenience are important factors in consumers’ decision-making process, food retailers can further set themselves apart by demonstrating their commitment to operating in a socially responsible way,” said Andy Harig, FMI’s VP of tax, trade, sustainability and policy development. “Retailers that successfully implement these kinds of practices and educate their customers about them are able to more effectively build loyalty among consumers that share those values.”
Click here to return to the 2022 Sustainable Packaging Report