The Greening of Grocers

Check out my recent blog post on Canadian Grocer magazine’s website.

The Greening of Grocers

Neil Kudrinko  |  September 25, 2012

Last Thursday, September 20, grocery industry professionals gathered in Toronto forCanadian Grocer’s Commitment to Sustainability conference, proclaiming sustainability has moved beyond the carbon footprint of store operations and now must also consider broader implications of procurement decisions.

For those who skipped this conference fearing that it would be a tree-hugging, granola-crunching, Birkenstock-wearing love in, throw your stereotypes aside.

Sustainability is increasingly becoming the language of business.

Resource scarcity is leading to resource efficiency and with those changes businesses increasingly have to adjust their practices in order to ensure profitability in a changing business environment.

David Smith, VP of sustainability at Sobeys; Bob Chant senior VP, corporate affairs and communication at Loblaw; and John Coyne, VP legal and external affairs with Unilever all presented a vision of our industry that incorporates a different set of standards than we have employed in the past.

Smith began his segment with a picture of four earths.

His message being that demographic changes and an increasingly middle-class global population would continue to place pressures on the food industry.

With 80 per cent of the world population projected to be middle-class by 2030, four earths would be needed to support current consumption patterns, based on present practices.

The challenge: increase food production by 50 per cent, while addressing a waste factor of 40 per cent, and do so without further impacting the environment.

Bob Chant made it clear that sustainability is also on the minds of decision makers at Loblaw.

Canada’s largest grocer is zeroing in on areas with the most impact and focusing on consumers.

Chant shed some light on the mindset of consumers point out that most consumers expect price parity with traditional products and that sustainability is mostly viewed as a value add, not a chargeable commodity. With this in mind, Chant added, “Voluntarism cannot crack where we need to be.”

Perhaps the most poignant question of the day came from panelist John Coyne. In addressing Chant point on voluntarism, Coyne asked, “How do we remove the dirty discount?”

The economy must change in order to deal with shifting landscapes.

Finite resources are going to become more expensive and governments will continue to feel pressure to deal with the effects of environmental degradation caused by the effects of an increasingly affluent world population.

At some point governments will have to address resource consumption with some type of regulation or tax scheme to address problems such as carbon emissions and water use.

In the meantime, these three companies seem intent on addressing the issues before governments mandate change.

Following the panel discussion I asked John Coyne what message he had for companies that are either apathetic or dismissive to his call for change. His response: “I’ve got four words for them; listen; learn; ask us.”

Sobeys, Loblaw, and Unilever for their part aren’t viewing sustainability as a matter of competitive advantage as much as they are committed to changing the systemic problems of an inefficient, outdated industry model based on plentiful, inexpensive resources.

If you’re not considering how your business will function in this new economy, you’re likely to be left behind.


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3 responses to “The Greening of Grocers

  1. Wendy

    Thanks for the very interesting report. We love that Kudrinko’s is ahead of the pack for small town grocers and retail sustainability.

  2. Pam

    Love having a grocery store in Westport.

    I am curious to know why Kudrinkos fresh cranberry packages are from Cape Cod and not from Canada or Ontario (Bala)??
    Also would it be possible for you to mention by signage the origin of your produce and especially your meat, fish and poultry?

    • Thanks Pam. All of our produce carries product of origin details in compliance with the regulations. When possible we also try to highlight local growers. Meat products do not require product of origin labeling but we do include it on beef products in our ads. We also highlight our local Eight Line Beef products with special stickers and I know that Kim and Charlie Sytsma are working on developing signage to help with identification. As for being specific with who the grower is and exactly where the product came from, labeling each and every product would be a never ending exercise as our source of supply regularly switch between suppliers. This would be a very expensive exercise. As you know, our staff is very friendly and love to share product detail with our customers. I’m always happy to share those details with you.

      As for the cranberry situation, we buy our cranberries off of the Ontario Food Terminal. When Ontario product is available, it is our first choice. However, sometimes our buying pattern doesn’t match up with when the growers are shipping (this can sometimes be a matter of hours, the Food Terminal is an amazing place to witness) If we were able to buy direct, my first choice would be to use an Ontario farmer, but the reality is we have to use the Food Terminal for our source of supply on this product.

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