Reflections from the Global Sustainability Summit

Adrianna Webber

My colleague, Arnold Bowers, Sales Director at Ecova, recently attended the Food Marketing Institute and Grocers Manufacturing Association’s Global Sustainability Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. The Summit was a great opportunity to connect with grocery retailers and other professionals in the industry on topics about sustainability and waste management. The agenda looked interesting, so I sat down with Arnold to learn about his experience and his main takeaways from the Summit.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING GROCERY RETAILERS TODAY?

Some of the challenges include product safety, customer communication and competing in an ever-growing market with fast-paced changes, driven by technology.

WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN TAKEAWAY OR NUGGET OF INFORMATION FROM THE SUMMIT?

There was a lot of great information shared during the Summit. For example, Mary Ellen Burris, Senior VP Consumer Affairs, Wegmans Food Market presented on the importance of trust between Wegmans and its customers. She illustrated this by sharing an example of a “secret code word” she and her young son used when he was in elementary school, “Bird Beaks.” This word was used if anyone ever had to pick him up without her, they would have to say this secret word to him so that he knew he could trust that individual. Wegmans has developed a “Bird Beaks” level of trust with their customers.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE FOR SUSTAINABLE GROCERS LOOK LIKE?

It looks different to every grocer; some are committed to more local products to drive the farm-to-table movement, while others are embracing technology around energy, water and transportation methods.

ARE THERE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM GROCERS THAT WOULD BENEFIT OTHER INDUSTRIES?

Yes, the overarching lesson that I took away is to embrace the latest tools as they relate to technology and big data to expand the grocer’s capacity to engage clients and prospects in the market.

DID YOU HEAR OF ANY INNOVATIVE RESOURCE RECOVERY PROGRAMS DISCUSSED AT THE SUMMIT?

Yes―two resources in particular stood or for me:

  • Megan Burritt, Director of Wellness and Sustainability at Raley’s discussed a program they have in place using a large scale waste digester for produce and organic waste.
  • A representative from Covanta, Inc. presented on a large scale organics facility planned for Connecticut in 2015, if all approvals are obtained from the local governments. The facility will offer high-volume organics recycling to the Northeast U.S. market.
HOW CAN ECOVA PARTNER WITH OUR GROCERY CLIENTS TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE THEIR SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES?

A comprehensive, three-pronged program that addresses energy, waste and water is a great approach. The client may choose only one at a time, but it’s still a starting point. When clients implement a total solution package it provides a competitive edge in the market place.

As consumers continue to demand sustainable and environmentally conscious food and grocers continue to grow globally, so must their sustainability programs. The Global Sustainability Summit is a result of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) bringing together industry leading grocers and food companies, providing the tools, industry connections and proactive solutions to accelerate sustainability programs.

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