Kari Armbruster spoke at the Sustainable Produce Summit on Kroger's Zero Hunger|Zero Waste initiative. ( Courtesy Photo )

Kari Armbruster, program manager for Kroger’s Zero Hunger|Zero Waste initiative, presented at the Sustainable Produce Summit about the retailer’s sustainability goals and provided more perspective by responding to myriad attendee questions via a live chat.

One attendee commented that growers report there is “a disconnect between sustainability voices and purchasing in the retail sector — that when push comes to shove, purchasing always acts on price irrespective of responsible grower sustainability practices.”

“It is definitely a journey,” Armbruster replied in the chat. “We are working every day with our procurement and merchandising teams as well as our suppliers to develop more sustainable practices while also ensuring products are available at a price point that makes sense for our customers.”

Another attendee queried causes of waste in stores. Armbruster mentioned as factors over-ordering, expired or damaged product and damaged packaging.

“We are working to be better at predicting shopper behavior and properly stocking our shelves,” Armbruster wrote, later adding that Kroger is also working on better ordering systems, increasing best practices on food handling, standardizing date labels and implementing merchandising practices to prevent waste.

Many in produce retail, however, contend that having shrink below a certain level impedes sales because it results in out-of-stocks. One attendee brought up this tradeoff: “Has the policy toward out-of-stocks changed? If the objective is to sell out, out-of-stock is an unfortunate byproduct. Is lower consumer satisfaction less important than the zero-waste goals?”

Armbruster called the query a great question and explained that currently a balance is needed between meeting the expectations of shoppers and increasing operational sustainability.

“In the U.S., consumers expect the store to be fully stocked at all times,” Armbruster wrote in the chat. “It presents a massive challenge for retailers. As we continue to work on customer expectations, we can do better at staying in stock while limiting our surplus on hand. It will take action on both ends to make this work.”

In her presentation, Armbruster described many aspects of the Zero Hunger|Zero Waste program, from the company’s recent milestone of donating one billion meals, to its ambitious packaging goals for 2030, to its work with circular e-commerce platform Loop.