Waste less, contribute more: Local grocery chain pilots culled produce project

Photo courtesy of Blue Zones Project Fort Worth

Not only should food never go to waste, but when more of it can be provided, it should be – that’s the thinking behind a pair of programs designed to help families eat better at a cost they can afford.

And local grocery chain G.E. Foodland is at the heart of it all with the Culled Produce Recovery Project and Double Up Food Bucks.

The Culled Produce Recovery Project came about in August of 2020 when Blue Zones Project, a well-being improvement initiative led by North Texas Healthy Communities – the nonprofit arm of Texas Health Resources – began looking for ways to reduce food waste in landfills and increase access to fresh produce.

G.E. Foodland, also the parent company of Elrod’s Cost Plus and Foodland Markets, stepped up and piloted the effort in three of their stores. In a period of just 12 weeks in late 2021, and with the help of local farmers and another local company, Compost Carpool, the effort diverted more than 31,000 pounds of produce from Elrod’s Cost Plus Supermarket at 1524 NW 25th St. in Fort Worth and the Forest Hills Foodland Market at 3320 Mansfield Highway for delivery to area farms and school pantries.

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In addition, two area farms, Conundrum Farms and Akachi Ranch, work directly with the Foodland Inc., 1212 S. Ayers Ave., Fort Worth, to access compostable produce.

Double Up Food Bucks is a national program brought to Fort Worth by Blue Zones Project and North Texas Healthy Communities. Shoppers can save up to $10 per day on fruits and vegetables just by showing their Lone Star Card and mentioning Double Up Food Bucks to the cashier.

From October 2020 to May 2022, there were 32,000 Double Up Food Bucks transactions across the three G.E. Foodland stores in Fort Worth and Cowtown Farmers Market (where it was launched), with $215,000 in benefits used by area families.

G.E. Foodland Director of Marketing Julia Johnson explained to the Fort Worth Business Press why these projects are good for both customers and the grocery chain.

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FWBP: Why did G.E. Foodland believe it was important to join these projects?

JJ: We are a small local family-owned business where our customers are our family and neighbors. When you shop with us, we consider you a part of our family. We believe in supporting our family to the best of our abilities. The Double Up Food Bucks, the Culled Produce initiative, and our partnership with Blue Zones Project give us another way to extend that support.

FWBP: In particular, why did G.E. Foodland get involved in the Culled Produce initiative?

JJ: When Blue Zones Project approached us with the idea, we were excited to think there might be a better alternative for past-prime produce than to simply dump it into landfills. We started from scratch with an idea and had to figure out how to make it work. Through this process we have learned that a lot that goes into starting, managing, and maintaining a program like this. We have worked closely with Blue Zones Project and Compost Carpool to design employee training materials and best business practices for pulling, sorting, storing, and most importantly transporting the produce. We believe reducing our impact on the landfill, supporting local farms, and improving the health of our beautiful Texas soil through composting is a cause worth striving for. Our goal as the leader in the Culled Produce Initiative program was to create an easy-to-follow list of best practices that makes it simple for others to join in and adopt the program at their businesses. We believe that together we can make a difference in the communities we service.

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FWBP: Can you give some other examples of how G.E. Foodland has helped the community?

JJ: We love supporting our communities. Some of the ways we do that are by donating to local food pantries and schools. We also started the Dallas ISD field trip fund back in 2016 to support educational field trips for schools in need.

FWBP: How does this fit with the overall marketing strategy?

JJ: Good old-fashioned customer service is one of the ways we stand out from the competition. Helping our community save money on healthy food and helping local farms simply falls in line with our commitment to provide exceptional service to our community.

FWBP: At a time when competition is more intense than ever because of inflation and supply chain demands, is it also more important than ever to display a social conscience?

JJ: We don’t believe in just displaying a social conscience – we believe in showing it through action. The Double Up Bucks program and Culled Produce initiative is one of the ways we actively do that.

FWBP: Is it easier to do this because the chain is local?

JJ: Local helps, but also being family-owned and operated with a community-driven mindset is key. We are who we are because of our many creative and dedicated team members that have become a part of the G.E. Foodland, Inc. family. We have many team members that have been with us 10, 20, and even 30-plus years.

FWBP: Right now it’s the three Fort Worth stores, but is there consideration about expanding these programs elsewhere?

JJ: Yes, we would love to be able to have these programs at all our locations and are actively looking for ways to make that possible.

FWBP: Any additional thoughts/comments?

JJ: We want to give a big thank you to Blue Zones Project for helping us achieve our goals to bring the Double Up Food Bucks to our North Texas family and neighbors and for their help with the logistics for the composting program. Without their support none of this would be possible.