Earthwise 2022: A Multi-Pronged Approach to Sustainability for Aldi

From packaging to how it sources products, Aldi is focused on all aspects of sustainability.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
Greg Sleter profile picture

With 2,200 stores across the United States, Aldi is one of the nation’s largest retailers of private label products. In addition to maintaining its vision of offering shoppers quality items at affordable prices, the company is also attuned to the ever-evolving corporate culture radiating across the U.S. when it comes to
the issue of sustainability.

Recently, Aldi’s CEO Jason Hart penned a letter to customers highlighting the company’s latest initiative; phasing out plastic shopping bags from all its stores by the end of 2023. So far, the grocer has eliminated plastic bags from nearly 500 locations.

Joan Kavanaugh Aldi
Joan Kavanaugh, Vice President of National Buying at Aldi U.S.

To discuss Aldi’s total efforts related to sustainability, Joan Kavanaugh, Vice President of National Buying at Aldi U.S., spoke with Store Brands. She touched on a number of issues including the company’s efforts to revamp its packaging, changes to how it sources products and the steps it has taken to include its shoppers in the process.

STORE BRANDS: What steps has Aldi taken to work with suppliers to ensure packaging is reusable, recyclable and compostable?

JOAN KAVANAUGH: We’re proud to be taking several steps on this front. As we reported in our Progress Report, 62% of our Aldi-exclusive packaging is now reusable, recyclable or compostable. This is a huge milestone for us and the percentage continues to rise.

In addition to removing plastic bags from all our stores by the end of 2023, we have also pledged to use 20% post-consumer recycled content in our plastic packaging by 2025. This means our packaging will include material that has already been recycled, which cuts down on the creation of new plastic packaging, fostering a circular economy for plastics.

We’ve also worked closely with the Food Industry Association to develop a sustainable packaging playbook that offers guidance for suppliers to drive progress with packaging in all industries, including grocery. We are a founding member of the U.S. Plastics Pact, working with other retailers to create a path towards a circular economy for plastics in the United States by 2025. In the Pact’s 2020 baseline report, I restated our commitment to be an industry leader in sustainability, particularly when it comes to plastic and packaging reduction.

SB: Are there one or two product examples you could provide that show this effort with packaging?

Kavanaugh: We introduced new packaging for produce such as mixed bell peppers that uses 44% less plastic, as well as packaging for blueberries and tomatoes that uses 20% less plastic. We also removed Styrofoam from all produce packaging, and more than 99% of our apparel items use cardboard sleeves instead of plastic packaging.

SB: How is the reusable/recyclable/compostable nature of packaging conveyed to consumers?

Kavanaugh: As a shopper, it’s hard to know what product packaging is recyclable. Aldi has made it as simple as possible for shoppers. All Aldi-exclusive food and nonfood everyday items feature an easy-to-locate How2Recycle logo.

SB: Are there any steps taken to encourage consumers to not simply dispose of the products, but reuse or recycle it?

Kavanaugh: One of the goals we announced in 2019 was for all Aldi-exclusive products to be clearly labeled with a How2Recycle logo to promote recycling at home. I’m proud to share that we met this goal, which in turn has helped make recycling at home easier for shoppers. We’ve also developed sustainable Aldi Finds, including reusable straws and reusable sandwich/snack bags to further limit the number of items that are single-use and thrown in the trash.

SB: Within categories such as seafood or coffee, has Aldi made any investments with suppliers to ensure the products are sourced or grown sustainably?

Kavanaugh: Absolutely – sustainability in these categories is a priority for us. When it comes to seafood, we’ve partnered with our suppliers to ensure more than 100 of our fresh, chilled and frozen seafood products are certified sustainably sourced by a third party. We also work with the Ocean Disclosure Project to make the origin of wild-caught seafood visible to our customers. When customers purchase our seafood products, they can rest assured they’ve been sourced responsibly.

Aldi Barissimo coffee

Additionally, 100% of our Simply Nature-branded coffee products are already certified sustainable and 100% of our Barissimo premium coffee products will be certified sustainable by the end of this year, three years ahead of our original 2025 target.

Our partnerships with Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade America and Rainforest Alliance certify select Aldi products are fair trade and sustainably sourced, so customers know they’re buying items that are good for the people in our supply chain and the planet. Purchasing these products helps farmers and community development projects all over the world, in turn improving their livelihoods and
operations, and that’s important to us and our customers.

SB: Beyond any in-store or on-package information, is Aldi communicating these changes in a broader marketing strategy?

Kavanaugh: This is exactly why we released our first-ever progress report. As a leader in the grocery industry, it’s important our customers and peers see the progress we’re making toward becoming a more sustainable company, but it’s also vital we show there is still work to be done. We are proud to provide our shoppers with affordable ways to shop sustainably.