Wakefern steps up sustainability efforts in produce

Grocery cooperative adopts new plastics program.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Wakefern Food, the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States, is stepping up to adopt reusable plastic containers (RPCs) within its produce department. 

The move includes 280 ShopRite stores leveraging the materials that generate less carbon dioxide, reduce solid waste and lower costs for customers. 

Wakefern comprises nearly 50 members that independently own and operate 363 supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Gourmet Garage, and Fairway Market banners.

The company said it will be partnering with companies such as IFCO and Tosca that specialize in RPCs, giving Wakefern the ability to maximize supply chain efficiency through better product protection and temperature control. The containers also save time, space and money for shippers and allow for improved freshness with highly-ventilated, foldable and sturdy designs.  Additionally, reusable plastic containers allow produce to be better stored and handled in warehouses through efficient stacking and integration with automated processes, reducing potential food loss and waste from conventional single use packaging.

“Adopting reusable RPCs is a win for our customers, our suppliers, the environment and Wakefern,” said Robert Zuehlke, manager of corporate social responsibility,Wakefern.  “Wakefern is focused on engaging vendors whose products help drive a more sustainable future by reducing the environmental impacts of packaging, food waste and greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to the Plastics Industry Association, making new products with recycled plastics, not just RPCs, requires 66% less energy than using raw plastic materials.

Wakefern Food has been putting sustainable initiatives in place for four decades, the company said and the RPCs in produce expand on its food loss prevention and food waste diversion practices. 

Last year alone, Wakefern donated more than 5,000 tons of food to local food banks, composted more than 8,200 tons of food waste, and since the late 1970s has recycled more than 2.6 million tons of materials.