Majority of area grocery stores donate the food that would otherwise land in the dumpster
Look down any alley or glance in a dumspter outside of a restaurant or grocery store, and one will find discarded food that never made it to the table.
The amount of food simply thrown away in Aspen and beyond is practically impossible to determine, but the majority of grocery stores do what they can to minimize the waste.
Take City Market in Aspen, which last month donated 1,045 pounds of food to Lift-Up, a nonprofit that operates pantries at six locations in the Roaring Fork Valley and along Interstate 70 for hungry families and individuals.
And December’s amount is far lower than what is typically collected, since Lift-Up closed for two weeks over the holidays and its volunteers didn’t pick up as regularly they normally would. Add that to the fact that City Market’s shelves and freezers were more picked over because of holiday demand and therefore didn’t have as much to donate last month.
On a recent morning, a Lift-Up volunteer picked up several boxes of food from the City Market receiving area for the Carbondale pantry. It wasn’t the typical amount but it was still worthwhile to stockpile for when the pantry opens this week, said Debbie Boyle, the Carbondale Lift-Up coordinator.
The volunteer loaded into a pick-up truck boxes of ice cream bars, roasts, pork, shish kabobs, frozen calzones, bread, seafood and slightly dented canned food.
And that is how it goes across the state at the 144 Kroger-owned stores, which altogether donated more than 3 million pounds of food with a value of over $6 million from January to November last year, according to the company, which owns the City Market and King Soopers chains.
Whole Foods in Basalt also donates its leftover, close-to-expired food to Lift-Up and four other organizations in the valley on a weekly basis.
Boyle said when Whole Foods entered the marketplace this past summer, the quality and types of food given to needy individuals was taken up a notch.
Last week, she was unpacking eggs, yogurt, milk, bread, soups and salads after her weekly pick-up.
“Whole Foods added an unbelievable dimension,” she said, noting that clients often get Greek yogurt and brie cheese, along with other specialty items.
“They have a standard for freshness, so they have a lot to give away,” Boyle said.
What separates City Market and Whole Foods, however, is the practice of donating meat. Since 2007, Kroger has been freezing its meat on or before the sell-by date and then donating it.
Whole Foods doesn’t engage in that practice due to liability concerns, said Whole Foods Market Roaring Fork spokesperson Amy Kasper.
“For safety concerns, we don’t give that away,” she said. She added that whatever is not sold in the store that’s not edible for human consumption is thrown away. But the “shrink” value — grocery stores’ term for over-ordered product — is minimal.
“We have it pretty nailed down to where everything is used,” Kasper said. “There is a huge sustainability piece for us.”
The store has diversified its donations to include other entities besides Lift-Up. Food also goes to the Feed My Sheep Ministry in New Castle, and meat scraps go to animals living on local ranches and a wild animal refuge in Silt, where many of the valley’s bears are being fed produce from Whole Foods.
“It’s a large amount of food,” Kasper said. “It’s cool that we can fill the niche of each organization.”
Roxanne Lawler, co-owner of Roxy’s Market at the Airport Business Center, said a couple of local ranches pick up perishable items to feed their pigs and chickens. Often, employees will be the beneficiaries of leftovers as well. Lift-Up picks up pantry items from Roxy’s.
But as a business, the grocery store attempts to keep the waste minimal.
“We of course try to minimize our shrink,” Lawler said. “But we do invariably have some perishables.”
At Clark’s Market in Basalt and Aspen, anything left over is tossed out.
“We throw it away because we have to, the product gets worse … it’s part of the business,” said Tom Clark Sr., owner of the grocery store chain. “Ethically, no one wants to throw things away.
“We usually donate food but volunteers fall off and we don’t hear from them for a while,” he added. “The biggest problem is getting someone to get it.”
Clark noted that food is donated to Lift-Up from his Battlement Mesa and Telluride stores. He said he’d be open to forming a partnership again to donate food from Roaring Fork Valley stores.
“From time to time, they do reach out and we do accommodate them,” he said. “Of course, we would be open to them.”
Kelli McGannon, spokesperson for Kroger chains King Soopers and City Market in Colorado, said the grocery stores have been donating food for decades. Every day across the state, 3,550 meals are donated, she said.
“If we’re going to have shrink, we might as well donate it,” she said. “It makes the most sense that a grocery store makes sure people don’t go hungry.
“We have a moral obligation to support the communities we serve, and hunger sadly impacts all of our communities,” McGannon added.
Prior to 2007, City Market and other Kroger stores threw away expired meat. But the laws concerning food safety were relaxed, McGannon said, and it started freezing meat, as well as other high protein foods, for donation.
“It’s getting to the point that we are freezing milk,” she said.
The company also donated in 2012 between $300,000 and $400,000 to support the fight against hunger.
Karen Peppers, director of Feed My Sheep, which feeds 46 homeless individuals daily, said her organization relies on donations like those provided by Whole Foods, which gives pastries, breads, salads and other perishables.
If there’s too much to store at her facility, Peppers will funnel it down to other nonprofits, including Lift-Up.
“There’s no telling how many people we feed,” she said. “The food gets spread out a lot.”
Feed My Sheep also is the recipient of donations from Safeway in Glenwood Springs, where Peppers makes three runs a week. She also makes a pick up once a week at Vitamin Cottage in Glenwood. And the giving to her organization goes beyond grocery stores. Area restaurants, such as Russo’s Pizza in Glenwood, Epicurious Fine Foods in El Jebel and Roaring Fork Bakery in Glenwood, also provide leftover food to Feed My Sheep.
“They are very good to us,” Peppers said. “It’s good because otherwise it would be thrown out.”
Jeffrene Fowler, service manager for Lift-Up, said the biggest contributors to her organization are City Market stores stretching from New Castle to Aspen.
In Rifle, Lift-Up gets at least 500 pounds of food a week, which includes donations from Wal-Mart.
“Sometimes we will get 15 or 16 boxes of bread at one time,” she said, adding that it will be left out at pantries for the taking because it can’t be frozen, especially when there’s meat to put in the freezer. “Meat is more important.”
In November alone, Lift-Up was able to feed 7,052 families from donations by grocery stores, individuals and area businesses.
“It all used to get thrown out,” Fowler said. “It’s crazy.”
Mike Powell, executive director of Lift-Up, said before area grocery stores started their meat donation efforts, the nonprofit had a harder time getting food onto the table.
“It wasn’t food available to us,” he said, adding that buying food at retail prices strains the nonprofit’s budget.
And with the recession taking hold in 2008, the meat donations were key to providing balanced meals to more people in need.
“It helps because we don’t have to go to the store and buy it,” Fowler said.
Boyle, the Carbondale Lift-Up volunteer, said 2009 is when she really saw the demand increase. The Carbondale pantry went from feeding 15 people a day to 40.
“A temporary crisis became a year and a half crisis for people,” she said, noting meat donations during that time were huge for families. “That changed everything.”
Janie Gianotsos, director of marketing and community relations at Food Bank of the Rockies, which partners with Kroger, pointed to Colorado and federal laws called the “Good Samaritan Acts” that protect those who donate to nonprofit organizations. The laws protect food donors from civil and criminal liability, should the product donated in good faith cause harm to the recipient.