“Did you know that 6 billion pounds of produce goes unused every year?” Nicole Davis, senior innovation manager at The Kroger Co. asked attendees last week at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Food Forward Summit in Washington, DC.
“Six billion pounds of produce! That is astounding. So, what we are doing is creating a new brand that is not in stores yet called Peculiar Picks,” which will try to redirect some of produce that is nutritious and tastes fine but otherwise would be wasted due to its appearance, she said.
“Interestingly enough, when produce comes in or is grown and comes off farms and it doesn’t meet a specific color, shape or size, it gets rejected. This is the ugly fruit that we can’t sell… because it is too tiny or too bumpy or has freckles on the outside but still tastes delicious and is perfectly safe,” she explained.
By calling out the produce’s flaws and bundling it under special brand that will begin appearing in stores in the first quarter of 2019, “our goal is to encourage our consumers to try these items so there is not so much waste,” she said.
She also noted that the company has a blog on Kroger’s main website called Wilted to Wonderful that shares recipes and shows consumers how to use up produce before it goes bad.
The blog and new brand are part of Kroger’s broader Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative, which the company leadership has acknowledged is a “moonshot,” with its ambitious goal to eliminate hunger and waste it its stores by 2025.
“We know this is a lofty goal, but we are searching areas to figure out how to do this and we are asking our suppliers and associates and our customers to help us along the journey,” Davis said.
Kroger is not alone in tackling this goal, and in fact Davis said food waste reduction is a mega-trend that the retailer and many others up and down the supply chain are tackling in response to consumer concerns.
Other trends to watch
Other mega-trends that Davis said Kroger is tracking through its loyalty program and anthropological research it conducts, include:
- Simple and real – “Customers are really looking for real ingredients, simple ingredients. When they turn the package over, they don’t want to see ingredients that are 50 letter words that they can’t pronounce,” Davis said, adding seven in 10 customers are looking at the ingredients and nutrition before making purchase decisions.
In response to this trend, Kroger is reformulating its private label brands, such as removing artificial ingredients and preservatives from its macaroni and cheese products and offering only chicken without antibiotics, Davis said. In addition, she noted, sales of the retailer's Simple Truth brand, which has “tight guardrails” around what ingredients are in the products has doubled year over year for the past five years and is now a $2 billion brand.
- Globe-trotting flavors – “Our younger generation and our millennials are traveling internationally more than twice their predecessors. What this does is it gives them insights in new flavors and new foods that they want to try to make at home,” and Kroger wants to help them do that, Davis said. “Our brand Private Selection is an amazing brand that brings culinary forward. It allows customers to elevate their flavors and elevate their tastes in a super simple, convenient way – whether it is Indian curries or North African harissa jerky,” she said.
- Plant-based foods – “One in three people claim to be flexitarians, so while only 15% of the population is vegetarian and vegan, this group of flexitarians is growing significantly. So, we want to make sure we have products for them,” such as the vegetarian meals for two offered under Kroger’s Simple Truth brand, and powdered coconut creamer that consumers can take on-the-go, Davis said.
- Digestive health – With 83% of adults experiencing some kind of gastrointestinal issue or problem, Kroger realized that digestive health impacts many more people than originally believed, Davis said. She also noted that while a third of customers say that probiotics are essential to their gut health, many consumers want them from food and not from a pill.
“Foods with natural probiotics, like pickled items, kefier, Greek yogurt have been trending for years. But now we are moving beyond these products and into snacking and cereal and on-the-go solutions,” Davis said. “A few examples of what we have been selling are kombucha, which is selling like crazy, apple cider vinegar, which consumers are taking as a shot in the morning,” she added.
Value-based shopping – “Customers are really taking time to do their research and understand that the companies they are spending their money with share their same values and have their same goals and lifestyles,” Davis said.
Given that a Harris Poll found 67% of millennials would prefer to buy private label from a company they trust, “it is super important to use that Kroger has values that align with our customers,” Davis said.