Kroger’s audacious plan to limit food waste is boosting staff pride

The grocer is undertaking a ‘moonshot’ initiative to drastically reduce its own environmental impact and end hunger in the U.S. The results so far are eye-opening—and award-winning.

Kroger's CSR efforts

In most respects and rankings, the United States is the wealthiest, most powerful nation in world history—yet more than 40 million of our fellow citizens struggle with hunger.

Adding insult to injury: America is by far the world’s largest food exporter, and we scrape about 20% of every ort of food that hits our plates into trashcans. All that waste could feed an estimated 2 billion people.

Kroger wants to eliminate hunger and food waste in our communities, and the Cincinnati-based grocer has marshaled the might of its 443,000 employees to make that happen. Beyond the boost to its public profile, pride in the campaign is swelling within the company, says Erin Lickliter, Kroger’s head of associate communications.

Launched in September 2017, Kroger’s “Zero Hunger | Zero Waste” plan established an audacious goal of “eliminating waste across the company by 2025.” The campaign, which won a 2018 Ragan Employee Communications Award for Best Corporate Social Responsibility Program, also set out to:

  • Accelerate food donations to provide 3 billion meals by 2025 to feed people facing hunger in the places Kroger calls home
  • Donate not just more food, but more balanced meals via Kroger’s fresh food donations program
  • Advocate for public policy solutions to address hunger
  • Develop transparent reporting on food loss and waste

So, how’s it going so far? Pretty well, it seems. According to Kroger’s 2019 Sustainability Report on its 2018 accomplishments:

  • Kroger donated $328 million to local communities in 2018, including more than $192 million in food and funds to end hunger.
  • Kroger provided 316 million meals to communities nationwide.
  • Kroger rescued 100 million pounds of safe nutritious food that could no longer be sold in its retail stores, or shipped from its distribution centers and manufacturing plants, for Feeding America® food banks.
  • Kroger increased meal donations through its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Food Rescue program by 10%.
  • Kroger partnered with Oprah Winfrey to donate 1 million meals to Feeding America.
  • Kroger accomplished 76% waste diversion, redirecting 2 million tons from landfills across its 35-state footprint.
  • Kroger increased year-over-year food waste diversion by 37%.
  • Kroger achieved Zero Waste operations in 34 of its 36 manufacturing plants.
  • Kroger increased total recycling by 19%.

How they did it

To win more internal buy-in, awareness and momentum, the company has consistently shared uplifting content with employees, Lickliter says. That’s taken the form of monthly videos from different business divisions, as well as this slick year in review.

Kroger’s comms team has regularly reinforced the objectives of the initiative via special events, media relations, town halls, email reminders, newsletters, leadership communications and internal social media platforms (mostly Yammer and KROmmunity, its employee advocacy app).

To spark more personal commitment toward charitable causes, Kroger publicly lauds “Zero Heroes”—employees who volunteer at hunger relief or environmental nonprofits.

Lickliter shared that 81% of 342,043 employees responding to its annual companywide survey “answered favorably” to a question that asked whether “Zero Hunger | Zero Waste” made them “feel proud to work for the company.”

Pride might be a fickle, abstract thing to measure, but that’s an auspicious start toward robust, substantive employee engagement.

Ragan’s Employee Communications Awards celebrate the best internal comms programs and campaigns that engage employees, boost collaboration and help create wonderful workplace cultures. Enter today to win the recognition your team deserves.

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