2020 Grocery Trends: Zero Waste

There has never been more talk about food waste, and that trend will only continue to evolve and expand in 2020.

Sustainability is a key issue for shoppers (56% of grocery consumers surveyed by Oracle said a key influence on their brand loyalty is knowing that retailers are acting sustainably) – and it’s high time that grocery stores stepped up to the plate and acknowledged their responsibility.

Many have. In fact, zero waste grocery stores are becoming more prevalent in the United States, particularly in larger cities that can support a higher income clientele.


Where did the zero waste trend start?

Zero waste grocery stores started getting a lot of buzz in late 2018 through 2019, so the trend is still relatively recent. Europe jumped on the idea first, and the concept has been successful across the pond, but in the United States, these stores “face an uncertain future”. 

It’s taken some time between the rise of our society’s collective conscious around sustainability and developing the technology and raising the capital needed to execute on such a lofty idea. 

Meanwhile, grocery store waste is estimated to cost $18.2 billion a year, a problem large enough to warrant that lofty idea I just mentioned. Though food waste has become a buzzword in the industry, in this case, it’s reality.

This grocery store trend isn’t just one that’s “nice to have” or tech-y for tech’s sake. It’s the kind of trend that can inspire industry-wide change while leaving a positive impact on the environment and our world as a whole.


Who is doing zero waste grocery stores well?

So, who’s accomplishing those lofty goals? Who’s doing a great job of holding up their zero waste ideals?

Large retailers have not taken this trend up yet, but smaller, boutique grocery stores in metropolitan areas with eco-conscious consumers have been able to make large strides toward zero waste. 

Stores like Precycle in Brooklyn, Hello! Bulk Markets in Salt Lake City, and Jar in Stuart, Florida are leading the way in zero waste. They are showing larger retailers that it’s possible to sell produce (and even some personal care products) package-free, that doing so actually bodes well for your brand in a customer’s eyes. Our prediction: it will be at least three more years before we find out if those larger grocers were listening.


What are the pros and cons of zero waste grocery stores?

The positive aspects of a zero waste grocery store are immediately obvious, as they’re basically called out in the description. Zero waste = way less food waste contributed to the environment. Way less food wasted that could have been consumed by those who need it. Way less plastic. Way less problems.

That goodwill that you accumulate as a zero waste grocery store also translates into a marketing differentiator. Customers who care about the environment and having a lower impact on the world around them will seek out your store, even if it’s a bit out of their way.

Why isn’t every grocery store a zero waste operation? To put it lightly, it’s expensive. The cost of maintaining a fresh inventory with zero waste is high, and it’s difficult to implement this trend on a larger scale. Stores with tens of thousands of SKUs may think that it’s not worth their time to source new, packaging-free alternatives to the products they already carry on their shelves. Zero waste vendors are not easily sourced or typically economically priced, so going zero waste may be a business decision that not every grocer can take on right now.

Zero waste grocery stores are a trend with the potential to explode over the next few years among community stores, boutique shops, and one-store operations. As sustainability concerns continue to rise with customers, it makes sense to get ahead of the trend – but first, be sure to consult your P&L.