Why seizing sustainability makes sense

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Why seizing sustainability makes sense

By Lawrence Aylward - 11/12/2019
Products in Albertsons Cos.' Open Nature line are innovative and sustainable.

"Sustainability.”

It’s a big word, and it comes with a lot of responsibility. Let’s put it this way: “Sustainability” is a lot for grocery retailers to get their arms around.

“Sustainability means different things to different people,” says Nancy Cota, vice president of own brands, product management, innovation and brand management for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos.

Indeed. Sustainability is about:

• reducing food and packaging waste;

• using leftover food to help feed the poor;

• reducing the carbon footprint;

• removing undesirable chemicals and ingredients from food and beverage products to make them healthier;

• ensuring that suppliers and producers practice environmental stewardship and animal husbandry;

• offering products that are inclusive for all people;

• and treating employees fairly and with dignity while compensating them adequately.

Sustainability, simply, is responsibility on myriad levels associated with products and services.

Grocery retailers have been criticized for not being sustainable, especially regarding food waste. Last year, The Center for Biological Diversity issued a report called “How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste.” Enough said.

But grocery retailers are improving on the sustainability front. They realize, perhaps more than ever, that they need to be leaders for the greater good. They also know that consumers, perhaps more than ever, are judging them on their sustainable initiatives. Retailers also recognize that being sustainable just makes plain good business sense.

Matt Sargent, senior vice president of market research company Magid, believes sustainability provides retailers another tool in the tool box to differentiate their products.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox, but it’s also indicative of private label no longer being the copy and paste of national brands,” Sargent says. “It’s saying that not only is a product not a national brand equivalent in terms of taste and quality, it’s also not a national brand equivalent in terms of overall footprint in regard to these different elements of sustainability.”

Earlier this year, Gil Phipps, Kroger’s vice president of branding, marketing and Our Brands, told attendees at the Shoptalk retail conference in Las Vegas that having a premium and exclusive store brand product is no longer enough. It must also have a degree of social responsibility built in.

“We develop our private brand products by taste profile, but we are definitely finding that different generations resonate differently with different brands,” Phipps said. “Eighty percent of millennials say their decision on what to purchase is driven not only by the products that make them happy, but by products that are also socially responsible.”

In the next several issues of Store Brands Today, we'll look at what several grocery retailers are doing to be more sustainable. These vignettes may focus on one or only a few things that retailers are doing. In most cases the retailers are doing much more and have made sustainability a significant component of their every-day businesses.

Today, we look at Albertsons Cos.

INNOVATING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
Albertsons Cos. released a new line of compostable and Earth-friendly products last April under its Open Nature store brand that are not only sustainable, but they are innovative.

In essence, Albertsons Cos. weaved innovation and sustainability together to create the line, which focuses on an “eco-picnic” family of products, including BPA-free plates, bowls, cutlery, straws, cold cups and hot cups. All components are made of plant-based material certified compostable in industrial composting facilities. Each is certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).

Other compostable additions to the Open Nature brand include garbage bags, lawn and leaf bags, and food scrap bags. More compostable products are planned for the line in coming months.

Additionally, Open Nature is introducing bamboo facial tissue, bamboo washable rayon towels and bamboo bath tissue. Bamboo, a grass, is easily renewable because it grows quickly and matures in only three years. It takes up less land, uses less water than trees, and requires zero pesticides to grow. Bamboo also reduces soil erosion and greenhouse gases while capturing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees or cotton.

Cota says the line was launched for several reasons.

“Of course, we wanted to do the right thing for our social responsibility,” she adds. “We also wanted to solve a problem for many of our shoppers. They were looking for sustainable products in these categories, and there weren’t many options with the name brands. We also wanted to innovate in the space and differentiate with our Own Brand products.”

At Albertsons, sustainability is perpetual. The retailer formed a sustainability council that meets regularly to identify more opportunities for the company to support sustainable practices, Cota says.

“Sustainability is embedded in our DNA,” she notes.

NEXT UP: H-E-B

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