Trader Joe’s To Eliminate 4 Million Pounds of Plastic This Year

    Shopping at Trader Joe’s is about to get both more sustainable and cheaper. The changes come as a result of the retailer’s announcement that it will eliminate plastic packaging on certain fruits, veggies, and other food staples.

    In a new episode of the retailer’s podcast  “Inside Trader Joe’s,” hosted by Matt Sloan and Tara Miller the pair sat down with produce category manager Jack Salamon to discuss the initiative.

    In the interview, Salamon explained how private brand products like potatoes, onions, and apples can be sold as loose products, but were often bagged or bundled together in plastic containers. Now, the retailer will feature more loose produce. How does this translate to cheaper prices? Salamon used fresh garlic as an example. Previously, garlic was sold in a pouch. The price a customer paid for garlic included not only the cost of the produce itself, but also costs associated with making the plastic sleeve, bundling the garlic together, and then topping the bag off with a paper header. The packaged garlic sold for $1.39 for two heads. Now, with those extra, hidden expenses removed, the loose garlic goes for 49¢ apiece.

    In cases where it is difficult to sell items without packaging, like blueberries, the company is testing different strategies to reduce waste, such as thinner, biodegradable, and compostable materials. “We are on track to eliminate 4 million pounds of plastic from our stores in 2019 and 2½ million pounds of that plastic has come directly out of the produce section,” said Salamon.

    In December 2018 Trader Joe’s announced its Packaging Improvement initiative. They created a framework to help identify packaging improvement opportunities. This sustainability framework is based on the following principles:

    • Reducing and removing packaging
    • Sourcing renewable and recycled packaging materials
    • Choosing packaging that can be realistically recycled
    • Avoiding the use of harmful substances in packaging

    Trader Joe’s updated this announcement earlier this month, outlining additional changes to the packaging of other products, like meat and flowers.

    Some of their most recent achievements include:

    • Replacing all Styrofoam trays in our fresh meat section with PET1 trays that are highly recyclable.
    • Replacing the current plastic sleeves on our greeting cards with sleeves made of renewable, compostable material.  Look for the updated sleeves starting in August!
    • Replacing the current plastic flower bags with bags made of compostable material. Look for the new flower bags in stores around September!
    • Eliminating plastic and foil pouches from our tea packages and replacing them with compostable film where necessary. We expect the updated packaging in our stores this November.
    • Removing excess packaging in our Deli, Frozen, Fresh, and Grocery items by optimizing the packaging size and eliminating unnecessary material.
    • Eliminating or replacing packaging for 20 + produce items, resulting in the removal of over 2.5 million lbs. of plastic annually in the produce section.
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    Christopher Durham
    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.