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08/24/2022

2022 Impact Award winners: Sustainability

We recognized 16 companies helping to create a greener grocery industry
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For its second year, the Canadian Grocer Impact Awards celebrates Canadian grocery retail and CPG businesses that are going above and beyond to make the world a better place

We recognized 40 winners making a positive impact in the areas of sustainability; supporting employees; diversity, equity & inclusion; and community service

Sixteen companies won in the category of sustainability. Here’s why:

APPALACHES NATURE/MAPLE JOE CANADA

“At Appalaches Nature we treat every sugar maple tree like one of the family,” says co-founder Serge Dubois. “A big part of that is caring for the environment they grow in. Another is developing sustainable tree-to-table products, like those under our flagship Maple Joe brand. Being environmentally responsible is simply in Joe’s nature!” 

Thetford Mines, Que.-based Appalaches Nature took the unprecedented step of becoming a certified carbon neutral maple syrup processor. The company is constantly reducing its carbon footprint through product development, optimization of processes and controls, packaging and logistics improvement and by helping its producer partners become more efficiency-focused in their own production and logistics practices. In 2019, Appalaches Nature built one of the most energy efficient production facilities in the world, heated entirely using biomass. 

“Being tree people at heart, we take part in tree planting initiatives that help rehabilitate degraded forest ecosystems across Canada,” says Dubois, who believes Appalaches Nature is a driving force behind raising standards in the Canadian maple syrup industry. To that end, the company has been actively investing in its network of maple producers to create an innovative carbon neutral product certification initiative with Ecocert Canada.

BOLTON GROUP – RIO MARE

“As a market leader in the seafood sector, Rio Mare is aware of its responsibility towards the environment, and it aims at generating a positive and restitutive impact on the natural resources involved [in] its supply chain,” says Luciano Pirovano, global sustainable development director, food, Bolton Group. “Our commitments were rewarded by the Canadian NGO Seachoice, which ranked us first on Seafood Progress, a tool to assess seafood brands’ approach to sustainability.”

In 2009, North York, Ont.-based Rio Mare was among the founding companies of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, and since 2016 it has committed to sourcing its tuna from MSC-certified fisheries or from Credible and Comprehensive Fishery Improvement Projects by 2024. The seafood company achieved 70% of this goal in 2021 and expects to reach its target over the next two years. 

Last year, Rio Mare increased its advocacy efforts for better seafood management, while committing to minimize the impact of its fishing operations on the oceans and biodiversity. For this reason, by 2024 the company has committed to only using biodegradable FADs (Fishing Aggregating Devices). Its fleet also developed and adopted an innovative solution, called the hopper, to prevent the deaths of vulnerable species as a result of incidental capture. 

CHA’S ORGANICS

“At Cha’s Organics, when we’re considering innovations we always ask ourselves to go beyond just the product and ask ourselves how we can make this product a vehicle to bring more empowerment to people and make positive impacts environmentally,” says Matthew Caspersz, director of sales. “When these aspects align, we know we’re on the right path.”

Among the Montreal-based company’s sustainable practices is the use of handmade packaging for its curry kits. The packaging is made of upcycled and recyclable paper from a Sri Lankan artisanal women’s co-operative, which helps create livable wages for the workers. In 2021, Cha’s Organics became a purveyor of organic ancient heirloom rice from Sri Lanka grown using regenerative, organic agricultural practices. While introducing a rice grain with more nutrition to Canadians, the move also supports organic, regenerative agriculture in Sri Lanka, where conventional farming has a negative human and environmental health impact. The rice is packaged in handcrafted biodegradable paper bags that are also made by the same women’s co-operative.

“Our heirloom rices need less water, utilize traditional farming practices handed down for generations, need no chemical inputs and trap carbon in the soil, which can be farmed for generations without losing integrity and fertility,” explains Caspersz.

Cha’s Organics saw huge developments in distribution and availability in the past year and partnered with Costco to offer a six-pack of premium organic coconut milk, which supports Cha’s “1% for the Elephants” project, protecting Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population.

EQUIFRUIT

“Consumers are unaware that cheap bananas keep farmers in a cycle of poverty,” says Kim Chackal, director of sales & marketing at Equifruit. She adds that her organization’s mission is “to change  [the] consumer and retail mindset on banana prices while working towards global Fairtrade banana domination.” 

Equifruit is 100% Fairtrade-certified, which guarantees a sustainable floor price for farmers, safe working conditions, no forced child labour, gender equity, and US$1 Fairtrade social premium for each banana case ordered, to be reinvested in projects with positive environmental, economic and social impacts. 

In 2021, the Drummondville, Que.-based company contributed $432,880 in Fairtrade social premium to its farmer communities in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Mexico, and supported several meaningful projects. In Ecuador, for example, farmers were able to repurpose the bags used to protect the bananas as they grow into pallet guards, diverting thousands of plastic bags from landfills.

Equifruit communicates its efforts through packaging and messaging, with POS materials, social media, podcasts, trade shows and strategic partnerships. Consumers often choose Equifruit bananas because they’re aware of Fairtrade certification and want to support ethical sourcing and help farmers, explains Chackal. “We want people to feel like they’re part of the banana badass community and tailor our messaging as an invitation to help us solve the cheap banana problem.” 

FOOD, HEALTH & CONSUMER PRODUCTS OF CANADA (FHCP)

“Protecting our planet and its valuable resources remains a key priority for FHCP-member companies and Canadians alike,” says Michelle Saunders, FHCP’s vice-president of sustainability. “As the first Canadian trade association to endorse the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s vision for a New Plastics Economy in June 2019, FHCP has been at the forefront of efforts to move Canada towards a future of zero plastic waste.”

Stemming from this commitment, FHCP plays an important role in facilitating industry alignment and influencing government proposals and policies that lead to a circular economy. The organization works with governments and partners across the country to develop alignment on environmental policy focused on packaging, to eliminate plastic waste and to encourage productive and positive engagement of manufacturers, regulators and advocates.

In 2021, FHCP co-founded the Canada Plastics Pact (CPP), an organization driving collaboration in rethinking how businesses design, use and reuse plastic packaging, and launched Circular Materials, a not-for-profit producer responsibility organization. 

GEORGIA MAIN FOOD GROUP

In 2020, Georgia Main Food Group, the parent company of B.C. grocery brands IGA and Fresh St. Market, implemented a food rescue program at all of its stores in partnership with food recovery service FoodMesh, to divert its surplus edible food away from the waste stream to achieve its highest end use. 

“The networks of charities that support the stores help to alleviate food insecurity in the communities that we operate by distributing our surplus food to those in need,” says Tom Truchan, the retailer’s manager of sustainability. “Since April 2020, we have diverted over one million kilograms of food away from the waste stream, generating the equivalent of 1.7 million meals and eliminating 2.6 million kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.”

In addition, all of Georgia Main’s stores receive monthly metrics on their diversion, while in-store signage engages associates and customers, and social media posts celebrate the company’s milestones.

GROWCER/NEW HORIZON CO-OP

Not long ago, the town of Grande Prairie, Alta., had no access to local fresh greens and the team at New Horizon Co-op wanted to do something about it. That’s when they discovered Growcer, a Canadian company with technology that allows communities in remote locations to have access to fresh, locally-grown produce year-round. It was a perfect match. 

One of Growcer’s modular farms arrived at New Horizon’s Trader Ridge store last October. The farms use hydroponics—nutrient-rich water instead of soil—to grow plants. The container farms are climate controlled with factors like light, nutrients, temperature and humidity monitored and controlled in real time, meaning the farms can operate in communities with the most extreme weather and inhospitable growing conditions.

In just a few months, the New Horizon Local Garden is producing an average of 216 heads of lettuce, 45 packages of kale, 30 packages of spinach and 150 packages of herbs (such as mint, basil, etc.) every week, which are sold at the co-op’s two Grande Prairie locations. Aside from providing customers with fresh produce, the system cuts down on waste and packaging since the freshly grown product need only travel from the modular farm in the parking lot, to the produce aisles in store. “The New Horizon Local Garden provides food security and sustainability for our members and customers,” says Karen Fladager, director of operations at New Horizon. “Its controlled environment allows us to provide local produce that is fresh… all year round.” 

MCCORMICK & COMPANY

McCormick & Company is already a global giant of the food flavouring industry, but has ambitious goals to create a healthier planet, and more resilient communities wherever the company operates and sources its herbs and spices. 

In 2017, the company introduced its Purpose-led Performance plan, a range of initiatives to be a more sustainable company. Among its goals, McCormick aims to sustainably source 100% of its top five raw materials—black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, red pepper and vanilla—by 2025, and increase the resiliency of 90% of the farmers who grow them. 

While McCormick’s vision is global, it has taken specific actions in Canada including a financial commitment to researching bee health at the University of Guelph on behalf of its Billy Bee Honey brand, and the construction of a ketchup manufacturing facility in London Ont., closer to the tomatoes it uses, thereby reducing its carbon footprint.

For the farmers that grow its products, McCormick has introduced programs to support regenerative agriculture and initiatives to improve skills, raise incomes, provide access to financial services and education. In 2019, McCormick also introduced its own “verified sustainability standard” for suppliers. Called Grown for Good, the standard is intended to ensure an ethical and sustainable supply chain at all levels, with a focus on three key areas: ethical and safe supply chains, regenerative production systems and resilient communities. 

METRO

Six years ago, Metro set a goal to reduce its food waste by 50% by 2025, and last year was proof how committed—and how effective—Metro has been. Dubbed “One More Bite,” the program sees unsold but still edible food donated to Food Banks of Quebec, while in Ontario the food goes to Second Harvest and Feed Ontario. Since 2016, the program has saved and redistributed more than 18 million kilograms of food, the equivalent of 35 million meals. The program was particularly important during the pandemic, with demand in Quebec up 22% in 2021 compared to 2019, and up 10% in Ontario. In 2021, the program redistributed the equivalent of more than 9.4 million meals in the two provinces. 

According to Metro, its food waste strategy is both good for those in need and good for the environment by reducing organic waste in landfill. But donating isn’t the only strategy for the grocer. “We implemented measures to ensure products are sold and consumed by our customers rather than thrown out or donated,” says Metro’s Stephanie Bonk, who helps manage the One More Bite program. “For example, we introduced discount programs for fresh and consumable products that are close to their expiry date.” And even food residue is being put to good use. “For example, we send residues to processors (for animal feed and industrial uses) and industries that produce compost and biogas.”

MONDELĒZ INTERNATIONAL 

Mondelēz is a global snack-food giant famous for its chocolate, and it created its Cocoa Life program to help the cocoa farmers that make it all possible. The program aids farmers in six cocoa-growing regions—Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil—by providing education and training on modern agriculture techniques and environmental practices that ensures a more sustainable business. There are more than 210,000 Cocoa Life registered farmers, and more than 300,000 training sessions have been delivered. According to Mondelēz, farmers saw net incomes increase between 15% in Ghana and 33% in Cote d’Ivoire since 2019. 

“Mondelēz is passionate about creating snacks as sustainably as possible,” says Chantal Butler, the company’s vice-president, marketing. “In Canada we are proud to source 100% of the cocoa used in creating our chocolate from the Cocoa Life program.” 

And customers seem to like the idea of eating chocolate made with sustainability in mind. Mondelēz recently ran a marketing campaign with Walmart built around the fact Mondelēz brands are now made with 100% sustainable cocoa. Cadbury Dairy Milk gained 0.7 share, and the program surpassed its targets by 114% overall,  and by a remarkable 230% for Walmart. This year, Mondelēz is expanding Cocoa Life into cookies with Oreos made from 100% sustainable cocoa. “Canadians are seeking out brands that have a vested interest in our planet and community and at Mondelēz we do just that,” says Butler.

NADA 

For seven years now, Alison Carr and Brianne Miller have been working to build a more sustainable grocery system that includes a “package-free, food supply chain.” In 2018, they opened NADA in Vancouver, and since then they’ve introduced food waste diversion strategies, sourced low-carbon products from local suppliers, and offered carbon neutral home delivery. It hasn’t been easy, says Miller. The biggest challenge has been “getting funding and growth capital as an impact company that prioritizes people, planet and profit—not just profit.”  

But Carr and Miller’s belief in the absolute necessity of reducing emissions from the food system has led to a program that saved 1.2 million upcycled containers for reuse, and a waste diversion program— including a store-front café selling imperfect goods—that has kept 3,509 kilograms of food from landfill. The commitment to local food has translated to support for more than 100 local suppliers. 

“We work with hundreds of suppliers to get products to us locally and package-free, resulting in a big reduction in our carbon footprint,” explains Miller, the company’s CEO. The founders’ vision and dedication to a greener grocery system has earned them recognition in BMO’s Celebrating Women program, (and a Canadian Grocer Generation Next award for Miller) as well as media attention from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.  

PILLER’S FINE FOODS

In 2021, Piller’s Fine Foods realized a number of accomplishments towards its goal of being a more sustainable food business. “By implementing sustainable programs at our facilities and educating staff on the benefits of them, we have generated greater awareness surrounding the important role that businesses (and our teams) hold in ensuring a more sustainable future,” says Trent Hilpert, the company’s president. 

Among the accomplishments last year, Piller’s achieved a 51% landfill diversion rate (up 11% from the year before), on its way to a goal of 80% by 2025. After a third-party energy audit, the company identified—and implemented—a number of water conservation strategies that saved the equivalent of 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It also installed two energy-efficient boilers at one facility that are expected to save 560,000 cubic metres of natural gas. And after installing LED lights in two facilities in late 2020, Piller’s reduced energy usage by 1.5M Kwh.

Piller’s also has sub-committees charged with brainstorming ideas around nutritious food, people, communities and, of course, the environment. “Focus areas for 2022 include working with our suppliers on sustainable packaging initiatives for post-consumer recycled materials and recycle-ready materials, as well as continued waste reduction and landfill diversion measures,” says Hilpert. 

SOBEYS (EMPIRE)

Last year, Empire/Sobeys undertook a review of its operations and business practices to identify what environmental issues were most important to stakeholders and most impactful on the business. From that review, the company moved quickly to introduce programs to reduce food waste, eliminate plastics and fight climate change. 

In April, the grocer started working with Second Harvest’s “Food Rescue App” to redirect surplus food to community partners in need. It set a goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2025, and has already reduced it by 24%. Also last year, Sobeys completed its commitment to remove plastic grocery bags from all banners—that represents 800 million fewer plastic bags annually. Now, 85% of Sobeys customers bring reusable bags or are not using bags at all. And finally, moves to become more energy efficient, including upgrades to refrigeration, lighting and HVAC systems in 900 stores resulted in a 144 million kWh reduction in electricity use. 

“At Sobeys, we’re proud to embed sustainability in every corner of our business,” says Mohit Grover, the company’s senior vice-president, innovation, sustainability, and strategy. “Our passionate team, led by Eli Browne [director of corporate sustainability], has worked tirelessly to challenge industry standards and reinforce our commitment every day to create a more sustainable business and future.”

SPUD

As a grocery retailer focused on working with local farmers and other suppliers, SPUD has sustainability built into its business model. But SPUD has done more than that. “Food waste is a major contributor to climate change. It’s never been more important that we tackle this as an industry,” says Angela Anderson, director, communications at SPUD. “We are laser focused on managing inventory and expiration dates [and] developing strong community partnerships that can multiply our efforts around food waste while contributing to food security for those who need it.” 

This year, SPUD introduced a task force dubbed “Food Waste Fighters” comprised of warehouse staff spending time each day identifying food near its expiry and carefully selecting the product in best possible condition for community partners. SPUD also weighs all its donated food, converting it to meals and carbon to measure the environmental benefits of the programs—in May alone, SPUD donated the equivalent of 3,000 meals to local families in need. 

SPUD extended its waste-fighting ways to its store aisles and shelves, by creating and selling products made from imperfect, rescued foods such as “DIY rescued apple pie,” and “DIY rescued smoothies.” Taking that a step further, SPUD provided customers with recipes, inspirations and tips to make use of flawed produce and food scraps at home. 

It’s all good work, but SPUD wants to do more. “We are already doing well, but our goal is to be under 1% food waste ongoing,” says Anderson. “This takes constant attention, training and evaluating practices.”

STONG’S MARKET

The roots of Stong’s Market go back more than 100 years, but the grocer earned an Impact Award for its modern, progressive, forward looking sustainability policies and practices. 

“Sustainability and reducing our environmental impact is an important pillar to our business and the communities we work and live in,” says Brian Bradley, president of Stong’s Market, which has two locations in Vancouver. 

In-store, Stong’s gives customers the choice of a printed receipt or not, which saves paper, and it recently added a Soapstand Refillery that lets customers fill their own containers of dish soap and laundry detergent. So far, the grocer has sold 230 litres of soap, which translates to 460 fewer plastic bottles. In its bakeries, Stong’s uses “Good Nature” packaging made from plant-based renewable materials free of BPAs, phthalates and other harmful chemicals. To cut down on food waste, Stong’s works with Food Stash Foundation to deliver near-expired food to those in need, and this year it introduced the Too Good To Go app for its customers, which offers deals on surplus products. And finally, last year it partnered with conservation program Ocean Wise to combat overfishing. 

“Making sure that sustainability is an ongoing conversation in our company helps our business not only be responsible with our environmental impact, but also takes into account our social and economic impact,” says Bradley. 

UNILEVER CANADA

Unilever has been working on social good causes like sustainability and the environment for years, and has set the ambitious goal of being a net-zero company by 2039. In addition, the company has introduced programs to source from farmers using regenerative practices to come up with better packaging options and to eliminate deforestation in its supply chain.

In 2019, Unilever Canada launched a campaign—featuring five of its brands—to help consumers understand how its products do good for the planet. For both Dove and Seventh Generation, the focus is on reducing the environmental impact of its bottles. All Seventh Generation and Dove body wash, shampoo and conditioner bottles are made of 100% recycled plastic and are fully recyclable across Canada. By using recycled plastic, Dove avoids 20,500 tonnes of virgin plastic globally each year. For Hellmann’s, the focus is on food waste reduction, raising awareness of the problem with Canadians and offering tools to help them avoid waste. 

Popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s supports small-scale farmers growing Fair Trade certified ingredients in Canada and is also supporting the Northern Ontario Indigenous community of Grassy Narrows from the threat of mining and logging. And for Knorr, 93% of all vegetables and herbs used in the brand’s products are grown through regenerative or sustainable farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Canadian Grocer’s Impact Awards will be returning in 2023. Look out for our call for nominations in the New Year. 

Winners of the 2022 Impact Awards were first featured in Canadian Grocer’s August issue.