For over 15 years, Food Lion has been reducing its impact on the environment — and raising its profile as a leader in sustainable retailing.
By Katie Lee
With approximately 1,100 stores, Salisbury, North Carolina-based Food Lion is hardly a “little” engine that could. The company, owned by Brussels-based Delhaize America, is a large player in the grocery sector and has been since 1957, with stores in 10 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and more than 65,000 employees. Food Lion is actually a very big engine — but it’s also a giant corporation intent on reducing its impact to the environment one small step at a time.
Over time, the momentum builds.
Since 2000, Food Lion has reduced its energy related carbon emissions by 1.26 billion pounds and saved more than 800 million kilowatt-hours of energy, which equates to powering every home in Food Lion’s 10-state footprint for a day. In 2014, the grocer piloted a zero waste program in 50 stores; today, 238 stores are participating in zero waste. In 2015, Food Lion recycled 112,824 tons of cardboard, 430 tons of office paper and 3,809 tons of plastic.
And they’re just getting started.
In April 2016, over a decade of dedication to sustainability paid off. Food Lion not only won the 2016 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence award, but won it for the fifteenth straight year. No other grocer has done so in the history of the EPA program.
“We’re very proud of that,” says Wayne Rosa, energy and maintenance manager for Delhaize America. “We partnered with ENERGY STAR early on to prototype their Portfolio Manager for Supermarkets, and we worked very closely with them on the supermarket design criteria.”
As of July 2016, Food Lion had just over 1,000 stores certified through ENERGY STAR, covering approximately 92% of its entire Food Lion banner. Of all supermarket stores certified by ENERGY STAR, 41% are owned by Food Lion/Delhaize.
Delhaize has very specific corporate responsibility goals, primarily aiming to reduce its stores’ carbon footprint by 20% by the year 2020. With its new zero waste program that launched in 2014, Food Lion has taken that a giant leap further: aiming to reduce its solid waste going into landfills by 80% by 2020. As 142 stores in the Charlotte, North Carolina, are remodeled by the end of 2016, they will be added to the program, giving Food Lion a total of 380 stores participating in zero waste.
And to think, all of this corporate do-gooding began, quite frankly, as a way to trim costs. “In the supermarket industry, we survive on the smallest profitability margin,” says Rosa. “[Food Lion’s sustainability] started back in the late ‘90s more as a way to curb some of our expense increases, but it has gained momentum through being a good steward to the environment. We’ve been supporting our customers through good environmental stewardship, and we also get the benefit of having those expense savings.”
Food Lion recently completed converting all of its reach-in refrigeration and freezer cases from fluorescent to LED lighting, and it is currently retrofitting its open cases (beer and dairy) to have doors on them. “As we remodel or build new stores, both of those projects are core to the prototype itself, so you’ll see that in all new stores and remodeled stores going forward,” Rosa explains.
He adds: “I’m over the energy and maintenance department here at Food Lion, so of course the refrigeration and energy goals are a little bit close and dear to my heart. We’re very passionate about that.”
The company has four LEED stores: its first, in Columbia, South Carolina; two in Fayetteville, North Carolina; and one in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Our current construction standards are aligned to LEED criteria, although we don’t certify all of our new stores,” says Rosa. “But the basics of design and specifications meet the LEED criteria.”
In addition to LEED stores and energy upgrades to refrigerated cases, Food Lion has retrofitted all the sales area lighting of 38 stores to LED lighting. Rosa says an additional 60 stores will convert to LED sales lighting by the end of this year. “That, again, is part of our new standard for all new stores.”
Who leads this eco-conscious charge, Food Lion or its equipment manufacturers? “I would like to say that we lead it,” says Rosa. “More than not, we have our in-house technicians who do a really good job of monitoring energy use and maintenance expenses.”
Many of the ideas that arise first originate as expense-saving items spearheaded by Food Lion’s own technicians, supervisors and maintenance managers. The ideas are brought before the service vendor to see if there’s any value in them. While many of the ideas originate with Food Lion, vendors can turn them into proof-of-concept ideas that have worked. In other words, the vendor can say, ‘Look, this worked for Food Lion and it can for you, too.’
“It gives them a leading edge against other vendors,” says Rosa. “They can offer it as an option to other supermarkets or other clients of theirs. Not to say they don’t come with ideas to us — they definitely do — but a lot of what’s driven in the vendor world is driven more through DOE compliance or EPA compliance, so they’re trying to meet a mandate whereas we are trying to not live on the bleeding edge of technology but on the leading edge. It’s got to be a sound technology for us. It doesn’t too any good to save energy and [achieve] sustainability if it’s costing us a lot of expense dollars somewhere else in our P&L line.”
According to Rosa, there are a variety of options for other retail companies to ‘go green’ — and it doesn’t have to break the bank. “There are plenty of different options to suit the goals of individual companies,” he says. “Energy or refrigeration — they can find out which one works for them and gives them the better ROI. It doesn’t cost as much to go green as it used to 10 or 15 years ago. I think a lot of vendors, and a lot of [retail] companies, are making that part of their incentive.”
It’s all part of what has, in reality, become expected between communities and business partners: corporate responsibility and sustainable practices. Sustaining those practices is what Food Lion has been doing, with excellence, for over 15 years and counting.
FOOD LION COMPLETES FIRST TRANSCRITICAL CO2 STORE
In Southport, North Carolina, Food Lion recently completed its first transcritical CO2 store — which takes using EPA-approved refrigerant gases to the next level: using no manufactured gases at all.
“Transcritical CO2 is where the entire refrigeration system of the store uses naturally occurring CO2 in the atmosphere to refrigerate all of the refrigerated products in the walk-in coolers, freezers, cases on the sales floor,” says Wayne Rosa, energy and maintenance manager for Delhaize America, parent company of Food Lion. “We have no traditional chemical refrigerants used in that store.”
Refrigeration systems account for up to 50% of the total electricity consumption of a typical U.S. supermarket.1 Currently, most U.S. supermarket refrigeration systems use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, HFCs tend to have high global warming potential compared to natural refrigerants.
While new to Food Lion, the concept is not new to Delhaize America. The technology first gained traction in Europe and is slowly making its way stateside. One of Food Lion’s sister banners, Hannaford, completed its second transcritical CO2 store last summer. The new technology is not without its growing pains, however. There’s a steep premium to it, for one thing, and for another, it has the reputation of being inefficient in warm climates.
“That’s why it’s a good test for us to try to expand the technology,” says Rosa, whose store portfolio blankets some of the warmest states in the U.S.
1 Westphalen, D., R.A. Zogg, A.F. Varone, and M.A. Foran. Energy savings potential for commercial refrigeration equipment. Washington, D.C.: Building Equipment Division, Office of Building Technologies, U.S. Department of Energy, 1996.
— This article originally appeared as the cover story of the August 2016 issue of Retail & Restaurant Facility Business magazine. Email the editor at [email protected].