Sustainability initiatives are much talked about in the fresh food industry. For Ready Pac Foods, sustainability goes beyond environmentally-responsible practices to encompass social responsibility and ultimately long-term economic viability.
“For decades, Ready Pac has participated in environmentally friendly business practices such as sending our byproducts for use as animal feed,” says Tristan Simpson, director of marketing at Ready Pac. “We added the criteria of social responsibility and economic value to our sustainability plans, and the combined program is yielding outstanding results.”
Meanwhile, Ready Pac’s recycling program converts costly trash hauling into a revenue-generating operation that helps the company maintain competitive pricing. Ready Pac started by focusing on the reduction of trash being sent to landfills, setting up color-coded material collecting stations throughout all of their plants. Now the company collects more than 8,600 tons of cardboard and plastics annually. The program requires on-going labor costs, but these costs are more than offset by savings incurred in trash hauling, and the company receives income from the materials sent for recycling. Between savings and income generation, Ready Pac’s recycling program contributes more than $1 million each year, and now includes cardboard, plastics, paper and metals.
Ready Pac keeps food waste out of landfills through a variety of programs. In a home kitchen, consumers peel produce, cut out cores and trim away parts like outer leaves. Ready Pac does the same thing for its fresh-cut produce, yielding byproducts that could be costly to haul to landfills, not to mention take up precious space. Instead Ready Pac sells the fruit and vegetable byproducts to local dairy farmers. These byproducts help the farmers keep the cost of cattle feed down, which in turn help consumers and the local economy. Last year Ready Pac sold more than 110 million pounds of fruit and vegetable byproducts to local farmers.
One of Ready Pac’s most impactful sustainability programs is a centralized production scheduling system. The company first formed a national centralized scheduling department to optimize production run efficiencies, then developed software that takes into account all logistic lead times by customer and distribution center. As a result, Ready Pac is able to consolidate production runs, reduce days of operation where needed and greatly reduce utility consumption. Decreases in water usage have been particularly significant.
“It sounds simplistic, but Ready Pac’s centralized scheduling system is a win-win, providing major contributions to our sustainability goals as well as outstanding customer service,” says Simpson.
Through this careful planning, Ready Pac sells most of the products it makes to its retail and foodservice customers. With a careful eye to social responsibility, especially in the local communities where its plants are located, Ready Pac donates useable product that it cannot sell to local food banks and community charities. More than a half million bags and trays of produce were donated last year.
To further reduce the amount of waste it sent to landfills, and the fuel required to haul it there, Ready Pac installed trash compactors in all of its facilities. This resulted in a 50 to 75 percent reduction in waste loads.
The innovative Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Salads line is one of the company’s stars, both in terms of consumer demand and its environmentally responsible design and production. All of Ready Pac’s products use recycled materials in their corrugated packaging, and the salad bowls use 70 percent post-consumer PET. Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Salad inserts use recycled 500ML drink bottles, which means that Ready Pac reclaims millions of drink bottles each year. The bowls also are made in a plant that operates using 50 percent solar energy.
Other Ready Pac sustainability programs include using natural gas co-generators to produce electricity, reduced energy usage through energy-efficient lighting, a transportation fleet equipped with the best particulate matter filters to reduce air pollution, and teleconferencing to reduce company travel. Ready Pac associates also contribute to the effort, participating in incentive programs to use public transportation, ride share, bicycle or walk to work.