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Weekly Costco Update

Posted Mar 08 2013 8:06pm
Well, looks like Costco had a good day today. The Wall Street Journal reports its same-store sales growth numbers are up 6% this past month, when only 4.8% were expected. 

However, it nags at me (as you know) (see Costco , You Are Invited to the Table if you're new to this blog) . . .  I've still had no luck with reaching anyone at all at Costco re: asking them to allow one little warehouse to donate one little carload-full (or one carload-full at each of its 447 warehouses) of edible but somehow unsellable food each week to those in need in their local communities.

Two of David's supermarket "partners" (both Whole Foods locations) asked him to start coming twice a week, which he started this week (see collage at right of what he got). As he wants to bring that day's delivery to a place that serves those in need right away (and our food pantry is only on Wednesdays--below is a collage from this week there), he will now be bringing the extra day's haul to the Fugee's school for refugee children-of-war , starting next week. They are grateful to receive it and will be using what they can in school lunches and sending the rest home to the children's families.

Yet even though other stores are increasing their participation, there is still zero participation from Costco. 

Here is what I found in an article about supermarket food waste regarding Costco:

Costco has no company-wide food recovery program in place. According to figures derived from its own 2009 sustainability report, the company composts 45 million pounds of food each year.

“With this information, we realized that we could divert much of the organic waste from the landfill,” says Costco’s sustainability report. “We are testing several new technologies as a way to reduce the amount of waste material our locations throw into the trash.

“Our goal is to reduce our operating costs through decreased garbage collection and disposal costs; and to identify potential reuse markets for what would otherwise be waste materials.”

Costco’s sustainability report goes on to describe one of the company’s food waste diversion programs, which involves placing the company’s de-packaged produce and deli waste in large bins. The bins can then be picked up by dairy farmers for feed or “local worm farm operators that turn the organic waste into compost.”
The report does not address the issue of food recovery.

“Food recovery isn’t listed as a way to reduce waste because if it could be recovered, it isn’t waste,” said Karen Raines, director of corporate sustainability for Costco. “The food that is thrown into the dumpster isn’t food that’s suitable for human consumption.”

But that might not always be the case. It’s not that all that food that has been thrown away has gone bad.

“Grocery stores have a sell-by date listed on a lot of foods, but those foods are still good for another 10 days, on average,” said Mercer of Food Finders. “We call that our ‘window of opportunity.’”

Arlene Mercer, founder of recovery group Food Finders, said that though she has approached the company, it will not participate and has instead offered her discounts on the food she buys for the programs and occasional free turkeys.

Raines says it’s up to each warehouse to decide what to donate, because it “really just comes down to food safety laws to see what’s suitable for human consumption.”

“Those sell-by dates are there for a reason,” she added.

Even with legal protections, many companies, including Costco, are still concerned by the prospect of a lawsuit.

“Good Samaritan laws don’t say anything – they just say you may or may not be sued if you donate,” said Raines.

There is evidence Costco is making some changes affecting the issue of food insecurity. In October, the company finally started accepting food stamps.

“This economy was a wake-up call,” said Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, in an October earnings call to Wall Street analysts.  “It is not just low-end economic strata that are using this, that typically don’t have purchasing power. It’s a lot of people that are using this as a source of their overall consumption.”

As to why they hadn’t implemented food stamps before, he said, “I think that was probably a little bit arrogant on our part.”
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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