Trader Joe’s, which announced earlier this year that it would eliminate more than 1 million pounds of plastic from its stores in 2019, is on track to better that goal by an additional 3 million pounds. In its podcast last week, the Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer said it has already eliminated more than 2 million pounds of plastic from its produce departments alone, and it expects to remove a total of nearly 4 million pounds of plastic annually.
“Let's be honest, we have lots of packaging in produce,” said Jack Salamon, category manager of produce for Trader Joe's, during the podcast. The retailer has looked at both selling more loose produce, as well as environmentally friendly alternatives to existing packaging.
“For years we sold [garlic] in this little pouch. And I thought, ‘Geez, why do we do that?’ Probably because that's the way we've always done it. I said, ‘Why can't we just sell garlic loose?’”
When Trader Joe’s explored selling loose garlic, it found that the packaging had been adding cost to the product, which was ultimately passed on to the consumer. “So now you can go into a Trader Joe's, and you can get a big [head] of garlic for 49 cents,” he said.
For produce that requires packaging, Trader Joe’s is testing biodegradable and compostable fiber till with a thin plastic overwrap.
“It seems, Jack, that your work in sustainability is really paying off,” Tara Miller, director of words and phrases and clauses for Trader Joe’s, said in the podcast. “We had a goal to eliminate a million pounds of plastic from our stores over this year and we've surpassed that. We are on track to eliminate 4 million pounds of plastic from our stores in 2019, and 2.5 million pounds of that plastic has come directly out of the produce section.”
One of Trader Joe’s recent packaging reductions in produce involves replacing plastic flower bags with bags made of compostable material. The new floral bags are expected to hit stores in September. Trader Joe’s has also eliminated or replaced packaging for more than 20 produce items.
In addition to packaging initiatives that promote a healthier planet, Trader Joe’s is committed to selling more local and organic produce.
“We're a national chain of neighborhood stores. If you want to be a neighborhood store, you need items either locally grown or from your region,” said Salamon.
As Trader Joe’s has added more organic produce to its mix, its customers have responded by choosing organic over conventional.
“This is one area where we don't mirror national trends” said Salamon. “We sell way more organics than an average supermarket.” Thirty-two percent of Trader Joe’s produce is organic.”