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- March. 24, 2011 -

Green Supply Chain News: Sometimes, the Greenest Ideas are Just Common Sense - and Obvious Money Savers


SuperValu Grocery Stores Make it Simple: Get more Stuff in Each Bag, Whether Paper or Plastic

By The Green Supply Chain Editorial Staff

The Green Supply
Chain Says:

This is an interesting story, and we'd ask this question: are there similar opportunities to put more stuff in a "bag" at your companies?

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For most companies, Green supply chain strategies are driven by the opportunities to save money much more than serving the environmental good. What often emerges is the recognition that there are many simple ideas that can both reduce costs and be good for the environment at the same time.

Case in point: Supervalu, the grocery retail and wholesale giant, has found it can save millions of dollars annually by reducing the number of plastic or traditional paper grocery bags it uses annually by simply putting more purchased products in each bag - or avoid using a bag at all.

Environmentalists maybe should have thought of this angle first before trying to ban plastic bags in some jurisdictions and arguing endlessly over which is more environmentally friendly, paper or plastic.

Supervalu is the parent company of such regional grocery chains as Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Cub Food and others. In total, the company uses some 1.5 billion paper and plastic bags per year, at a cost of about 5 cents per bag for paper and 2 cents for plastic.

Supervalu has begun a rigorous training program that teaches it associates how to use fewer bags. While many chains offer largely cursory instruction in such techniques, Supervalu takes it very seriously. In addition to the basics of how to maximize space in a bag, "rules" include no double bagging, bans on putting larger items or items with handles in bags, and never asking "paper or plastic?" - it's plastic unless a customer specifically requests paper. It also has an above average focus on maximizing the full utilization of a bag's storage capacity.

Supervisors keep a close eye on baggers to make sure they are following the rules. While the stores will always comply with a customer's request, such as putting a gallon of milk in a plastic bag when requested, doing so without such a request will often result in a reprimand from a manager working the front end of the store.

Since mid-2009, Supervalu has been able to increase the average number of items per bag by 5%. That has reduced bag costs by $4-6 million annually, as the price for plastic bags especially has increased.

Supervalu is a $40 billion giant, but has struggled recently as some of its customers migrate to more discount oriented grocers. Those savings are part of a comprehensive program to find ways to reduce costs that can be used to lower prices on the shelf and win back market share - and maybe even tout some Green progress as well.

The initiative started with an internal task force study formed in 2008. In addition to implementing the new guidelines and training programs, you have to love this slogan created by that group and targeted at baggers: "When you are done, add one."

Managers from a number of the company's grocery chains have a monthly conference call to review progress in reducing bag consumption. A 41-question quiz on bagging principles and policies is being rolled out to front end employees to assess and assure their knowledge. The monthly metrics meetings might change to weekly, the company says.

There is one exception to this, however. At Supervalu's deep discount Save-a-Lot chain, the policies are even more strict: customers must bring their own bags, or pay for any they use from the store. We'd guess that results in customers packing the bags pretty full as well.


This is an interesting story, and we'd ask this question: are there similar opportunities to put more stuff in a "bag" at your companies?


Are simple ideas to save costs while getting more Green often the best? Are there similar opportunities to "fill the bag fuller" in your company's operations? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below. is now Twittering! Follow us at


Common sense indeed. Just look at transportation and freight costs for ANY company. If you optimize your trucks both ways by picking up returned goods from customers and/or goods from suppliers, you will get lower freight costs and a positive impact in the environment.

Agneta Lund

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