Sustainable Grocers Hero Article

10 Most Sustainable Grocers

These companies make it look easy to be green

Almost every week one grocery retailer or another rolls out a new sustainability commitment. Why? 

Sustainability is still top of mind for grocery shoppers, even amid inflation and high prices. According to a March survey from Panasonic-owned software and consultancy company Blue Yonder, 48% of respondents said that their interest in shopping with an eye toward sustainability in the past year has increased, while 74% of consumers have shopped at a retailer promoting its products as sustainable at least once in the past six months. Additionally, 69% of shoppers said that they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable products. 

Meanwhile, a January survey of grocery executives conducted by Incisiv and Wynshop revealed that 71% of grocers regard sustainability as a key priority in 2023, while 76% also regard it as a C-level issue. The survey showed that waste reduction is grocers’ primary sustainability focus (86%), followed by energy efficiency (77%) and packaging improvement (66%). 

Sustainability has certainly been a key theme over the past few years in the grocery industry, and that focus is only accelerating. That’s why Progressive Grocer’s editors decided to profile the 10 grocers doing the most innovative work on such sustainability topics as ethical sourcing, climate commitments, fair trade certifications, food waste, green buildings, and more. These sustainable grocers have woven sustainability into their DNA, and their customers are rewarding them for their efforts.

Giant Co. electric vehicle

Ahold Delhaize

In an effort to play a leading role in driving sustainability across the food retail sector, Zandaam, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize revised its interim CO2 emissions reduction target for its entire value chain to at least 37% by 2030, with the aim of becoming net zero by 2050. For its own operations, the retail conglomerate remains committed to achieving net-zero status by 2040, with an interim target of a 50% reduction by 2030. Through this updated target, Ahold Delhaize intends to decarbonize its entire value chain and ensure that all of its climate targets are in accordance with the United Nations’ goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.

U.S. banners like The Giant Co. are also contributing to the company’s sustainability ambitions. The Carlisle, Pa.-based grocer recently added four electric vehicles to its delivery fleet in Philadelphia. The electric vans will save more than 9,000 gallons of gasoline each year compared with standard delivery vehicles and can travel 108 miles per charge. According to The Giant Co., the vehicles’ zero-tailpipe emission design, coupled with their avoidance of gasoline, will prevent 171,963 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions annually.

Then there’s the banner’s efforts with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. The two recently rolled out their third annual Healing the Planet grant program. This year, $300,000 will go to projects addressing food waste prevention, reduction and recovery across The Giant Co.’s market area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Since the program began, more than $800,000 has gone to 87 recipients for projects that connect people and families to green spaces, and improve or help to protect local waterways and water resources.

Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop banner is also ramping up efforts to curb food waste by expanding the availability of the Flashfood program. In January, the retailer widened the digital marketplace to 34 more stores in Massachusetts and statewide in Rhode Island. Toronto-based Flashfood is now at nearly 70 Stop & Shop stores in those two states, as well as in New York and Connecticut. The banner estimates that it has diverted nearly 170,000 pounds of food from landfills through the program, which connects consumers with discounted food close to its best-by date.



It isn’t easy being green at a time of super-high inflation, but ALDI knows how to do it. The German-owned discount grocer, which first put down roots in the United States back in 1976, is now the third-largest grocer in the country by store count, with a current total of 2,285 stores.

One big reason that ALDI has become the fastest-growing grocer in the United States over the past year is inflation — penny-pinching shoppers love its value proposition. But another big reason for ALDI’s unstoppable rise has been the retailer’s sustainability commitments. ALDI hasn’t offered single-use plastic shopping bags for more than four decades and has always encouraged shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Further, the company has pledged to remove all plastic shopping bags from its stores by the end of 2023, an initiative that is estimated to remove 4,400 tons of plastic from circulation every year.

ALDI has also committed to diverting 90% of operational waste by 2025, and to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. To accomplish this, the grocer has rolled out nonfood donation programs to nearly all stores and distribution centers, expanded recycling and food recovery initiatives, and piloted and expanded composting.

The company is also remodeling and building stores and distribution centers with sustainability top of mind. It has installed rooftop solar panels on more than 155 stores and 14 distribution centers, and has plans to continue adding them to even more stores to increase its use of green energy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill program has recognized ALDI as a grocery industry leader for reducing harmful refrigerant emissions. Further, in its supply chain, the retailer is working with its business partners to promote sustainable sourcing.

“Shoppers shouldn’t have to choose between doing what’s right and saving money,” says Joan Kavanaugh, VP of national buying at Batavia, Ill.-based ALDI U.S. “That’s why we make sure they don’t have to. We keep sustainability in mind with everything we do, from our smaller-footprint stores to our curated selection of private label products. Our customers can feel good about their purchases without straining their budgets. As a leader in the industry, we have paved the way with aggressive goals to reduce our carbon footprint, rethink our product packaging, advocate with suppliers for ethical sourcing, and support the health and welfare of our communities. Every day, ALDI is taking actionable steps to advance our sustainability goals, and we won’t stop until we’ve achieved our vision to make sustainable shopping affordable for everyone.”

Giant Eagle Flashfood

Giant Eagle Inc.

When it comes to sustainability, Giant Eagle Inc. is laser-focused on waste, carbon emissions and plastics. The Pittsburgh-based company’s specific goals include diverting 90% of waste from landfills by 2025, achieving 50% carbon neutrality by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and also eliminating all single-use plastics from its operations by 2025.

Through its Full Plates Zero Waste program, Giant Eagle aims to provide access to fresh, healthy meals for those in need, while also reducing its food waste, by donating 80 million meals between 2021 and 2025. The grocer’s partnership with Flashfood has also helped it divert more than 1 million pounds of food from landfills to date. In reaching that milestone with Giant Eagle, the Toronto-based program that connects shoppers with heavily discounted food nearing its best-by date has also saved consumers nearly $2.5 million on groceries.

Giant Eagle’s roadmap to net-zero carbon emissions has led it to reducing carbon dioxide emitted throughout its operations by 22% over the past eight years while also converting about 70% of its truck fleet to alternative energy, LED retrofitting, and more efficient heating and cooling. Sustainability is also apparent in the grocer’s brick-and-mortar operations through infrastructure improvements that target carbon reduction and energy efficiency, smart lighting solutions that use automation and innovation, and investments in green energy solutions.

The grocer was also honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill program with both Superior and Exceptional Goal Achievement awards, which recognize partners that meet or exceed their annual and stretch GreenChill refrigerant emission goals, respectively.

As for plastics, Giant Eagle recently relaunched its effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across its footprint, with plastic bags no longer available at checkout in stores throughout Columbus, Ohio, and Indiana. The retailer has also undertaken strategic partnerships to reduce plastics in other parts of its operations, including one with Pittsburgh-based vertical-farming pioneer Fifth Season to reduce plastic packaging for leafy greens, lettuces and salad blends by 40% per package. Giant Eagle also carries products from Ohio craft brewery The Brew Kettle, which uses biodegradable 6-pack rings made out of spent grain from the brewing process.

Kroger Zero Hunger

The Kroger Co.

Sustainability is continually woven into The Kroger Co.’s DNA through its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social and environmental impact plan, and the urgency for greater climate action is prompting the Cincinnati-based grocer to make even bigger bets on seafood sustainability, lowering its climate impact, creating more sustainable packaging, and more.

As it shared its updated environmental, social and governance (ESG) action plan in the fall, Kroger formally committed to setting a more aggressive greenhouse-gas reduction goal. While its current 2030 goal is aligned with a well-below 2°C climate scenario, the company has strengthened its goal to support a 1.5°C climate scenario. Kroger will also set a new Scope 3 goal for supply chain emission reduction.

Kroger’s sustainable packaging goals include 100% recyclable, reusable and/or compostable private label brand packaging by 2030. A baseline assessment focused on grocery and fresh food products, as well as health, beauty, household supplies and cleaning items, found that 40% of in-scope product packaging already meets the company’s definition of “recyclable” when measured by weight.

Among Kroger’s other major sustainability goals are eliminating food and operational waste; reducing water use, finding reuse opportunities and managing water discharge quality; and creating a truly sustainable supply chain to include responsible seafood sourcing. In 2021, 94% of wild-caught seafood sourced by Kroger met sustainability criteria, and 98% of farm-raised seafood did the same.

Additionally, Kroger had 79% waste diversion from landfill company-wide in 2021, and 48.8% food waste diversion from landfill in its retail stores. Its broader goal is to divert 95% or more of food waste from landfill company-wide in the next two years. Also in 2021, Kroger donated 94 million pounds of surplus food to Feeding America’s network of food banks and agency partners.

“We live our purpose — to feed the human spirit — through Kroger’s commitments to advance positive impacts for people and our planet and create more resilient global systems,” says CEO Rodney McMullen. “We are proud to report that Kroger continues to make progress toward key ESG goals. I am especially proud of the Kroger team’s collective effort to create communities free from hunger and food waste.”

Meijer Flashfood

Mejier Inc.

Meijer doesn’t leave many stones unturned when it comes to sustainability. Last year, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer invested in beach-cleaning robots that sorted through sand and stone to find and remove garbage from beaches in the Great Lakes region.

Meijer’s priority of protecting natural resources is evident in projects in and around its physical stores. In fall 2022, the company added rain gardens to its store in Benton Harbor, Mich., with the aims of attracting environmentally important pollinators and improving water quality in a nearby creek.

Repurposing is another hallmark of Meijer’s sustainability efforts. From a building and grounds standpoint, the company teamed up with Midland, Mich.-based Dow to create a parking lot made with post-consumer recycled plastic.

Taking steps to ensure that products are used and not discarded, the retailer also doubled down on its partnership with Toronto-based Flashfood. In addition to diverting more than 1 million pounds of food waste by offering shoppers the chance to get discounted fresh and packaged products nearing their sell-by date, Meijer recently widened the Flashfood offering to SNAP beneficiaries. That earned the company a shout-out from the Biden Administration as it rolled out its White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities.

Meijer’s multi-pronged sustainability commitments encompass several actions to reduce the organization’s carbon footprint. The company recently deployed two all-electric semi-trucks for deliveries, becoming the first retailer to track those energy-saving vehicles in a cold climate. Back at its physical stores, the company opts for eco-friendlier refrigerant gases and has won awards for its refrigerant gas management from the GreenChill partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Like many businesses, Meijer sees sustainability as a work in progress, gauging results while setting new goals. The retailer is currently working to meet its targets of cutting food waste in its stores by 50% by 2030; switching to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging for its private label Own Brand packaging by 2025; and halving its absolute carbon emissions by 2025.

President and CEO Rick Keyes recently commented on Meijer’s sustainability strides, noting: “Our company’s earliest beginnings were marked by doing what’s right while keeping an eye toward innovation. That philosophy still guides us today and is exemplified by our company’s commitment to lessening our carbon footprint.”

Misfits Market

Misfits Market

When it first began in 2018, Misfits Market aimed to offer all consumers access to quality but affordable food by minimizing food waste in the traditional food supply chain. Since that time, the Delanco, N.J.-based e-grocer has more than lived up to that promise, as exemplified by its rescue of 55 million pounds of food in 2022. In fact, since it was established, Misfits has rescued 278 million-plus pounds of food, with efforts now encompassing conventional as well as “ugly” produce.

This mindset was also apparent in the company’s September 2022 acquisition of Imperfect Foods, another online food retailer dedicated to reducing food waste.
“The strengths of the Imperfect Foods organization, from its in-house delivery fleet and robust private label program to its sustainability commitments and innovation, add immediate scale and depth to what we’re building at Misfits Market,” notes Kai Selterman, Misfits’ chief strategy officer.

In fact, since the acquisition of Imperfect, Misfits has rolled out a packaging return program, making it, according to Selterman, “the only grocer to take back packaging for reuse, and this is a program we plan to scale in 2023.” In tandem with that initiative, the company is leveraging its delivery fleet to reduce the number of ice packs and the amount of packaging needed for cold items.

Beyond those efforts, Misfits has leaned into growing and streamlining what it calls its “value supply chain” through such methods as partnering with suppliers to bring upcycled products to market and working with vendors to rescue food that would otherwise end up in landfills.

“We’ve become a destination for emerging, sustainable brands, and that kind of treasure-hunt experience is valuable for customers and suppliers alike,” observes Selterman. “Our customers are excited to try new items and be introduced to alternative, quality products that you can’t find everywhere, and brands get immediate visibility in front of a highly engaged customer base.”

Additionally, in regard to conservation, Misfits teamed up with a group called Watershed last year to measure and reduce its carbon footprint. 
Selterman believes that the company’s greatest opportunity going forward is “[c]ementing our status as the only grocer that leverages sustainability to create affordability. By virtue of our opportunistic buying strategy, we can deliver high-quality products at a great value while fighting food waste.”

NG Dairy

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage

How is sustainability a cornerstone of Natural Grocers’ operations? Sustainability is the first tab on the company’s website and is a guiding principle on virtually all aspects of its food retailing business.

Shoppers who browse Natural Grocers’ aisles can know that products in the stores have been vetted for sustainability attributes. The Lakewood, Colo.-based company offers 21,000 SKUs of natural and organic products per store that meet its rigorous product standards supporting the sustainability and health of food systems and communities. Team members regularly visit farms and ranches to ensure that foods meet a high bar for practices and metrics. The grocer also goes to great lengths to share what it won’t carry, via a list posted on its website.

In addition to putting sustainability at the forefront of its assortment, Natural Grocers takes steps across its operations to lighten its environmental footprint, whether through efforts to reduce waste, investing in carbon dioxide refrigerant technology, eschewing single-use bags at checkout or pursuing other measures to maximize efficiencies.
Even the store layouts reflect a prudent use of resources. Natural Grocers locations don’t include deli, meat or seafood counters or a salad bar, to reduce the use of refrigerants, electricity and water. The store washrooms feature low-flow faucets and toilets, and the company also uses xeriscaping, a form of water-saving landscaping, on its properties.

Sustainability is an end-to-end proposition for Natural Grocers, as it also implements measures in its bulk packaging facility and distribution centers. The retailer uses corrugated boxes with 48% recycled content for bulk packaging, along with recyclable resealable bags and film. In 2022, its operations slashed the use of plastic stretch wrap by half from the previous year.

The company continues to build on its green practices, often turning to technologies to make them happen. Last year, for example, Natural Grocers added a new cooler technology that streamlines temperature tracking in its stores, and switched over to a new automated ordering process as a way to curb over-ordering and waste.

“We hope to inspire other companies to follow our lead,” assert Co-Presidents Kemper Isley and Zephyr Isley in Natural Grocers’ most recent environmental, social and governance report.

PCC exterior

PCC Community Markets

On the occasion of its 70th birthday this year PCC Community Markets, a Seattle-based grocery cooperative with 16 stores in the Puget Sound area, took the time not only to reflect on its past, but also to look forward to its future by revealing that it was hard at work on its next set of five-year environmental, social and governance goals.

As it stands, the co-op is already well known for its wide-ranging sustainability endeavors. This past year alone, PCC updated its long-standing product standards to include such changes as not selling any fresh and frozen raw seafood that’s rated an “Avoid” by Seafood Watch, and that all whole-bean and pre-ground coffee, both pre-packaged and bulk, must be certified organic and fair trade or direct trade by a third-party certifier. These reviews are carried out by the grocer’s Quality Standards Committee, an internal cross-departmental forum that discusses social and sustainability concerns regarding products and the supply chain. 

“Not many grocers have publicly available standards that are focused on sustainability, and setting criteria for health, environmental benefits, animal welfare [and] toxics concerns,” noted Rebecca Robinson, PCC’s senior product sustainability specialist, in the May 2022 issue of the co-op’s Sound Consumer publication at the time that the new product standards were revealed. “The main goal and purpose was to articulate what we’re doing and what our merchandisers do.” 

In its April 2022 “Co-op Purposes Report,” PCC reported a year’s worth of sustainability progress, including the achievement of carbon-negative store operations. The grocer also observed that since the implementation of its social and environmental operational goals, created in 2017 with input from co-op members, community representatives, vendors and partners to help boost its sustainability impact, the co-op has made progress every year on those goals, among them lowering its energy use and reducing water waste. 

Wegmans fish

Wegmans Food Markets

Sustainable packaging has been a focus of Wegmans Food Markets for a number of years. But the Rochester, N.Y.-based retailer recently upped its game by using reusable plastic containers (RPCs) to get fresh seafood from its suppliers to its stores, eliminating the need for single-use Styrofoam coolers. The use of RPCs for transporting food instead of using single-use packaging isn’t new, but Wegmans’ application is: The grocery chain is the first retailer to launch such a program for seafood.

RPCs perform as well as foam coolers do in keeping product cold and secure during transportation. They’re also collapsible and stackable, taking up less room, and the cost of the containers is equal to or less than the cost of foam coolers.

With all of these benefits, however, there was one hurdle for Wegmans to overcome: size. The grocer thus reached out to Atlanta-based packaging provider Tosca to see about getting a smaller crate that would be more suitable for its seafood team’s needs.

Once the development of the smaller crate was completed, Tosca sent samples to local Wegmans salmon supplier JD & Sons for testing in a four-store pilot. As expected, the pilot was a success, and Wegmans has since expanded the program to additional suppliers, which are using the new half-sized totes to transport a variety of fresh seafood items. Currently, five of Wegmans’ suppliers have made the switch to RPCs, a change that resulted in more than 1.2 million pounds of Styrofoam being eliminated from its supply chain at the end of 2022.

“From the very beginning, this idea of using reusable containers that have a lifespan of at least eight to 10 years and can then be recycled, in place of single-use foam coolers, was about doing what’s right for the environment, and getting the seafood industry as a whole on board,” says Mark Fromm, Wegmans’ seafood category merchant.

The grocer also successfully eliminated single-use plastic bags in 2022 chainwide, another example of its commitment to reduce single-use plastics. In fact, the grocer is devoted to reducing its in-store plastic packaging made from fossil fuels, along with other single-use plastics, by 10 million pounds by 2024.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market 

Since Whole Foods Market first opened its doors in Austin, Texas, in 1980, sustainability has been its hallmark. When shoppers walk into a Whole Foods store, they will find vibrant stacks of produce, animal welfare-rated meat, responsibly farmed and sustainable wild-caught seafood, and body care products with natural ingredients. The operator of 514 locations carefully vets products to make sure that they meet the company’s high standards for ingredients, labels and sourcing practices.

Whole Foods touts six key core values: selling the highest-quality organic and natural foods, satisfying and delighting customers, taking care of its team members, creating win-win partnerships with suppliers, generating profits and prosperity, and advancing environmental stewardship. While many grocery retailers are still in the throes of deciding whether to get rid of plastic bags, Whole Foods eliminated plastic grocery bags way back in 2008. Today, North America’s largest organic and natural food chain is focused on supply chain transparency. The company has traceability programs in place to track its more than 3,500 365 by Whole Foods Market private-brand products back to the manufacturer or farm of origin, and it requires fair and safe working conditions for the men and women who grow the food it sells — both inside and outside the United States. Whole Foods also has traceability programs for its meat and seafood departments, eggs in the dairy cases, canned tuna, and more.

The Whole Foods Sourced for Good program helps support workers, communities and environmental stewardship where products are sourced. The program relies on internationally recognized third parties such as Fair Trade USA to verify social practices, environmental practices and/or working conditions. Shoppers can find the Sourced for Good seal on hundreds of products, including bananas, bell peppers, tomatoes, tulips and roses.

Finally, Whole Foods is building greener stores that educate shoppers on its purpose to nourish people and the planet. One location, in Needham, Mass., boasts recycled steel beams, a white roof, solar panels, reclaimed water, and recycled grocery bags and receipt paper, and 80% of store waste is reused. 

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