The Benefits of Going Green

The Benefits of Going Green

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The focus has shifted in the supermarket deli industry. Rather than emphasizing diet, consumers are zeroing in on healthier lifestyles by becoming more in tune with food sources and manufacturing practices at retail, according to the 2016 International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s What’s in Store report.

Success in the food industry is now more dependent on transparency, with consumers seeking to purchase more sustainable items that are organic, natural, with clean ingredients and locally sourced.

According to the IDDBA report, among the top 20 hot culinary trends for 2015 were locally sourced foods, natural ingredients/minimally processed foods, sustainable seafood, food waste reduction/management and farm/estate branded items.

As a result, a number of manufacturers in the supermarket deli space are responding with new products and initiatives focused on the environment and sustainability.

Eliminating Packaging Waste

Packaging has been a primary focus for many companies looking to operate more sustainably.

EcoTensil’s line of disposable tasting utensils is compostable and made from sustainable, smooth paperboard, rather than non-renewable plastic. “EcoTensil products use significantly less material than plastic, so even if they don’t make it into the compost bin, they are still reducing waste,” says Cross.

Blount Foods seeks not only to partner with companies located closer to its operations to reduce its carbon footprint, but also has taken steps to eliminate plastic in its packaging as much as possible.

The company recently installed new processing equipment to eliminate the amount of corrugated cardboard in its packaging.

“We also are looking at films for foodservice bags that utilize less plastic, but that also are durable,” says Bigelow. “Blount also is constantly working on extending the shelf life of products, not just for consumers, but also to help eliminate food waste, and packaging innovations are playing a big part in this.”

Planglow USA, based in St. Paul, MN, recycles much of its scrap material and also focuses on sustainably sourcing its materials.

In fact, the company mandates that the materials for its green packaging are from sustainable sources.

“We’re committed to selling green packaging that is made from compostable materials,” says Steve Olk, college category manager. “People think this type of product costs more, but it doesn’t.”

Califresh focuses on bulk packaging that utilizes the least amount of materials to minimize waste and only offers smaller sizes upon request.

“We see a trend toward heavier packaging, with people looking for grab-and-go items,” says Dean. “This makes it difficult as a manufacturer to balance between utilizing sustainable resources and giving consumers what they want.”

To negotiate this, Califresh purchases its corrugate locally and only ships product 20 to 30 miles away.

The company also works with growers to reduce food waste, using it for animal feed or fertilization rather than diverting it to landfills.

San Diego-based Monterrey Provisions executes on its sustainability goals with projects like energy-efficient LED lighting retrofits, Ecobee smart thermostats and a company-wide recycling and repurposing program, which includes soft plastic recovery.

“Our soft plastic recovery program is possible through our partnership with Sprouts and Trex,” says Luke Abbott, Monterrey’s president. “From inbound loads and front of store, Sprouts collects bags of soft plastic waste in watermelon bins on blue pallets, which are loaded onto Monterrey trailers and taken to our distribution centers.”

At the distribution center, bales of plastic are created in a dedicated baler. The bales are sent to Trex for processing into faux wood flooring, diverting waste and reducing landfill. One of the challenges is separating food and non-compostable waste.

EcoTensil’s line of disposable tasting utensils is compostable and made from sustainable, smooth paperboard, rather than non-renewable plastic. “EcoTensil products use significantly less material than plastic, so even if they don’t make it into the compost bin, they are still reducing waste,” says Cross.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of sustainable packaging, so retailers using greener packaging in their delis and demos have found an easy and relatively cheap way to show their consumers they care about the environment, and not just talk about it.”

Despite the fact that sustainability and going green are huge initiatives, the supermarket deli industry is not willing to give up performance for going green.

“Retailers and consumers want the quality of product to still be retained, such as leak resistance, with sustainable packaging,” says Jason Horbac, assistant product manager for Sabert, located in Sayreville, NJ.

One of the biggest advancements in the last few years has been the merchandisability of products with fully compostable packaging.

Sabert recently launched three new PLA lids for eight of its existing bases that are fully compostable and clear.

Sustainable products, rather than technology, drive these developments.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) general guidelines for biodegradable products are those containing materials that break down and decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short amount of time when they are exposed to air, moisture and bacteria or other organisms.

“People purchase with their eyes in the deli, so being able to see the food is extremely important for encouraging impulse purchases, and being compostable and sustainable is a big benefit, as well,” says Horbac.

Sabert offers a wide variety of environmentally friendly packaging, such as soup and takeout containers, plates and grab-and-go options in different sizes to minimize waste.

Plastic And Bioplastic Utensil Lifecycle Plastics:

  • The lifecycle of traditional plastics begins with potentially harmful extraction of non-renewable oil, refining and transcontinental shipping.
  • Plastic’s end of life is not going to happen in our lifetime, or in our great-grandchildren’s lifetime.
  • Discarded plastic finds its way into waterways, creating significant, longterm harm to marine life. Every year, 32 million tons of plastic accumulates in U.S. landfills and that number will increase according to the EPA.
  • 13-16 percent of landfill is plastic, up from 1 percent in 1960. Plastic accounts for 50-80 percent of the waste found on beaches and in oceans.

Bioplastics:

  • Pesticides and high energy use is needed in growing and converting the plant matter feedstock to polymer.
  • Because a utensil is made from plant matter, or claims to be biodegradable, does not mean it is compostable. If a utensil is not compostable — it is landfill.
  • Frequently, the plant matter used, such as corn or potato, is genetically modified.
  • While bioplastics are compostable in industrial facilities, 90 percent of the dense bioplastic utensils do not breakdown in the requisite 180 days and therefore become landfill.
  • Compost facilities cannot tell the difference between plastics and bioplastic utensils, so the vast majority of bioplastics end up in landfills alongside the plastic utensils they were intended to replace.

Source: EcoTensil

 

The Breakdown Of Biodegradable And Compostable Products

The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) describes biodegradable as a degradation caused by biological activity, especially by enzymatic action, leading to a significant change in the chemical structure of the material.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) general guidelines for biodegradable products are those containing materials that break down and decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short amount of time when they are exposed to air, moisture and bacteria or other organisms.

Compostable objects can only be labeled and marketed as such if tested and found by a third party agency to be compliant with ASTM statutes. ASTM compliant products must biodegrade within 180 days at an industrial composting facility and release no toxic substances.

On April 1 of this year, California passed law AB 1826, which requires businesses to recycle or compost all organic waste. Under this statute, if a business generates 8 yards of organic waste per week, it needs to arrange organic recycling services for all compostable waste. By Jan. 1, 2017, any business generating 4 yards will need to comply with this regulation. The amount decreases to 2 yards by 2019/20.

Transparency In Food

From a packaged goods point of view, sustainability has become more important and clean labeling is one of the top trends, say experts.

Blount Foods, based in Fall River, MA, is getting more requests for a shortened ingredient deck that includes no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.

“Along those lines, we’ve focused our development on this with our innovation and renovation,” says William Bigelow, vice president of research and business development.

Another more recent development is the focus on heritage brands, with consumers looking for traditional products that have a unique twist.

“Antibiotic-free proteins are gaining more traction, and we’re getting more requests for these products,” says Bigelow. “This is because consumers are more aware and educated about food in general, so it all circles back to clean labels.”

This includes a focus on animal welfare, which consumers believe is directly related to more healthful products as well as preventing excess waste more efficiently.

This trifecta all leads back to sustainability and respecting the planet, and brands that communicate a commitment to going green are becoming more compelling to a growing demographic.

In response to this development, Blount launched branded organic and cleaner label items, and will soon be introducing a non-GMO line.

“Our technical team has done a lot of research to make our products healthier with a cleaner label, but also the quality is there,” says Bigelow. “If an item doesn’t taste good, we don’t get a return customer, so it’s important for product development teams and chefs to join forces.”

Peggy Cross, founder and chief executive of EcoTensil, located in Corte Madera, CA, sees the focus on non-GMO products continuing to grow and move into the mainstream, as companies such as Dannon, Campbell Soup, General Mills, Kellogg and Mars are transitioning to voluntarily labeling GMO products

Califresh of California LLC, based in Sanger, CA, has seen an increase in requests for non-GMO products. “This is part of what the food culture is trending toward,” says Sarah Dean, Califresh controller. “But with sales, this is not a main question, since it’s more about preservatives.”

The company offers non-GMO, fresh garbanzo beans.

“More companies are looking for options that are alternatives to what they’ve been doing in the past,” says Dean. “Instead of using food dyes, manufacturers are turning to all natural colors, since consumer demand is making us as food producers step out of our comfort zone and be more creative in providing these items.”

    rogue_creamery
    “We insist that our vendors operate under the same principals as we do,” says Francis Plowman, marketing director. “We were the first Oregon company in 2014 that was organized for social benefit and B Lab Certified, which is due to our being a socially responsible operation.”

Rogue Creamery, headquartered in Central Point, OR, made a concerted effort to limit the ingredients in its Blue Heaven blue cheese powder, a shelf-stable, non-perishable line made of only blue cheeses and rice concentrate, an anti-caking agent. The company also purchases its milk from the company’s dairy, which is 25 miles from its cheese processing plant, and only utilizes organic ingredients.

“We insist that our vendors operate under the same principals as we do,” says Francis Plowman, marketing director. “We were the first Oregon company in 2014 that was organized for social benefit and B Lab Certified, which is due to our being a socially responsible operation.”

Its B Lab Certification is attributed to Rogue Creamery’s high values in transparency, animal husbandry, paying a living wage, being stewards of the land and its community support.

“The concern that I hear from consumers and the natural foods industry is not just how do GMOs affect people’s health, but how do they impact the health of the environment and contamination of organic foods,” says Cross. “Many consumers want GMO labeling so they can decide for themselves.”

Organic Benefits

According to the Organic Trade Association in Washington, D.C., the organic industry saw growth in the double digits at 10.8 percent last year.

Rogue Creamery converted to organic in the last year, which was a yearlong process that began after the purchase of its dairy in 2009.

“It wasn’t a difficult transition from being certified sustainable to becoming organic, in terms of the way we operate,” says Plowman. “We prepared for the last 15 years, internally transitioning our product line.”

Still, this was a big change for the small artisan creamery, which has between 30 and 40 SKUs. It involved changing its labeling and marketing, but was fully supported by its customers, including Wegmans and Whole Foods Market.

The organic initiative has opened Rogue Creamery up to a new market of consumers, while enhancing the company’s philosophical mission.

“There are so many reasons to do this, but it’s about proper stewardship of the land and being caretakers so it’s in shape for generations to come,” asserts Plowman.

Still, the company had to contend with additional costs and challenges in its organic quest.

It’s inevitable that companies like Rogue Creamery have to factor in price increases and pass these along to consumers. For example, organic feed costs between 30 and 50 percent more than the conventional type. Becoming USDA certified organic also comes at a price.

Still, the benefits to the company has experienced have far outweighed these challenges, according to Plowman.

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