Why Trader Joe’s Needs to End Food Waste

By Jeremy Seifert

I recently started a national petition on Change.org asking Trader Joe’s to eliminate its food waste, and more than 78,000 people have joined the campaign so far.

Ever since, I’ve received many encouraging notes from people around the country about all of the good things the grocer is already doing.

“I personally helped a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility pick up hundreds of pounds of food every week from Trader Joe’s on National here in Los Angeles,” wrote one person. “Here in Dayton, Ohio, we have a Trader Joe’s and they do bring all their food, every day, seven days a week to the House of Bread, a soup kitchen I volunteer at,” said another. “I work for the food bank in Bellingham, Washington. Trader Joe’s contributes to the food bank more than any other single grocery store in Bellingham,” wrote yet another concerned citizen.

Understandably, a petition asking the grocery chain to “stop wasting food” strikes these people as unnecessary at best and recklessly mean at worst, like scolding a child for getting an “A” on a paper when everyone knows an “A+” is better.

But this campaign isn’t attacking local TJ’s that do great things to eliminate food waste. In fact, we want to praise them for their work and say THANK YOU!

There is a misunderstanding of what this campaign is asking. We want Trader Joe’s—the corporation—to adopt a company-wide policy that would ensure that all stores donate all edible food every day of the week.

Some local TJ’s stores already donate food—and that’s great!—but that doesn’t mean that all 350+ TJ’s stores do the same. Why not eliminate inconsistency among stores and make ending food waste one more praiseworthy element that defines Trader Joe’s as a company?  If so many stores already do a solid job of managing food waste, instituting a company-wide policy shouldn’t be a very big or difficult step.

I met with Trader Joe’s Vice President of Marketing, Matt Sloan, at the company’s headquarters in Monrovia, CA back in 2010. I had gone dumpster diving the night before at two TJ’s stores, both of which donate food on a regular basis. I found many, many bags of premade salads, bread, and random containers of salmon, chicken, and vegetables. I told Sloan about my dive, and although he didn’t feel the need for a corporate food waste policy, he agreed that trashing all this edible food was unacceptable and unsustainable.

I felt bad for him having to deal with this—and with me. He’s the VP of Marketing.

“Where’s the person devoted to sustainability?” I asked. “Why am I talking to you?”

“We don’t have anyone like that,” he replied. “We get along fine without that kind of position.

I disagree.  As we enter into the new reality of climate change and awareness of our planet’s fragility, we have to move forward with a deeper commitment not only to sustainability, but even more so to renewal and restoration. Having the VP of Marketing deal with a company’s sustainability issues is ludicrous. And refusing to adopt a corporate-wide policy to do something very simple like eliminate food waste is just plain irresponsible.

I find it hard to believe that anyone would question the necessity of this campaign after watching DIVE!, where I explore food waste nationally and at grocery stores like Trader Joe’s. It’s hard to argue that there isn’t room for improvement when I’m standing knee-deep in edible bananas, pulling a bag full of whole chickens from the dumpster (still cold and before their expiration date), and feeding my family and friends with trash. Not to mention the thousands of pounds of inedible food—still sealed in plastic—headed for the landfill rather than being composted or fed to pigs.

TJ’s public relations manager, Nicole High, said that the company donated 25 million pounds of food in 2010. But the figure she fails to provide is how much food TJ’s stores threw away. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have to keep track of that statistic or report it to anyone. No grocery chain does.

So what if High said, “TJ’s gave away 25 million pounds of food in 2010, but we also threw away 15 million pounds and we don’t compost any waste”? Would there be the same kind of backlash to this campaign?

I know TJ’s is combating food waste in many stores. I also know that they could be doing even better, that they have the resources to do so ($8 billion in sales last year alone), and that they could be a leader in their communities and among other grocery chains.

I really wish I could drop this. But if you watch DIVE!, you’ll know why giving up isn’t an option.

Sloan told an NPR reporter, “What the film did, frankly, was raise an awareness on our part that we need to do a different job.” Since then, TJ’s has stepped up donations, but we’re still waiting for a truly sustainable policy that would end food waste in all TJ’s stores.

Please join me in asking Trader Joe’s to end food waste in its stores. Check out my film, DIVE!, and sign the petition on Change.org.

Jeremy Seifert is the director of DIVE!, an award-winning documentary about food waste in America. He is currently working on another film project

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4 responses

  1. Great points. What would be good is for TJ’s to have their head of operations to take on the role of ensuring that food is not wasted. That operations role likely already works to ensure food is delivered when needed, minimizing costs, and should be extended to ensure waste is also minimized and that useable-if-not-saleable products are donated to food banks & food pantries.

  2. This video was really really interesting. I am a BIG fan of shopping at Trader Joe’s and I would have never guessed they would have THAT much food waste they are just throwing in the trash. And, I had no idea people (who are fortunate enough to not be homeless) were diving for the food. Inspiring.

    I try to reduce food waste at home. And, as a career encourage composting. To take time to understand the amount of waste we create as humans is eye opening!

  3. this is one of life’s brutal truth. not only TJ does this but believe it or not even the famous food joints does this (won’t be naming them i know you know some) and it’s actually the fault of the owners of these stores. it’s actually against their rule to give it away unless someone goes against them for it. the greedy owners would rather let the food that didn’t return their profit go to waste than feed it to hungry tummies.

  4. Wow! I’m writing a paper on business environments of Trader Joe’s in my Bus 101 class and am def using this article! This is incredible and inspiring. But Trader Joe’s obviously isn’t the only store with so much waste. These policies should exist in every business. I can’t wait to watch Dive! I want to drive to my local Ingles right now and demand that they take action! Maybe I will…as soon as I finish this paper. :)

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