EXCLUSIVE: FreshDirect Versus Food Waste

E-grocer works to solve issue from farm to fork
FreshDirect Bag Main Image
As a company that deals in fresh food, FreshDirect is dedicated to keeping any food waste to a minimum.

Online grocer FreshDirect is taking action to reduce food waste at all points along the supply chain through innovative programs. To find out more about the e-tailer’s initiatives in this crucial area, Progressive Grocer connected with Mike Kanter, director of merchandising for meat, seafood and poultry, and Annemiek de Graaf, lead for health and sustainability, to discuss FreshDirect’s initiatives that aim to reduce food waste year-round. These include the Whole Animal Program, which supports local farmers who follow regenerative practices that replenish soil, encourage biodiversity, reduce the carbon footprint, create a healthy habitat for pollinators, and enhance water retention and mineral cycling, and partnering with local vendors that use controlled-environment agriculture (CEA), which uses fewer resources such as water, soil, pesticides and land.

Progressive Grocer: How did FreshDirect develop these two programs, and how were the suppliers brought on board?

Mike Kanter: When developing our FreshDirect Whole Animal Program, we tapped into our hyper-local connections with vendors and partners. Over the years, we have found that farmers who are invested in their local communities and neighbors who are most often the people buying and eating their product, are also doing everything they can to protect the environment impacting their animals and, by proxy, their consumers. FreshDirect is dedicated to providing our customers with the best and freshest food available, so the tenets of regenerative practices and ethically raised meat are a perfect match for the standard that we want to provide to our customers.

[Read more: "FreshDirect Rolls Out Incubator Program for Small Businesses"]

The concept is the same for identifying produce partners who adhere to CEA practices. As the purpose of CEA is to increase reliance on local and regional food systems and decrease the need for cross-country transportation, we looked to our hyper-local network.

When securing these partnerships, we work with the vendor to ensure that the regenerative practices are possible and profitable, and in many cases, we are the only large distributor that these farmers work with, such as with Brothers Ridge Farm. As another example, FreshDirect is the only major retailer in the New York City metro area to carry Bowery Farming’s delicious salad kits, and their Selection Bok Choy is available exclusively to FreshDirect customers.

We launched our first Whole Animal Program with Brothers Ridge Farm in 2016. Since then, we have developed separate grass-fed and grain-fed Angus programs buying 50 cattle a week, and a pasture-raised heritage pork program. These efforts now include approximately 50 small farms. Our goals are multifaceted. We strive to support community-rooted farmers and processors, keeping money and jobs in our local economies. We provide smaller farmers the opportunity to bring their product to a wider audience, also allowing them to focus on the farming as opposed to finding a market for their product or even getting their animals processed, which is very problematic for small farmers, due to the consolidation of processors in the industry.

Another goal important to us, our partners and our customers is reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment. All our whole animal programs are based on regenerative farming practices. Grass-eating animals like cows and lamb and dynamic recyclers like hogs play a vital role in maintaining the healthy ecosystem of a farm. Raising these animals on perennial pasture and in managed forests allows them to build soil health, sequesters carbon, promotes biodiversity, creates a healthy habitat for pollinators, and enhances water retention and mineral cycling. These farming practices fight climate change and ensure that farmland remains healthy and productive for future generations.

All our animals roam freely on pastures that provide space for them to feed, forage, root and play. All our partners practice low-stress handling throughout the animal lifecycle and strive to maintain abundance and diversity in the farm ecosystem, which allows each animal to thrive. We find that better farming practices result in the highest-quality, best-tasting products.

PG: What other sustainability initiatives has the e-grocer implemented?

Annemiek de Graaf: As a company that deals in fresh food, FreshDirect is dedicated to keeping any food waste to a minimum, whether on the farm at the source or at the end of its journey to the table. In our kitchen, we are always looking for opportunities to use all of the food we bring in. For example, brown bananas make great banana bread, and stems of broccoli and cauliflower can be turned into “rice.”

Our first outlet for food that is nearing its expiry date or has cosmetic imperfections is our Employee Store, a great way to save food from going to waste, and a great perk for our employees.

The next step is donation. In 2022, FreshDirect donated a total of 1,606.8 tons of food to City Harvest and Life of Hope, equating to 2.6 million meals. And for anything that is inedible, we partner with our food waste recycling partners to prevent the food from ending up in landfills. We recycled 339.4 U.S. tons of food waste in 2022.

PG: How does FreshDirect communicate the importance of fighting food waste, as well as how crucial sustainability is across the company’s operations, to its customers?

AdG: FreshDirect’s website provides a variety of opportunities to highlight efforts to reduce food waste and prominently feature our partners in that mission. Our customers can easily find the best organic and local options with one click. Homepage features like “Meat that can reduce your carbon footprint” or “Make greener, cleaner choices” bring the importance of sustainable choices, and FreshDirect’s dedication to making those choices easy, to the forefront of our customers’ minds.

Bronx, N.Y.-based FreshDirect services the New York City metro area. Parent company Ahold Delhaize USA is No. 10 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North AmericaPG also named the company as one of its Retailers of the Century. 

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