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Ahold Delhaize USA is winning at food waste

The grocer wants to cut food waste by 32% at its stores by 2025, 50% by 2030

The following Q&A is a transcript from a Supermarket News Off the Shelf podcast

Dealing with food waste is a top priority among grocery retailers. Instead of produce ending up in a landfill, the process has become more detailed and complex. However, the end result remains the same: To nourish as many as possible (while avoiding as much waste as possible).

Earlier this year, a group of food waste experts gathered at the 2023 Southeast Produce Council’s 2023 Southern Exposure event to talk about the issue and share strategies. Justin LaCroix, director of sustainable operations and brand lead for health and sustainability at Ahold Delhaize USA, was on the panel and shared some of the things his company was doing to cut down on the waste.

Ahold Delhaize is part of the 10x20x30 initiative which features 10 of the world’s biggest food retailers. 

The power grocers are engaging with 20 of their priority suppliers to cut the amount of food waste in half over the next seven years. Ahold Delhaize wants to cut food waste by 32% at its stores by 2025 and 50% by 2030. To help do this, the company is launching a “HowGood” label program to provide product sustainability ratings, and the retailer also wants to advance traceability.

It’s not a simple pivot. For example, a produce manager on the store floor needs to engage in constantly rotating items like plums and tangerines with the goal of selling as much as possible on a daily basis. Then, at the end of the day a determination needs to be made as to where food past their sell date could be most useful. The tasks demand constant attention and action.

In a recent episode of the SN Off the Shelf podcast, LaCroix spoke about the goals of food waste moving forward and greener practices that can be done at the market.

Bill Wilson: Ahold USA is doing some interesting things over there regarding food waste. Tell us about these initiatives.

Justin LaCroix: There’s a few different commitments and goals that we have in the space of food waste. And the key one that drives a lot of our work is basically to cut food waste in half by 2030. “Champions 12.3” is an initiative focused on food waste and we have a lot of different global partners kind of involved with that. Another one is the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions. So this is in partnership with the USDA and EPA, but this work, again, is really around the framework of cutting food waste in half by 2030.

And then once we get to the consumer side of things, there’s a portion of food waste that can occur at that level as well, too. So, really all along the value chain there’s opportunities within each of those spaces and we’ve put a lot of emphasis and focus on our operational measures.

BW: Let’s talk about produce. What’s the produce manager’s role in all this?

JL: Yeah, it’s a great call out. So the produce manager’s role in how much fresh product that they manage makes it a really important task and job kind of within the organization for how we manage food waste. There’s a number of different kinds of components to how they manage inventory. So there’s various ordering systems and tools that we use to bring product into the store on a consistent basis. And regular deliveries allow for less product to be on hand at one time.

There also are a number of different procedures and processes the produce managers help with. 

One being ordering — making sure they have the right product and using the tools available to manage the product handling and daily checks and the maintenance and what goes into that part of it. Another is just taking inventory and seeing kind of where there might have been gains or losses or maybe opportunity sections within the category to kind of identify any
problematic opportunities.

But then if there’s something that’s beyond that, also making sure that they get those products into our recycling bins or into our recycling stream. So at the end of the day, we have as little as possible ending up going to the landfill.

BW: The goal is to cut food waste by 50% by 2030. Is that ambitious? 

JL: When we set it, I would absolutely have said this is an ambitious goal because there are a lot of challenges within the food supply chain when it comes to getting product onto the shelves and selling the right amount of product and making sure that the retailers, the consumers, the farmers, and everybody has kind of the tools and awareness to manage food and food waste holistically. 

So it is an ambitious goal, but we have made great progress as well too. Just recently, our parent company, Ahold Delhaize, released their annual report and we’ve made great progress already. About 33% of our food waste has been reduced versus our baseline, which puts into line of sight that 50% by 2030. So we’ve made amazing strides in our own operations and with how we calculate and measure food waste.

One area of opportunity within retail is that it starts with really kind of some smart demand forecasting and planning and production tools. Making sure we’re making the right amount of food, we’re bringing in the right amount of food, and there’s not that excess food to begin with. So it literally sits at the top of the waste hierarchy.

BW: Back in March, you were at the Southeast Produce Council’s 2023 Southern Exposure event and took part in a panel on food waste. Is there something that you learned from that event? 

JL: Well, one thing that stood out to me is that I was accompanied with a couple of other great panelists as well, too. And it was structured in a way where we had representation from different parts of the value chain of food waste — so someone on the production side, on the retail side, on the demand forecasting side, but then also the recovery side and looking at some of these solutions as well, too. 

I think it’s important that we don’t work in silos with some of these topics, especially health and sustainability topics and food waste in particular, because a lot of this work is connected. And so the more we can open up and be on panels and discuss with other leaders kind of in the space and other groups that are prioritizing food waste and making sure they can reduce it, then I think we can achieve kind of a greater outcome holistically and kind of as a group and working together on the topic.

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