By: Andy Harig, Senior Director, Tax, Trade & Sustainability, Food Marketing Institut

This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a federal interagency strategy to address food waste, and among the priority areas specified in the strategy, opportunities abound for our members to share best practices. Apropos to the agencies’ plan, “Winning on Reducing Food Waste.” I had an opportunity to interview Group VP Corporate Affairs Jessica Adelman, The Kroger Co., regarding a progress update on the company’s aggressive goals of ending hunger in their communities and eliminating food waste across their business by 2025.

Q: Kroger recently launched the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Innovation Fund, a program of The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation. Can you tell us about that and how this fund will help you achieve your goals?

: “Kroger’s investment is significant. A few years ago, our Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen and CFO Mike Schlotman designated philanthropic dollars to go to unique giving strategies. Thanks to their foresight, we have a $10 million fund designed to support the most creative ideas and scalable solutions to end the paradox of 1-in-8 Americans going without a meal every day while 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is thrown away. Earlier this year, the Kroger team launched our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Innovation Fund, committing $1 million in our pilot year to support innovative projects – from early concept to scalable models – to partner with startups, NGOs and innovators to accelerate our food waste prevention movement. A few months ago, we issued an open call for the Fund and received a substantial number of letters of intent. We will announce the recipients this spring. It’s a completely innovative approach to outcomes-based social impact work to create the true disruption we need to fix this really complicated…but totally absurd…dilemma in America.”

Q: One of the seven key pillars in Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan is to advocate for public policy solutions to end hunger and eliminate waste. Can you share some of the work your team has been doing in that arena?

: “It’s important to Kroger that all our customers have access to purchase the food their families need to thrive. SNAP and WIC benefits are vital to food insecure households, and through our efforts with the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste platform, we continue to use our voice and influence to advocate to keep SNAP benefits in place to help provide food for families. And we are grateful to FMI and Matt Perin on our team (Chair of FMI’s Government Relations committee) who are playing a role in shaping this discussion in Washington, D.C.”

“Kroger also came out as the first major retailer to commit to getting out of single use plastic bags – we hope the rest of the industry joins us! As of this month, our QFC division in the Pacific Northwest became our first market to no longer offer customers single-use plastic bags.

Kroger also firmly believes in partnerships that can further enhance our environmental commitments, including the local level, as evidenced by our company joining the 2030 district in Cincinnati – a public-private partnership to build a sustainable community.”

Q: How are you galvanizing Kroger’s internal work force to support Zero Hunger | Zero Waste?

: “We have integrated our social impact work into everything as a way to Live Our Purpose – to Feed the Human Spirit – every day. For example, Zero Hunger | Zero Waste is an asset Kroger is incorporating into our first major national search for a marketing agency of record, our talent recruiting materials and then, most importantly, our stores. Or leadership extols Zero Hunger | Zero Waste storytelling and messaging at major events, meetings and store walks, and our associates demonstrate internal support of waste reduction programs in our stores, manufacturing plants and facilities. On a related note, we just announced our latest ‘Kroger Zero Heroes’ – more than 30 associates from across our divisions, manufacturing plants and corporate offices who are leading the way to end hunger in our communities and eliminate waste across our company. It’s our passionate associates who are leading us to achieve our goals.” 

Q: How are you inviting your customers to participate?

: “Many of the Kroger family of stores offer customers the opportunity to ‘round up’ their total grocery purchase at the cash register, with 100% of the funds benefiting community partners in our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste journey. Secondly, through our in-store marketing, customer emails, websites and social media, we are providing tips and tools to our customers to help them embrace a Zero Hunger | Zero Waste lifestyle. Namely, we’ve launched a “Wilted to Wonderful” series, featuring our fantastic Chef Brandon Fortener who shares tips and recipes on how to transform food on the edge into delicious dishes. Kroger is also sharing infographics on topics about composting and proper food storing. Thirdly, we’re bringing our customers along with us on the journey to zero by introducing a new approach to how we date label Our Brands products, our private-label portfolio. Transitioning to standardized product date labels will be a tool to help customers when they are storing food in their home better understand what it all means, emphasizing the difference between peak freshness and safety, resulting in less food waste.”

For more information on Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, visit their website.