Kroger’s Virginia Dairy Manufactures Milk Jug That Drives Sustainability

\"\"A dairy in Virginia is the first in the Kroger organization to roll out a new lightweight gallon milk jug that helps sustain the environment.

Kroger’s Westover Dairy in Lynchburg, Virginia has manufactured 6.2 million gallon jugs since September for private brand milk, water, juice and tea products and is distributing them to 92 Kroger stores in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. Westover is the only Kroger plant in the nation making the jugs.

“The new milk jugs are a significant contribution to Kroger achieving its goal of reducing packaging for products and reducing waste,” said Eric Smarko, manager of the Westover Dairy plant.

“The milk jug still is made of the same 100% recyclable high-density polyethylene as the old jugs, but the unique design allows us to use about 10% less plastic while retaining the same performance that we did from the old jugs.

“Utilization of the jug is expected to save more than five million pounds of plastic per year when fully implemented across the country, resulting in less mass being dumped into landfills,” Smarko added.

The weight of the jug is now 56 grams compared to 62 in the old jug, but customers will not notice a difference. “We have removed 81,500 pounds of plastic out of the waste stream since the start-up of the new jug,” he said.

The jug was designed by MidAmerican Machining, and Kroger engineers developed several unique enhancements, including a bigger handle, fill-level marks and a thumb pad for better handling. “Our consumer research indicated those are desirable features,” said Smarko. He added that comments from customers are virtually unanimous in their approval of the jug, which has a rectangular shaped label designed specifically for Kroger products.

Smarko said Kroger’s investment in modifying equipment in the plant will be netted out by production savings over time. “In the long run, Kroger will be positioned to reduce costs to our customers for these items; of course, milk prices are controlled by the government,” he explained.

One of Kroger’s key sustainability priorities is moving their facilities toward “zero waste.” “We constantly are looking for new ways to improve our business practices,” said Smarko. “Whether it is diverting waste from landfills, reducing our packaging, recycling plastic bags or donating safe, perishable foods to food banks, Kroger is increasing recycling rates and finding cost-effective and responsible alternatives for our waste.”

The jugs are contributing to Kroger meeting its sustainability goals for 2020. They include optimizing 100% of corporate brand packaging by reducing waste. “Our packaging engineers continue to develop new ways to reduce packaging for Kroger’s branded products,” said Smarko.

“Westover was chosen as the first dairy plant to make these jugs because of the size of the plant and its ‘high performance’ work systems,” says Smarko. “We are delighted to be chosen for this ground-breaking test; our associates are recognized for their involvement in continuous improvement processes.”

Westover is one of 38 Kroger private brand dairies, bakeries and grocery manufacturing plants across the country. Bought by Kroger in l979, Westover is one of those classified as a “zero waste” plant by Kroger.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.