Chris Foote Leads Wegmans’ Commitment to Eliminating Waste
11/12/2021 · Making a Difference
“Food has a purpose,” states Chris Foote, Wegmans sustainability manager. “Its purpose is to feed people, not to be thrown in a trash bin. At Wegmans, we’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure food is used for its intended purpose.”
Chris leads the company’s commitment to eliminating all forms of waste, with food waste front and center. Last year alone, under Chris’s guidance, same-store food donations were up 1.6 million pounds.
“When it comes to eliminating waste, food waste is how we can make the biggest impact. Every pound counts, not just for what ends up in the landfill, but for our communities as well,” explains Chris. “Every additional pound of food we donate means fewer people go hungry that day. It also means less food is sitting in our landfills generating harmful methane gas, and that the resources used to grow, process and transport the food weren’t wasted.”
Chris has always had an appreciation for the environment. He was president of his high school’s environmental club, and after graduation, enrolled in Finger Lakes Community College’s natural resources conservation program with hopes of working for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“I was working part time at Wegmans and waiting for the DEC civil service exam to come up, which only happens once every couple of years,” explains Chris. “So, when Wegmans offered me a full-time job working in the grocery department at the Brooks Ave. store in 1997, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
Over the years, Chris continued growing his career at Wegmans, taking on new roles and responsibilities, when in 2012, he had the opportunity to lead a composting pilot at Pittsford Wegmans.
“When I heard about the pilot, I immediately wanted to be part of it,” says Chris. “Not only was it a great opportunity to work on something I already had a passion for, but I knew it would also allow me to help create and shape an impactful program that could, in time, be rolled out across the company.”
The work he did during the pilot, and following, as he traveled to additional stores to rollout the composting program, led to Chris supporting another one of the company’s sustainability initiatives – zero waste. The program, started as a one-store pilot in 2016, aimed at minimizing all forms of waste at the store level. In 2017, Chris transitioned out of the store and onto the corporate sustainability team, taking on responsibility for the program and growing it to a companywide initiative. Since the program’s inception, the average store recycling rate has increased from 62 percent to 76.5 percent, with more than 30 stores finishing 2020 with a recycling rate near, or above, 80 percent.
“We knew the key to increasing our stores’ recycling rate was to focus on minimizing food waste, something we’ve been doing since the 1970s. So, we concentrated on improving the programs we already had in place, like our Perishable Pickup Program,” explains Chris.
Through Wegmans’ Perishable Pickup Program, local food pantries and food banks pick up unsaleable perishable food items from our stores throughout the week, getting it to the people who need it most. As part of Chris’s focus on increasing food donations, he’s continued growing this program, expanding it from what started as largely donations from our in-store bakeries and some produce, to including perishable items from dairy, deli, the cheese shop, meat department, and restaurant foods, as well as increasing the amount of whole fruits and vegetables being donated. Last year, Wegmans donated 19.6 million pounds of perishable and nonperishable food, which equates to more than 38,600,000 meals.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of different things over the course of my 32 years with Wegmans,” reflects Chris. “There’s a lot I’m proud of, but more than anything, I’m proud of my partnerships with our store teams across the company, and how together, we’ve drastically increased our food donations.”
Of course, not all leftover food and food scraps are suitable for human consumption. To ensure we aren’t sending food waste to landfills, Chris and the store teams work with local farmers and organizations to offer food scraps as animal feed. After that, any remaining scraps are sent for composting or anaerobic digestion to be turned into energy.
“When people hear we’re on a journey to eliminate waste, it’s not unusual for them to be a bit skeptical. But we have the greatest people in the industry, and I’m confident we can get there,” says Chris. “Our commitment to eliminating waste exemplifies every one of our core values, most notably making a difference. Eliminating waste is the sustainability triple win – doing what’s right for the community, the environment, and the company.”