Sustainability Efforts Need to Generate Returns

DALLAS — A company's sustainability initiatives need to make sense for the bottom line, cautioned Michael Hewett, manager of environmental services at Publix Super Markets, during a presentation at Food Marketing Institute's Future Connect conference here. A practice is only sustainable if you can at least break even, if not get a [return on investment], he said. Hewett cited in-store bottle and can

DALLAS — A company's sustainability initiatives need to make sense for the bottom line, cautioned Michael Hewett, manager of environmental services at Publix Super Markets [4], during a presentation at Food Marketing Institute's Future Connect conference here.

“A practice is only sustainable if you can at least break even, if not get a [return on investment],” he said.

Hewett cited in-store bottle and can collection as an example, noting that partnering with outside entities to promote such collection is a more practical way to approach sustainability for retailers.

In addition, he said that although Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix would like to find a suitable alternative to Styrofoam packaging for some prepared foods, the company has not yet been able to find a cost-effective replacement that fulfills the requirements. He also noted that Publix has reduced packaging on some items, and has not received any negative feedback from customers.

“Customers are more likely to say, ‘Why aren't you doing more?’” Hewett said.

Publix has had a lot of success promoting its reusable shopping bags — he said the company now calculates that it has saved 1.5 billion plastic bags — and has also partnered with non-government organizations to promote sustainable fishing.

The company began to make more progress on green issues when it added sustainability to its corporate strategy map, Hewett explained.

“We created an internal network of advocates” from across multiple departments, he explained. “Once you start collaborating internally, then you can collaborate externally.”

Publix has trained its category managers and buyers about sustainability so they can look for opportunities in that area to work with their suppliers, Hewett said.

“As retailers get more engaged, it's an opportunity for manufacturers to collaborate in some way, shape or form,” said Bob Branham, director of customer sustainability at General Mills, who presented with Hewett as a part of a discussion on retailer-vendor collaboration.

While opportunities for collaboration among retailers and suppliers in the area of sustainability could take many forms, Branham said one of the key areas for collaboration is in waste reduction.

Other areas of retailer-vendor collaboration discussed in the presentation included multicultural marketing, and health and wellness.

“It has to be a three-way win,” said Subriana Pierce, senior vice president of sales and merchandising in Supervalu's Albertsons chain, noting that retailers, suppliers and consumers all have to benefit.

Pierce, along with Marie Quintana, SVP of multicultural at PepsiCo, explained how retailers and suppliers can collaborate on promotions targeting Hispanic consumers.

The two partnered on a Hispanic Heritage Month promo that drove sales of beverages and salty snacks.

Pierce said several elements are key to making the promotion work — the products, circular, in-store experience and community involvement.

Also, Don Clark, VP of pharmacy operations at K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., and Brian Fanning, team sales leader at the Clorox Co., discussed expanding the reach of the pharmacy department to a more comprehensive health and wellness role through collaboration.

“The better we can fulfill the self-care need for customers, the better we can integrate the health care and pharmacy,” said Clark, who said there is an opportunity to create a “healthy living plan” for customers that tied together diet, pharmacy and other store products.

He suggested that retailers who offer flu shots in their stores offer coupons with each shot — not just for OTC flu medications, but also for related products, such as hand sanitizers and vitamins.

The challenge to such “whole health” approaches is that retailers often find it difficult to promote products across various departments, Clark explained.