USA: Kroger zeroes in on goals to end hunger, waste
As Kroger continues to reach for higher profits, the grocer is also chasing two giant zeros.
The Cincinnati, Ohio-based company has sandwiched itself in between the fight to end hunger and the battle to eliminate all of the waste it generates.
East Tennessee Kroger stores are a part of both missions.
Kroger began mapping out its Zero Hunger Zero Waste plan in 2017, facing one alarming statistic.
While up to 40 percent of the food in the United States isn’t consumed, one in eight Americans struggles with hunger, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s absurd,” said Melissa Eads, corporate affairs manager of the Kroger Nashville Division, which includes East Tennessee. “It’s sad. It shines a light on the fact that the food is there. We just have to figure out how to get it to those in need.”
Kroger launched the Zero Hunger Zero Waste Innovation Fund, which is putting $1 million in grant funding behind startups and organizations that share in its vision to prevent food waste.
The grocer is doling out awards from $25,000 to $250,000 per innovation in its first year of the funding mechanism, which it announced in February.
Kroger was looking for “big and bold and innovative ideas that will really address this whole issue of food waste,” Eads said, along with ideas that would have a significant footprint.
Ramping up food donations to cut down on waste
Outside grant funding, the grocer has long been committed to large-scale donations of food products that still have shelf life, growing food rescue programs that it’s had in place for several years.
In 2018, the Knoxville Kroger at Knox Plaza in Bearden donated approximately 45,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee beginning in January.
The donations are a better alternative to the store’s past practice of discarding quality food that didn’t sell, said store manager Robin Harvey.
The program “makes you feel like you’re doing something good for the community and helping those people that are in need,” Harvey said.
All Knoxville-area stores – 19 total – donated more than 970,000 pounds through their food rescue efforts, according to Eads.
The 92 stores across the Nashville division – which also includes Middle Tennessee, North Alabama and South Kentucky – donated more than 2 million meals to food banks through the company’s food rescue programs in 2018, an increase of more than 80% from meals donated in 2017.
Kroger as a whole donated 326 million meals through food and funds in 2018.
That’s a lot of meals. But that’s also a mere fraction of the entire company’s donation goal – 3 billion meals by 2025.
In striding toward that goal, Kroger has continued to accelerate its meal donations and is now expanding the kind of perishable items it can donate as it also looks to disperse “more balanced meals,” Eads said.
The donation effort feeds families and community members in need while diverting food from the garbage, which pushes forward the grocer’s two missions to end hunger and waste.
‘A moonshot goal’
Kroger also works to scale back food waste with composting, Eads said, noting that by the end of 2017 all its stores were participating.
Last year, Kroger’s Nashville division sent 18 percent less to landfills than the amount it sent in 2017.
By 2025, the company aims to achieve zero food waste in all its stores, according to its 2018 sustainability report.
Kroger further eliminates waste through a recycling process that zeroes in on materials like cardboard and plastic – particularly single-use plastic bags, which the company also plans to phase out in all its stores by 2025, Eads said.
The company will instead offer up reusable bags, she said, though exactly what that will look like in stores will be a learning process.
Apart from plastic bags, Kroger is determined to reroute 90% or more of waste from its operations away from landfills by next year, its sustainability report states.
Are the company’s goals realistic?
“It’s a moonshot goal,” Eads said of pursuing zeros in terms of both hunger and waste.
It will take a collective effort across communities, she stressed, noting that the company’s green mission has resonated with customers.
“For the sake of our environment,” Eads said, “we have to make change.”
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