April 22 is Earth Day, a global event to demonstrate support for environmental protection, and a day in which food retailers have come to highlight their own ecology and sustainability efforts.
From environmentally friendly packaging to food waste initiatives and restoration efforts, here are some examples of how the food industry is working together to provide a more sustainable future.
Packaging Innovation From HelloFresh
Meal-kit company HelloFresh this week is unveiling new packaging innovations, including 100% post-recycled cardboard boxes and a proprietary “Box Fit” algorithm meant to reduce unnecessary packaging for meals, saving material and space on delivery vehicles.
The new boxes from Pratt Industries are now being used to ship meal kits from HelloFresh’s Georgia and Texas distribution centers and will contribute to “meaningful, positive environmental impacts,” the company said. This includes saving more than 115,000 trees, 47.6 million gallons of water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 6,800 tons in a year.
The Box Fit algorithm assigns the smallest possible box size to a customer’s order based on the volume and size of contents, the company said. The new process has increased the use of HelloFresh’s smallest boxes to 60%, and also reduced the use of cold packs and insulation, while increasing the number of boxes that fit on a truck for distribution.
“Our approach to packaging is to avoid using it whenever possible. When packaging plays an essential role in protecting the quality and safety of the food in our meal kits, we are committed to either reducing or optimizing it for recyclability,” Jeff Yorzyk, director of sustainability for HelloFresh U.S., said in a statement. “Leveraging cutting-edge technology and the new 100% recycled cardboard from Pratt Industries are two important steps toward continued leadership in sustainable packaging solutions for meal kits.”
Kroger Salutes 'Zero Heroes'
About halfway through its bold ambition to create communities free of hunger and waste by 2025, The Kroger Co. this week provided an update on Zero Hunger Zero Waste, including salutes to 2020’s top-performing stores and employees advancing the cause identified as “Zero Heroes.” CEO Rodney McMullen acknowledged the pandemic at once challenged its ambitions while reinforcing its relevance and impact.
Kroger directed $213 million in charitable giving to help end hunger in its communities in 2020, and it rescued 90 million pounds of food from its stores, food processing plants and distribution centers. While total surplus food donations declined 10% as more customers were stocking up and preparing meals at home, increased charitable donations enabled critical feeding programs in communities.
In food and funds combined, Kroger directed a record one-year total of 640 million meals to individuals and families struggling with hunger across the country, an increase from 493 million meals in 2019.
Its waste reduction achievements in 2020 included an 81% waste diversion from landfills companywide, up 1% from the prior year. The company also reduced total trash sent to landfills by 4% vs. the prior year.
Food waste recycling programs were expanded to 2,285 stores, up from 2,120 stores in 2019, reflecting the launch of new programs in the retailer's Central (Illinois and Indiana), Dallas and Houston supermarket divisions.
Kroger also recognized 23 facilities and 24 individuals as “Zero Heroes” for food donation and fundraising efforts, respectively. Kroger said it would direct a $2,000 grant on their behalf to a local nonprofit organization of their choice that helps advance the collective mission.
“We are grateful for the effort of every Zero Hero and our entire community to lift up Kroger's Zero Hunger Zero Waste commitment, which continues to drive meaningful outcomes," said Keith Dailey, Kroger's group VP of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer. “There are still many families and communities experiencing the impacts of hunger and waste in our country. We are committed to doing even more to meet our goals and create a future with zero hunger and zero waste—and we encourage other organizations to join our moonshot mission.”
Target's Work Toward a More Sustainable Future
Minneapolis-based Target Corp. knows that customers are looking for responsibly sourced, responsibly made items that are better for the environment. To that end, the company is adding new product lines made from recycled or compostable materials and reformulating some of its own products to make them more environmentally friendly.
In a news release earlier this month, Target announced that it is adding a collection of home cleaning products from Grove Collaborative that feature recyclable glass and aluminum packaging as well as a line of compostable storage items from Matter.
The company also has made changes to its lineup of Spritz party goods, which now includes three new collections featuring recyclable bags and wraps and compostable plates, cups and cutlery.
"It took nearly two years of research and working across our teams at Target and with our vendor partners to get here," Spritz designer Sarah Wray said in the release. "It's so rewarding to see how thoughtful design and a focus on more sustainable practices can deliver for our guests."
For Earth Week (April 18-24), members of the company's Target Circle rewards club can get 15% off select products made using sustainably sourced materials.
At a corporate level, Target has committed to sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, including through such projects as installing solar panels on store roofs and purchasing renewable power from the Nebraska-based Haystack Wind Project.
"These projects support Target's mission to create a more sustainable future for all and compound the joy of our guests," said Liz Lucente, Target lead program manager for renewable energy projects.
Wegmans Strives ‘Not to Waste a Thing’
Sustainability is a daily consideration at Wegmans, the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer said. An important aspect of its zero-waste initiative is the diversion of food scraps from landfill through donation to local farmers who use it as livestock feed. Every day, trimmings from fresh-cut fruit and veggies are collected with unsaleable bakery items for donation. Local farmers and animal organizations come to participating stores daily or weekly to pick up the feed for their animals.
“One of the biggest takeaways we learned from 2020 was not to waste a thing,” Wegmans Sustainability Coordinator Chris Foote said on the company website. In 2020, Wegmans donated a total of 19.6 million pounds of perishable and nonperishable food; 101 Wegmans stores diverted more than 48.1 million pounds of food waste through its diversion programs; and 79 Wegmans stores are participating in its path to zero waste initiative, increased from six stores in 2018.
H-E-B Simplifies Recycling
In what the company calls “a major step toward creating a more sustainable Texas,” H-E-B has joined How2Recycle, a program designed to take the guesswork out of recycling through a straightforward labeling system that reduces confusion about how, what and where to recycle. The clear, easy-to-read labels let consumers know if a product’s packaging can be recycled, which parts are recyclable and importantly, how to prepare material to increase recycling effectiveness. To launch the program on Earth Day, H-E-B will give away 200,000 reusable bags.
Since 2012, H-E-B has contributed more than $13 million to over 500 environmental organizations in land and water conservation, habitat and coastal preservation, and community cleanups. In 2020, the San Antonio-based grocer recycled more than 527 million pounds of cardboard, plastics, office paper, food waste, metal and truck tires.
Stop & Shop’s Plant-Based Webinar Series
Pointing to research from the University of Oxford, which found that a diet free of meat and dairy can reduce a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73%, Stop & Shop is kicking off Earth Day with a free, live educational and interactive webinar series titled, Nutrition 101: Plant Based Eating. Over the next few weeks, Stop & Shop nutrition partners will walk participants through how plant-based eating does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, break down some common myths, and share tips for simple swaps to get started. Stop & Shop reports its sales of fresh plant-based meat and dairy alternatives were up 47% in 2020.
Lucky California Donates Trees to Schools
Lucky California, part of the Save Mart Cos., is donating drought-tolerant, Crepe Myrtle trees to all elementary, middle and high schools in the Pleasanton Unified School District to celebrate Earth Day this year, as well as the upcoming reopening of its newly remodeled location at 6155 W. Las Positas Blvd. in Pleasanton, Calif. Save Mart partners with vendors and suppliers that share its commitment to sustainability and must operate in ethical environments and produce safe, high-quality products, the company said. In addition to ambitious composting and recycling efforts, the company also currently has 33 electric vehicle charging stations throughout 15 cities, with plans to install at Lucky California Pleasanton later this year.
Tops Invests in Solar Power
Tops Friendly Market of Williamsville, N.Y., has partnered with Convergent Energy + Power, a provider of energy storage solutions in North America, to deliver more renewable energy to upstate New Yorkers in the form of community solar paired with battery storage. As a result of this partnership, more than 75 Tops stores will be powered by the solar farms, which will reduce the stores’ carbon footprint. The solar-plus-storage projects developed by Convergent provide Tops and upstate New Yorkers access to solar energy whether or not the sun is shining and reduce the state’s reliance on power plants during peak demand hours.
Walmart Moves to Protect Pollinators
In a move to help protect pollinators such as bees and butterflies—which Walmart notes help make possible an estimated one in three food bites—Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart this month announced a commitment to, by 2025, source 100% of its fresh produce and floral items from suppliers that adopt integrated pest management practices.
"Pollinators are fundamental for around 80% of all flowering plants and more than three-quarters of the food crops that feed us," Martin Mundo, Walmart U.S. SVP and general merchandise manager for produce, wrote in a blog post on Walmart's website. But pesticides, climate change and loss of habitat have caused pollinator populations to decline significantly in the past 30 years.
"To help improve and expand pollinator habitats, Walmart U.S. will encourage fresh produce suppliers to protect, restore or establish pollinator habitats by 2025 on at least 3% of land they own, operate and/or invest in and report annual progress," Mundo wrote.
"Driving the scale of our collective pollinator commitments through our supply chain can create industry-leading changes and have a significant positive impact for the future of our planet," he added. "It can also help prevent mornings without orange juice and summer picnics without strawberries."
Walmart also noted that it has partnered with solar energy organizations to establish pollinator-friendly habitats around solar panel arrays like one at the company's Laurens, S.C., distribution center and made a grant through the Walmart Foundation to two Cornell University initiatives that promote pollinator monitoring.
Albertsons Commits to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Albertsons Cos. has made a commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and to setting an emissions reduction target that supports the goals of the United Nations’ Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Albertsons’ emissions reduction goal will align with standards that are designed to ensure a better future and to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, says the company. As part of this, the Boise, Idaho-based company will evaluate energy use and procurement, refrigerants, transportation and its supply chain to submit an emissions reduction goal to SBTi for approval. SBTi is a partnership between CDP, UN Global Compact, WRI, and WWF that helps companies take meaningful climate action through its science-based framework.
Publix's Restoration Efforts
In continuation of its commitment to water stewardship, Publix announced this week it is contributing $2 million to remove invasive trees and plants in 1,000 acres of wetland in the Florida Everglades. The company is funding projects at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the saline glades in Everglades National Park that will restore the health of these habitats and return an estimated 174 million gallons of water per year to the local environment.
Part of the donation will be provided to the National Audubon Society over a period of five years to help remove invasive willows and other plants from approximately 500 acres in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades.
Similarly, Publix has pledged a three-year donation to the National Park Foundation to help remove and control Australian pine trees in approximately 500 acres of the saline glades region in the eastern portion of Everglades National Park.
“A clean water supply is fundamental to the health and wellness of our communities,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones. “Through these collaborations with the National Audubon Society and the National Park Foundation, we are deepening our commitment to water stewardship by protecting, restoring and conserving an area that supplies nearly 8 million Floridians with fresh water every day and provides a critical natural habitat for endangered native species.”
Additionally, in the past five years, Publix has collaborated with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 605,000 native longleaf pine trees across more than 870 acres in Florida’s Little Orange Creek Preserve and Withlacoochee State Forest. The trees are estimated to collect over 66 billion gallons of rainfall and absorb more than 182,000 metric tons of net carbon dioxide over the next 50 years.
Ahold Delhaize USA’s The Giant Co. announced a $250,000 grant program this week designed to support projects that build on environmental stewardship by connecting families with community green spaces. Developed in partnership with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, the Healing the Planet grant program will begin accepting online applications June 1.
“Our latest grant program combines two of The Giant Co.’s key values: healing our planet and connecting families,” said Jessica Groves, manager of social impact for the retailer. “By partnering with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, we can help inspire action in our local communities to increase access to and improve community green spaces and support environmental restoration efforts. No matter how big or how small, we can’t wait for these projects to come to life, make a difference for our planet and provide families an opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors together.”
Applications will be accepted on the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful website from June 1-30. Eligible projects must be located in Giant’s operating areas within Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia. Projects could include park improvements, park builds, watershed restoration, recycling, beautification and greening, community gardens, farmers markets, vacant lot restoration, outdoor classrooms, and tree plantings. Grants will range from $2,500 to $25,000. Awardees will be announced late summer.
Giant and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful also announced that they have distributed 20 free benches, made of recycled plastic bags, to community organizations. It takes about 10,000 plastic bags to make one park bench. Since 2001, more than 1,800 benches have been donated to local fire departments, churches, schools, townships, parks, and playgrounds.
The two organizations are also hosting a tree planting and park clean up event in Pennypack Park in northeast Philadelphia.