ourishment transcends basic definition, from the literal fuel for biological function to the very replenishment of the soul. It is the subtext underlying the success of fresh—driving a primal instinct that fresher is better. When something is primordial, though, we often don’t question how it permeates our most fundamental decision-making.
Why is it important to ensure yours is the freshest offering at retail? How do you ensure it is? It seems silly to ask because the knowledge, we think, is common.
“Oftentimes, when you have too much food, it leads to products that are past their prime,” explained Dominick Cingari, Vice President and Supervisor of Pharmacy, Non-Foods, and Health and Beauty, at Cingari Family ShopRite, a banner of the Wakefern Food Corp. family. “This drives our approach to finding solutions to food waste at all levels.”
Sustainability is the metabolism of the retailer’s fresh structure, nourishing both its bottom line and its position in each market where it resides. Broken down into an anatomical understanding of how the company is fueled and can fuel others, a sustainability strategy becomes about answering questions that are as complicated as they are simple.
“Aside from recycling and composting, Cingari Family ShopRite uses computer-generated ordering technology to ensure that the correct amount of goods is ordered and are in-store at the right time. If you’re doing better upfront, you’ll have less work to do on the backend, which benefits our sustainability initiative in general and ensures space for a fresher turnaround,” Dominick observed.
When you understand the cells driving your purpose, the pathway to success is clearly marked. In 10 years, the ShopRite chain reduced its waste contribution to landfills by over 60 percent while simultaneously opening stores.
“Even though our stores have grown dramatically in items and sales during this period, we’re still down in waste,” Dominick pointed out. “We have a process we call our ‘Hierarchy of Surplus Food’ that we follow; first we use non-sellable items in in-store recipes, then we donate to local food banks and charities. Lastly, we compost it. In locations like our Norwalk store, we’ve switched from a physical composting program to using Blue Earth Compost and Quantum Biopower during our renovation.”
Quantum Biopower utilizes a team of engineers and constructors to tackle what it views as the final frontier of recycling: food waste. Identifying this sector as the largest portion of the United States waste stream and the least recycled, Quantum uses an anaerobic process to rapidly break down the food waste and turn it into nutrient-rich compost material.
“The benefit to using this process is that Quantum captures the methane gas that is naturally released during the composting process and turns it into energy to power homes and businesses in Southington, Connecticut,” Dominick said, explaining how the technology recycles common organic waste, produces energy, and creates usable compost and soil-based fertilizers. “This differs from other composting methods that actually release methane and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.”
This, he shared, is a major upgrade for ShopRite, boosting the quantity of material composted in stores. For example, the retailer is expanding its floral department, and all discarded floral dirt and bags of mulch will now go to Quantum Biopower, along with anything else that’s biodegradable.
“Cingari Family ShopRite has looked forward to sharing the new sustainable store offerings with our customers. A brand-new refrigeration and modern merchandising system are among the new renovations. Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables will also be prepared in front of shoppers as the department expands its organic and variety produce section,” Tom Cingari, Jr., Vice President of the company, shared with me.
He explained, too, that the new refrigerated cases are far more energy efficient than what was previously installed, with all frozen and dairy products now behind closed doors to reduce energy consumption and lower emissions in the store.
“We’re also excited to expand our partnership with Blue Earth Compost and Quantum Biopower, as all biodegradable materials from the store will now be taken by Blue Earth to Quantum,” he concluded.
"Cingari Family ShopRite has looked forward to sharing the new sustainable store offerings with our customers. A brand-new refrigeration and modern merchandising system are among the new renovations."
Tom Cingari, Jr., Vice President, Cingari Family ShopRite
The partnership, which began in just one store, has helped Quantum Biopower grow, and, in turn, serve more ShopRite locations.
“Eventually, the program expanded to all 12 of our stores as we’ve invested in and encouraged its success,” Dominick reflected, illustrating another beautiful aspect of sustainability: the circular nature of support within a community joined by a common goal.
While the technology and cutting-edge aspects of such an achievement are new, the ideas and values driving it are a point of the retailer’s core that is refined and well-practiced.
“Sustainability and support are aspects of our overall culture, and we have a long history of starting such initiatives before they were cool. We’ve been physically composting since before it was a ‘mainstream’ practice, launching our initiative for Earth Day in 2012. Additionally, Cingari Family ShopRite has been donating surplus food to local food banks and charities for over 50 years,” Dominick shared.
Rarely have I heard of donations and community support defined as a sustainability strategy, yet this new tag brings with it the clarity of the company’s understanding of its own foundation. Seeing how food waste in one area could help temper the threat of food insecurity in another, ShopRite founded the ShopRite Partners In Caring program with Wakefern. Since the program began in 1999, it has reportedly donated nearly $51 million to food banks that support more than 2,200 worthy charities.
Too often, though, such impactful moves fail to be celebrated. As a witness to our industry, I would say one of the greatest areas of potential growth is ensuring consumers know when everything they are asking for has long been a part of ShopRite’s DNA. Dominick said his family is well aware of this gap that can happen in the industry and consistently works to ensure shoppers know the positive impact their dollars support.
“To inform shoppers of all we do, we have signs hanging around the stores that emphasize ShopRite’s commitment to reducing waste by donating unsellable products to local food banks, along with information on our composting and recycling initiatives. For example, we have a sign in our Norwalk, Connecticut, store that showcases how we recycled over 8 million pounds of cardboard in 2021,” Dominick told me. “We compost or divert over 100 tons of organic material a month, saving what is equivalent to the weight of a Boeing 767 jumbo jet from the landfill.”
Sitting in my own seat and reflecting on how I make my 700-square-foot condo as sustainable as possible, I can imagine how daunting the task would seem for a store, let alone a chain. But, Dominick pointed out, it all starts with the smallest steps. Seeking out disruptive partners, starting foundations—these are all points the grocer reached by putting one foot in front of the other. And that, he says, begins with a simple look at what is right in front of you.
"To inform shoppers of all we do, we have signs hanging around the stores that emphasize ShopRite’s commitment to reducing waste by donating unsellable products to local food banks, along with information on our composting and recycling initiatives."
Dominick Cingari, Vice President and Supervisor of Pharmacy, Non-Foods, and Health and Beauty, Cingari Family ShopRite
“When we noticed that spent gift cards were being thrown into the garbage at our stores, we implemented a used card recycling program. Now, when a customer redeems a card, our cashiers separate it for recycling instead of throwing it in the garbage. We’re constantly looking for new ways to become more resourceful in-store, like repurposing equipment within our other stores and recycling what can’t be used,” Dominick observed.
Practices in sustainable opportunities are so embedded that store associates are a happy and active part of the process. While it helps that the banner relates its efforts to shoppers through signage in and around participating departments, it’s a desire by the people to know and share the story, I can’t help but think, that really gives life to ShopRite’s efforts.
“Increasing education and resources allows for everyone to be more sustainable, which is what we’re emphasizing in our stores. I was blown away by the support from the employees, who cheered me on when I first implemented the program,” Dominick said. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do. Sustainability is about people, planet, and profit. If you can’t be profitable and sustainable, you won’t be here long.”
As the Cingari Family ShopRite’s sustainability plan for repurposing surplus food continues to evolve, Dominick assured me there is always room to further improve.
“Our timeline is ongoing—we’re always working to reduce all types of waste by any means necessary,” he concluded.
It is a truth universally known: To be sustainable is to ensure success. Understanding the anatomy of this simple statement has revealed the ways it can perfectly nourish the Cingari Family ShopRite and its story, documenting for the rest of us key strategies in our industry’s pursuit to renew, recycle, and remain integral to feeding the world.