Kroger’s Westover Dairy in Lynchburg has manufactured 6.2 million gallon jugs since September for milk, water, juice and tea products and is distributing them to 92 Kroger stores in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and North and South Carolina. Westover is the only Kroger plant in the nation making the jugs.
“The new milk jugs are a significant contribution to Kroger achieving its goal of reducing packaging for products and reducing waste,” said Eric Smarko, manager of the Westover Dairy plant. “The milk jug still is made of the same 100% recyclable high-density polyethylene as the old jugs, but the unique design allows us to use about 10 percent less plastic while retaining the same performance that we did from the old jugs.
“Utilization of the jug is expected to save more than five million pounds of plastic per year when fully implemented across the country, resulting in less mass being dumped into landfills,” added Smarko.
The weight of the jug is now 56g compared to 62 in the old jug, but customers will not notice a difference, according to Kroger.
“We have removed 81,500 pounds of plastic out of the waste stream since the start-up of the new jug,” said Smarko.
The jug was designed by Mid-America Machining, and Kroger engineers developed several unique enhancements, including a bigger handle, fill-level marks and a thumb pad for better handling.
“Our consumer research indicated those are desirable features,” said Smarko, noting that comments from customers are virtually unanimous in their approval of the jug, which has a rectangular shaped label designed specifically for Kroger products.
Smarko explains that Kroger’s investment in modifying equipment in the plant will be netted out by production savings over time.
“In the long run, Kroger will be positioned to reduce costs to our customers for these items; of course, milk prices are controlled by the government,” he said.
One of Kroger’s key sustainability priorities is moving its facilities toward “zero waste.”
“We constantly are looking for new ways to improve our business practices,” said Smarko. “Whether it is diverting waste from landfills, reducing our packaging, recycling plastic bags or donating safe, perishable foods to food banks, Kroger is increasing recycling rates and finding cost-effective and responsible alternatives for our waste.”
The jugs are contributing to Kroger meeting its sustainability goals for 2020. They include optimizing 100 percent of corporate brand packaging by reducing waste.
“Our packaging engineers continue to develop new ways to reduce packaging for Kroger’s branded products,” said Smarko.
“Westover was chosen as the first dairy plant to make these jugs because of the size of the plant and its ‘high-performance’ work systems,” he added. “We are delighted to be chosen for this ground-breaking test; our associates are recognized for their involvement in continuous improvement processes.”
The plant has not had an accident in three and a half years. Westover Dairy has approximately 80 associates.
Westover is one of 38 Kroger dairies, bakeries and grocery manufacturing plants across the country. Bought by Kroger in 1979, Westover is one of those classified as a “zero waste” plant by the company.