Q&A: How Food Lion Is Ramping Up Its Sustainability Initiatives

Company exec details wins from programs in place and what’s to come
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Food Lion recycling 2023
Food Lion shared its sustainability progress from 2023 as part of Global Recycling Day.

As citizens across the world mark Global Recycling Day on March 18, Food Lion is pulling back the curtain on its sustainability and recycling efforts over the past year. Geoff Waldau, EVP, Merchandising at Food Lion, spoke with Progressive Grocer about the retailer's progress, as well as what’s to come.

According to the company, it diverted 82% of its waste in 2023, which totaled 305,000 tons of material. Food Lion also recycled thousands of tons of materials, including more than 181,000 tons of cardboard and paper; 8,700 tons of plastic film, bags and bottles; and 18,800 tons of food through animal feed, anaerobic digestion and composting. The company also donated more than 73 million pounds of edible food to food insecure neighbors.

Waldau shared additional thoughts and information about Food Lion’s initiatives.

Progressive Grocer: Which Food Lion sustainability initiatives have been the most impactful over the past year? 

Geoff Waldau: It’s safe to say that each and every one of our company initiatives around sustainability are considered extremely impactful. We maintain a deep commitment to ensuring our customers are provided with items that align with environmentally friendly production processes, and that critical commodities including tea, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, wood fiber and seafood are held to industry-leading standards ensuring they’re sustainably sourced. 

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We also put a lot of effort into ensuring our customers have healthy and affordable options throughout our assortment and leverage our proprietary Guiding Stars program to make identifying nutritional choices easy. Guiding Stars indicate if product meets transparent nutrition criteria, providing a 1-, 2- or 3-star rating for Good, Better or Best nutrition. The ratings are conveniently located on shelf tags, prepared foods and store-brand packaging at Food Lion stores. This influences our customers to make healthier shopping decisions. 

Additionally, Food Lion’s diversion program leaves a big impact on both sustainability and food insecurity. We diverted 82% of our waste in 2023 totaling 305,000 tons of materials, including our donation of over 73 million pounds of edible food to nourish our neighbors in the towns and cities we serve. Diverting food from landfills to food pantries isn’t only about sustainability for us, it’s a crucial part of our commitment to fighting food insecurity. 

Lastly, we remained focused on driving efficiencies and improving our overall emissions footprint with key efforts like converting sales floor lights in 224 stores to LED which helps support our race to zero ambitions.  

Geoff Waldau, EVP, merchandising at Food Lion
Geoff Waldau, EVP, Merchandising at Food Lion

PG: How does Food Lion's food donation program work? And what about the waste diversion program? 

GW: Not only do we strive to continue providing easy, fresh and affordable options for customers, we also have a huge responsibility to care for all our neighbors in the towns and cities we serve. Here in the United States, food waste accounts for roughly 30-40% of the food supply. Food Lion was the first grocery retailer in the U.S. to implement a food rescue program with our partner, Feeding America, in 2000. As a part of our philanthropic platform, Food Lion Feeds, our program works locally to divert stores’ food waste from area landfills to area food banks. This includes fresh produce, meat, dairy products and nonperishable items. When food cannot be donated, we have still found sustainable ways to dispose of it wherever possible such as composting and recycling organic waste. Since 2014, we’ve donated 1.2 billion meals to our neighbors in need and are on track to achieve our goal of donating 1.5 billion meals by 2025.

[RELATED: Winning the Food Waste Battle]

Our goal at Food Lion is to improve waste diversion across our 1,100+ stores, whether it’s through recycling, composting or even animal feed. Driving zero waste through recycling streams such as paper, cardboard, plastic, food and more is essential to our contribution to a more eco-and socially responsible future. Plus, as a U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion, we’re committed to reducing food loss and waste in our operations by 50% by 2030.

PG: Does Food Lion have any new or upcoming sustainability initiatives you can share?

GW: There are always greener initiatives in the works for us! As a 22-time Energy Star Partner of the Year and a GreenChill Achievement winner, Food Lion is continuously working to improve both our lighting and refrigeration to be more energy efficient in support of the goal to be net zero in our operations by 2040. We appreciate these recognitions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We’re also working on pilot programs to improve sustainable food sourcing with various suppliers. Additionally, to support our ambitions around reducing plastic usage, we’re working on converting our chicken trays, replacing them with a more sustainable packaging that breaks down easier. There is additional ongoing work to look at innovative and sustainable packaging solutions that could leverage learnings from recent pilots on technology like advanced recycling.   

While we stand as champions of sustainability, our customers and communities remain at the forefront of the initiatives we establish, and we look forward to continue leading a more sustainable future. 

Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion operates more than 1,100 stores with 82,000-plus associates. Its parent company, Ahold Delhaize USA, a division of Zaandam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, is No. 10 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named the company one of its Retailers of the Century. In addition, the Food Lion banner is an honoree of several 2023 Impact Awards, a PG awards program that honors outstanding ESG efforts.

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