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Supply Chain
Kroger Becomes Latest Retailer to Protect Biodiversity

The new policy will protect more pollinators and create a more sustainable produce supply chain; but campaigners say more industrywide action is needed.

The Kroger Co. has set a new goal to advance sustainability in its fresh produce supply chain, to ensure protection of pollinators and biodiversity. Kroger will require all of its fresh produce suppliers to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for all products supplied to Kroger by 2028 or 2030, based on the grower's size. Medium- to large-sized growers will be expected to meet the goal by the end of 2028, and small-sized growers by 2030.

"We depend on a healthy and resilient agriculture supply chain to keep bringing fresh, affordable food to more of America," said Lisa Zwack, head of sustainability for Kroger. "This new goal reflects Kroger's evolving approach to sustainability and resource conservation, including setting clear expectations with growers to support the transition to more sustainable fresh food production."

Ever since COP15 shined a spotlight on the critical role of biodiversity in the health of the planet, climate and economy in 2022, companies and governments have scrambled to understand their impacts on nature and develop the appropriate targets and investments to ensure its protection.

Kroger — the US’ second-largest grocery chain, behind Walmart — operates over 2,700 stores throughout the country under the Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, King Soopers, Fry’s and QFC brands, to name a few. The grocery giant says protecting biodiversity is an important part of its community-impact strategy, Thriving Together. Encouraging growers to use less pesticides builds on Kroger's existing focus on conserving natural resources in its supply chain — including through its seafood sustainability and no-deforestation commitments.

According to the NRDC, neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, kill indiscriminately — exterminating not only “pest” insects but also countless butterflies, bees and other wildlife. In fact, since their introduction, neonics have made US agriculture nearly 50 times more harmful to insect life. These pesticides also decimate soil health, reducing nutrients and impeding soil’s ability to sequester carbon — a critical climate-change mitigation strategy. On top of that, they also harm human health — including the farmworkers and rural communities on the frontlines of exposure. The European Union has banned the worst neonicotinoids, but the US Environmental Protection Agency has yet to take a stance.

IPM can reduce use of pesticides by guiding farmers to use non-chemical approaches to manage pests first — such as rotating crops, planting resistant varieties and fostering beneficial insects. Kroger worked with the Sustainable Food Group, a branch of IPM Institute of North America, to develop the goal and roadmap to compliance. The retailer also consulted current best practices and interviewed suppliers to ensure the goal was both impactful and achievable.

"We are incredibly proud to have supported Kroger in the development of this policy, which will drive positive outcomes for biodiversity — including pollinator and broader agroecosystem health through adoption of robust Integrated Pest Management and other sustainable agriculture practices across fresh produce supply chains," said Ariel Larson, Senior Project Manager at Sustainable Food Group.

Since 2018, 13 major US food retailers representing over $1.4 billion in annual food and beverage sales have established policies aimed at reducing toxic pesticides in their supply chains — signaling a significant shift taking place across the food retail sector. Kroger’s commitment follows similar pledges from Whole Foods, which announced a pesticide policy in December 2023, as well as Walmart and Giant Eagle. All four retailers now require all fresh produce suppliers to adopt IPM and to verify their compliance using a list of over a dozen third-party certifications vetted by the IPM Institute of North America — including Bee Better, Biodynamic, Equitable Food Initiative, Fairtrade International, Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance and Regenerative Organic.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) — whose Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard tracks company progress — commended Kroger’s new policy. But while this represents a tipping point, with more than half of the US’ largest food retailers committing to reduce pesticides, the NGO says industrywide action still falls far short of what is needed to make meaningful progress to protect biodiversity.

“We now understand that biodiversity collapse is as pressing a threat to planetary health and our food supply as climate change. And the over 1 billion pounds of pesticides used annually in US agriculture are drivers of both,” said Kendra Klein, PhD, deputy director of science at Friends of the Earth. “It’s past time for US food retailers to take swift action to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains and speed the transition to organic and other ecologically regenerative approaches to agriculture. Despite this promising industry trend, efforts fall far short of what is needed to protect pollinators, people and the planet from toxic pesticides.”

Nine other companies — Albertsons, Aldi, Costco, CVS, Dollar Tree, Meijer, Rite Aid, Southeastern Grocers and Target — have created policies that encourage food and beverage suppliers to reduce use of pesticides of concern (including neonicotinoids, organophosphates and glyphosate) and to shift to least-toxic approaches such as IPM; but the policies do not include metrics or targets for implementation. In terms of rigor, FOE says Giant Eagle — whose policy will eliminate the worst neonicotinoid pesticides in the company’s fresh produce supply by 2025 — leads the pack.

Kroger says it will continue to expand its focus on sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and conservation. The retailer will conduct a supply chain biodiversity-risk assessment, pilot biodiversity metrics with row crop and specialty crop suppliers, and conduct targeted climate-risk assessments within its supply chain.