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A Beautiful Find: How Two Grocers Stock Relevance Through Sustainability

The issue of sustainability in the supermarket aisle is no longer a question – it is the answer to retaining relevance among earth-conscious consumers. Here are two examples of how supermarkets are integrating green practices into the experience.


 

To make a supermarket energy-efficient today is to glimpse into the future, or to stare into the face of ugly.

Or, in the cases of two international players, both.

PotatoLove.fwOn one side of the Atlantic we have a futuristic supermarket by Coop Italia. In a prototype store at the Milan World’s Fair Expo, a wave of the hand would trigger details about selected fruit and vegetables on interactive display screens. Consumers, reacting to suggestions in real time, could provide Coop with the insights it would need to develop a more efficient supply chain – for smaller, less-energy-sucking stores.

“In the near future, we will be able to discover everything there is to know about the apple we are looking at: the tree it grew on, the CO² it produces, the chemical treatments it received and its journey to the supermarket shelf,” Gabriele Tubertini, Coop Italia’s chief information officer, said in a story by the National Retail Federation.

Meantime, here in North America, we have the Canadian chain Loblaw, approaching sustainability in a decidedly more low-tech way: by sparing ugly produce from the landfill. Actually, Loblaw is selling its Naturally Imperfect line of peppers, onions and mushrooms as a lower-priced alternative to cost-conscious consumers. However, the sale of ugly produce keeps it from going to waste. An estimated 26 percent of produce in the United States – billions of pounds worth – is disposed of due to supermarket cosmetic standards.

Price of Relevance: 31% More

What both efforts underscore is that the issue of sustainability in the supermarket aisle is no longer a question – it is the answer to retaining relevance among today’s green consumers. These two examples – one ugly, one futuristic – show how supermarkets can integrate earth-friendly practices into the experience.

Grocery stores are not, after all, the most energy-efficient spaces. They are large, with lots of refrigeration, lights and required cooling and heating. In fact, the supermarket industry is second only to the food service sector in energy use per square foot, and is more than twice as energy-intensive as office buildings and schools, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

This not only is cause for concern among the environmentally conscious, it is a drain on the bottom line. A typical grocery store spends approximately $4 per square foot on energy costs each year.

Fortunately, green practices not only save money, they can demand a higher price tag. Americans said they would spend, on average, an additional 31 percent a week on “safe and sustainable” foods that advance the well-being of the planet, according to a 2014 study by Gibbs-rrb Strategic Communications.

Almost eight in 10 consumers said food waste, from packages that are too big, is an important factor in purchase choices, and 72 percent said earth-friendly packaging is important.

Preserving Relevance

These are inspiring numbers, but integrating sustainability into the customer experience requires more than stocking the shelves with products that advance the state of our planet.

When consumers choose to spend more money for planet-friendly products, they are changing their behavior for the greater good. Those in the midst of making lifestyle changes have a sharp eye for posers, or those who are simply in it for a buck.

They will ignore the posers, at best, while connecting with brands that overtly share the same mission, in all aspects of operations.

In short, waste reduction isn’t a bolted-on marketing strategy; it is a philosophy. For supermarket operators to make it real, they have to support it in their actions as well as their merchandise. Here are a few example:

Start at home: Employees influence many supermarket decisions. Provide them with quarterly efficiency goals that are corporate-wide and encourage them to contribute to the dialogue. Also, employees and suppliers should be treated with the same respect as the planet. They do talk, remember.

Recognize neighborhood heroes: Reward programs are great platforms for community campaigns that encourage desired behavior. A loyalty app can record how often a shopper recycles or buys ugly produce, and then surprise her with rewards (perhaps a charitable donation) upon achieving goals.

Donate, quietly: The objective should be to eliminate waste, not add to noise pollution. Information boards that explain how food past its expiration date is donated to charity should serve as calls to action for customers, not ways to brag. Keep compost bins on the property – not to show off, but to share with others.

Act as you say: It goes without saying – if a supermarket wants to cater to sustainable customers, it has to invest in energy-efficient stores, from the layout to the heating and cooling.

Wegmans, for instance, has installed energy-efficient hydrogen fuel cells for its handling equipment.

Such efforts, by resonating with customers, should preserve a supermarket’s good reputation. Like a delicious piece of ugly fruit, that is a beautiful thing.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

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