Suzanne Long, chief sustainability and transformation officer at Albertsons Cos., spoke at the "Waste Is Only Waste If You Waste It" session during Grocery Impact.
When it comes to the multi-billion-dollar food waste issue, Suzanne Long, chief sustainability and transformation officer at Albertsons Cos., has made it a personal and business imperative to figure out the best ways to contain it. Long took the stage at Grocery Impact in Orlando alongside Flashfood President and COO Nicholas Bertram to discuss why food waste initiatives are good for both business and society, as well as how Albertsons is working to tackle the problem.
With operations in 34 states across 22 banners, Albertsons is using its Recipe for Change framework to create a positive impact on its people, communities and the environment. Taking into account the facts that 30-40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted each year and that more than 44 million Americans are food insecure, Long explained, the grocer has created a food pathway within each of its stores to create a more sustainable cycle.
“This is why I’m fascinated by waste. We are producing and throwing away 30-40% [of food], we have 40 million hungry Americans and we are making something worse for the planet,” Long said. “Those three things just should not coexist. There is something better that can be done with the system, so that is what we at Albertsons Cos. are trying to work on.”
As it works to reduce shrink, Albertsons aims to order and produce the right items in the right quantities through avenues such as artificial intelligence-based technology, and also to sell as much of its product as possible. Where improving gross margin is concerned, the grocer also looks to optimize markdowns and get vendor credit whenever possible. The pathway continues into reducing waste hauling expenses through donating edible food and diverting inedible food, then using data to inform future ordering and production.
“The best, best, best thing we can do with any food that we can’t sell is donate it. Full stop,” Long explained. “The reason that’s so important is two things. One, there are 40 million-plus hungry Americans, and we can all do something about it. It’s also free to donate. If I send that to landfill or if I compost that, I’m spending money to do that. We are literally paying money if we don’t donate it.”
Albertsons is also creating innovative partnerships to think outside the box when it comes to addressing food waste. The company has linked up with Johns Hopkins University to help increase associate engagement in food donation through a unique retail-academic and human-centered design partnership. A partnership with Uber has also allowed Albertsons to address local donation pickup challenges through sponsored delivery at select stores.
While Long recognizes that food retail is a human business that can’t be executed perfectly, she explained that it’s a leader’s job to help get rid of variation and close the gap between what’s being done to address these important issues and how it can be done more effectively.