Tim Merrill, vice president and general manager of Associated Grocers of New England; and Andrea O’Brien, director, business sustainability program, and business advisor, NH Small Business Development Center. Courtesy photo.
Apart from the produce section, green isn’t what comes to mind when talking about grocery stores. They have a reputation as energy hogs, an image the industry wants to bag. To that end, the NH Small Business Development Center (NHSBDC) and Manomet, a sustainability nonprofit, recognized 13 independent NH grocery stores in April for reducing their environmental effect and serving as strong community stewards.
Two of them, Vista Foods in Laconia and Wolfeboro Harvest in Wolfeboro, were the first recipients of the Golden Grocery Cart award for being environmental leaders. Tim Merrill, vice president and general manager of Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE), a wholesale grocery distribution center serving independent retailers that also owns and operates owns Vista Foods and Wolfeboro Harvest Market, says sustainability saves money and makes good business sense. Merrill says they realized years ago that as grocery stores age, they become less efficient and incur higher energy costs, especially electric.
Like many businesses, the AGNE stores’ initial foray into sustainability was through recycling—working with Waste Management to lower disposal fees by using a cardboard bailer and recycling bins. “These initial efforts really prompted us to get input from employees throughout the store, looking at break rooms and all other parts of the waste stream. Pig farmers now take the produce that would have been discarded and reduce the waste in the dumpster,” Merrill says. “We noticed about 25 to 30 percent savings, a pretty substantial amount.”
AGNE’s efforts went further when it tapped into the resources at Manomet, which developed the nation’s only environmental certification program designed to help grocery stores implement low-cost operational improvements in such areas as waste reduction and recycling; water conservation; energy efficiency; and storm water management.
Merrill says Manomet conducted audits of AGNE’s seven stores and made several recommendations. Using rebate programs, AGNE installed LED lighting in six of its seven stores and will realize a return of that investment within three years, he says. AGNE also replaced motors in some of the coolers and used special oil for the compressors to increase life expectancy.
Vista Foods Manager Robert Fitzgerald says every department now recycles, and “the oil from the fried chicken goes into a special bin” to be reused. “It’s the little things that add up,” he says.
The changes have made the stores more sustainable and more visually appealing, Fitzgerald says. “Going from the old lights to the LED has been great. It was really dingy before, and now it’s bright,” he says. “From the outside looking in, it looks like a brand new store. Customers have really noticed.”
Merrill says while there is a capital cost to everything, investments are paying off. “It helps everybody; it’s about best business practices,” he says, adding the company is engaging employees and customers in finding other ways for the stores to be sustainable. “Whenever anyone comes up with ideas, our ears are always open.” For more information, visit agne.com, nhsbdc.org or manomet.org.
NH Stores Recognized for Sustainability Efforts
• Allentown Bi-Wise
• Delay’s Harvester Market in Greenfield
• EM Heath Supermarket in Center Harbor
• Gomarlo’s Supermarket in Swanzey
• Harvest Market in Bedford and Wolfeboro
• Hunter’s Shop ’n Save in Wolfeboro
• Lovell Lake Food Center in Sanbornville
• New Harvester Market in Henniker
• Newberry Farms Market in Newmarket
• North Country Shop & Save in Groveton
• Sully’s Superette in Goffstown
• Vista Foods in Laconia