Kroger Co. this morning announced an ambitious plan to address what its CEO called the “paradox” of hunger and food waste simultaneously plaguing American communities.
Dubbed the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, Kroger said it was aiming to end hunger in communities where it does business while eliminating food waste across the company by 2025. The effort includes establishing a $10 million innovation fund through the Kroger Co. Foundation to address food waste and hunger; accelerating food donations; improving the quality of donated meals; and advocating for public policy solutions to address hunger.
In addition, Kroger pledged to meet its internal waste reduction goals while working to eliminate food waste entirely by 2025 through prevention, donation and diversion efforts. Kroger will also work with new and existing partners, including the food bank network Feeding America and the World Wildlife Fund, to identify opportunities to achieve its goals.
Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen described the initiative as a “moonshot” he hopes will inspire associates along with other organizations, while accelerating the company’s own food donation and waste-reduction efforts.
“We were there with [food bank network] Feeding America from day one, but about a year ago we asked ourselves how we could be even more helpful because there’s such a huge need out there. Can you improve by 25% from where you are today? Or 50%? And it’s one of things where, if somebody’s going to bed hungry, there shouldn’t be a percentage,” McMullen said. “Why shouldn’t we aspire in the communities we call home to make sure nobody goes to bed hungry tonight? That was the inspiration for Zero Hunger. The moonshot is, it hasn’t been done before. And we believe that by working with others we can actually have it so that nobody goes to bed hungry. That’s the moonshot.”
Across the U.S. around 42 million Americans struggle with hunger. At the same time, an estimated 72 billion founds of food ends up in a landfill. Around 40% of the food produced in the U.S. goes unconsumed.
This paradox, McMullen said, is in part because “a lot of the waste isn’t in the right spot where people are going hungry. And obviously with our infrastructure — between having 2,800 stores and our distribution network, we’re able to facilitate a lot of the helping, and make sure it gets to the right spot.”
In 2016, Kroger announced a plan to meet or exceed the EPA’s “zero waste” threshold of 90% diversion from landfills in its manufacturing and store facilities by 2020. McMullen said Kroger remains committed to that goal, having improved to a 78% diversion rate in 2016, up from 70% in 2015.
The 2025 plan seeks to eliminate food waste through prevention, donation and diversion efforts and also develop transparent reporting on food loss and waste, the company said.
In addressing hunger, McMullen (left) said Kroger would accelerate food donations to provide three billion meals by 2025. Kroger, its customers, associates and other partners have donated about 1 billion meals since 2013, McMullen said.
The initiative also calls for Kroger to provide not only more food but also more balanced meals, McMullen added, empowering associates to identify meat, dairy, produce and bakery items for donation that remain fresh, safe and nutritious, which accounted for 46 million fresh meals to food banks in 2016. Kroger is looking to help from partners in increasing that figure.
“There are parts of our plan where we’re going to have to partner with others and learn how to do it. One are we aspire to is to serve meals better and [learn] how do we accomplish that. Getting a hot meal to somebody can be complicated. So we’re asking, is there a way to facilitate this so that someone can get it from one of our stores?”
McMullen is also counting on help from Kroger’s 443,000 employees, many of whom have found that playing a role in efforts to reduce hunger and improve sustainability to be a source of personal and professional pride.
“A couple weeks ago I was in Detroit and I spent some time with our local food bank there and one of our associates I was talking to told me, ‘Twenty years ago I used the local the food bank when I didn’t have food. And it’s so inspirational when I came to Kroger to find out you were already working with them. Because there’s going to be somebody like me who the food bank helps as they get back on their feet.’”