Don’t Give Up — Sustainability solutions don’t always fit the business agenda. It can take time to develop a successful approach and align the agendas, but good sustainability conversations should also be good business conversations.
It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than 160 billion dollars worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.
Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Yorzyk, Director of Sustainability at HelloFresh.
Jeff Yorzyk has over 20 years of experience in sustainability across a broad range of sectors, and has held leadership roles in both commercial and consulting companies spanning program development, strategic management systems, product sustainability and life cycle assessment. As director of sustainability for HelloFresh US, Jeff oversees packaging lifecycle management, operational and supply chain sustainability and regulatory compliance and permitting. Jeff has also participated in building the profession of sustainability, leading sustainability nonprofits such as the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) in the development of the first professional credential for sustainability practitioners, and strategic partnering with GBCI for its independent delivery.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After 6 years in environmental consulting, focused on cleaning up waste sites, I asked myself a question in 1999 — “what would it mean to get out in front of this?” That led me to decide to get an MBA, and everybody I knew told me that the business community wasn’t open to a conversation on sustainability (a word I didn’t know yet, in its current use), but my timing couldn’t have been better.
After 20 years in environmental and sustainability consulting, I decided to pivot my career into food because the food industry is one of the most impactful industries globally, with significant opportunities that will be critical to the global sustainability agenda and achieving UN’s sustainable development goals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to respond to the explosion in food insecurity, especially in our hometown of New York City where we have our Corporate HQ, and Newark where we had our largest distribution center at the time. After some brainstorming, our Beyond the Box social impact program was born! Beyond the Box is the philanthropic expression of the HelloFresh mission to change the way people eat forever, encapsulating everything from employee volunteering to surplus food that we donate every week.
Delivering powerfully on this initiative took even more work and resources, so we designed Meals with Meaning. Focusing on increasing access to nutritious food, we engaged our culinary team to design recipes for this program. We then reached out to contacts in New York City and Newark to request volunteers to pack kit bags. Our procurement team joined the effort to purchase against these program-specific recipes, and the warehouse teams set aside time to deliver the food and kit packing supplies every week. As a result, we distribute 16,000 servings to the most vulnerable residents of the City of Newark every week, as well as a similar program in Brooklyn that distributes 8,000 servings every week to veterans and military families. Meals with Meaning has since been rolled out at our Dallas, TX and Atlanta, GA facilities, with the goal that we will operate this program in every community where we operate.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was 29, I found myself working at a job that didn’t make me happy, but I believed it was the best combination of my education, skills, and passions I could bring to the world. However, my team made a significant mistake, and I ended up getting fired for it. This experience was pivotal in helping me to pursue an MBA, and ultimately redirecting my career into sustainability consulting. I realized that living your purpose is challenging, and you will make mistakes no matter what, so working to find the highest and best you can bring to the world is an important pursuit. Never settle!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
In sustainability, leadership means finding ways to do more good rather than just doing less bad. At HelloFresh, we continue to work on minimizing packaging and using more sustainable solutions within the constraints of food quality and safety, but we wanted to take this a step further and do more to specifically attack the problem of marine plastics head on. As a result, we developed a relationship with the Plastic Bank, working in developing countries to stop plastic before it goes into the ocean, and creating economic opportunities for untrained individuals in those countries at the same time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do the things nobody in the office wants to do and excel at them. It will make you invaluable to the organization. Many of my early career experiences involved this and the skills I’ve gained from it are the underpinnings that guided me to a career in sustainability.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?
There are definitions of “food loss” and “food waste” that can get quite detailed. At HelloFresh, we think in terms of surplus food that’s still edible and can be recovered, and inedible food that needs to go in a different direction. For us, food waste would be that inedible food. Our focus is keeping it out of the landfill.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
Together with HelloFresh, leading food waste researchers developed the HelloFresh Global Food Waste Study in March of 2020, the largest global study to directly analyze household food waste related to meal kits, revealing that surplus food is mainly generated from overbuying ingredients and poor meal planning. While inefficient supply chains are one root cause for food waste, there are many reasons for consumers to waste food at home as well (the top source of food waste). These include improper meal planning, poor ingredient storage, and misunderstanding the best-before date.
What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?
Timing and logistics appear to be the top barriers when it comes to distributing excess food. Surplus food needs to be identified before it starts to break down, and in such a way that food rescue partners can mobilize it into the community while it’s still edible. Having a robust set of partners that can respond to fluctuating surplus volumes at HelloFresh, and having multiple partner agencies to support distribution, has been a key part of HelloFresh’s success in donating excess food.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
Reducing food waste is a key element of HelloFresh’s sustainability strategy. There are many sources of food waste throughout the supply chain and HelloFresh’s business model brings several mechanisms of reducing food waste together. Specifically, advanced meal planning and portioning helps reduce food waste in the home, and our demand-based supply chain model reduces waste related to standard ordering volumes and the historic push model of food retail. This reduces at-home food waste by 21% when compared with grocery store-bought meals, according to the HelloFresh Global Food Waste Study and the United States Department of Agriculture.
HelloFresh has also introduced several initiatives through Beyond the Box, dedicated to reducing food waste and combating food insecurity, starting with the communities where we operate. For example, each week, HelloFresh works with a network of 20+ charitable partners to identify fresh food surplus from our distribution centers which is then distributed to the local community members in need.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
First and foremost, the alignment of the food dating systems and the education of consumers on what terms like “best by” dates mean will help reduce unnecessary waste in the home. Legislation of food recycling and recovery from commercial food companies will also help ensure food ends up in people’s mouths and out of the landfill.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t Give Up — Sustainability solutions don’t always fit the business agenda. It can take time to develop a successful approach and align the agendas, but good sustainability conversations should also be good business conversations.
- Prepare to be Wildly Creative — Sustainability requires us to go way out of the box to find good solutions that align with the company’s business goals and incentives from various stakeholders and partners.
- Seek to Partner — Sustainability isn’t done in a silo. Sustainability professionals have to partner with every part of the company and work with various outside partners including suppliers, charities, nonprofits, and local governments.
- Build Your Network — Everyone you meet can teach you something, but it’s up to you to figure out what that is. Contacts that you never expected can be extremely important as you work your way through different projects in sustainability.
- Always Be Learning — Sustainability is a moving target. The problems we’re experiencing and the solutions to them change every day, and it’s up to you to stay on top of it.
Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.
The nonprofit organization ReFED has done an outstanding job in pulling the food sector together to engage in deep conversations about food waste and food recovery, including partnering with our federal government. The executive director of ReFED wrote the first major report on food waste (“Wasted”) while with NRDC and I’ve been very impressed by their passion and resilience as they pulled together their Food Waste Insights Engine.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Everything we do, we do by design — whether we know it or not. Redesigning the food system doesn’t require anything to be destroyed, but rather it requires us to fuse sustainability with business to design a better system that is more efficient, equitable, and just.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to share a meal with William Shatner. Shatner continues to act, write, produce and direct while still making time to work with charities and further his passion in equestrian sport. He’s had a wildly creative career that goes well beyond acting, and I admire his ongoing philanthropic efforts.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Jeff Yorzyk’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffyorzyk/
HelloFresh LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/hellofresh/mycompany/
To learn more about HelloFresh’s social impact initiatives through its Beyond the Box program, please visit https://www.hellofresh.com/pages/beyond-the-box
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.