Grocery CEOs, consumers, and grocers envisage online shopping as the next big thing, spurred by technological advancements and greater convenience. The COVID-19 onslaught was partly attributed to online grocery flooding the market. While leading players and startups jumped on the bandwagon, ESG watchdogs were wary of the sustainable impact the industry would have on the planet. Stakeholders are expected to harness gender equality, fair wages, waste reduction, responsible sourcing of farm produce, and sound corporate governance.
The ease of browsing, getting items ticked off and quick delivery have been a revelation—a delivery service delivering to multiple homes has negated the need to drive to the store. More than 17 million metric tons of CO2 pollution are attributed to weekly household trips to the grocery store, a report cited by the U.S. EPA claimed. Incumbent players have furthered investments in electric vehicles (EVs) to offset greenhouse gas emissions. In April 2022, India-based Swiggy, a food delivery company, joined forces with EVIFY to enable grocery and food delivery through EVs in Surat, Gujarat.
Industry leaders are likely to emphasize upstream transportation (farm-to-retail) and foster last-mile transportation—pushing for deliveries and offsetting personal trips. Centralized grocery delivery services and fulfillment centers have brought a paradigm shift in minimizing GHG emissions and food loss. State-of-the-art technologies, including predictive analytics, can provide the silver bullet to prevent pilferage and streamline sourcing. Besides, boosting access to affordable and high-quality fresh food, along with the focus on diversity, integrity, and transparency, will remain instrumental for a circular economy.
Kroger and BigBasket Invest in Climate Strategy for a Sustainable Future
The online retail boom and an emphasis on speed and user experience—instant delivery—have disrupted e-commerce business models. Brands with sustainability strategies appeared resilient during the COVID-19 outbreak, banking on online shopping to conserve raw materials and minimize GHG emissions. Kroger is poised to establish a new Scope 3 goal for supply chain emissions reduction in line with its Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) commitment. The American retail giant has set 2030 sustainable packaging goals, such as using 100% recyclable, reusable, and/or compostable packaging.
Amidst emerging climate risks and opportunities, Kroger inferred using infrared refrigerant leak-detection technology in 2,000 stores. Meanwhile, in 2021, Bigbasket, a TATA Enterprise-owned online grocery retailer, teamed up with New Leaf Dynamic to install a biomass-powered chiller that can save 186 tons of CO2 annually. The Indian giant cited in its Green Report 2022 that it produced 5,457,000 kWh of solar power (reducing 1,670 tons of GHG emissions) in 2022 and 5,458 electric delivery vehicles helped minimize 7012 tons of CO2 emissions during the period.
Amazon Fresh Navigates Changing Social Landscape
Amidst rampant layoffs and the prevalence of workplace injuries, grocery warehouses and fulfillment centers have prioritized the social pillar. In January 2023, Amazon announced over 18,000 job cuts, denting workers across industry verticals, including grocery stores. People employed as supply chain managers, program managers, software engineers, and store designers bore the brunt in online grocery delivery and fresh stores businesses. That said, the American behemoth inferred in May 2023 that it had poured CDN 25 billion since 2010 in its Canadian operations, including job creation and establishment of data centers and fulfillment centers. In September 2021, the U.S. giant committed USD 1.2 billion to offer 300,000 employees education and skills training programs till 2025.
Incumbent players have upped investments to make the workplace safer and foster a healthy environment. Amazon has a team of health coordinators, physiotherapists, and advisors. The occupational doctors perform medical checks and report trends in major risk areas.
The U.S. e-commerce company has augmented diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to underscore its sustainability quotient. In 2021, it committed to a 30% rise year over year in hiring U.S. black employees in level 4 through level 7 from the preceding year’s hiring. The multinational company warrants 100% of employees to take inclusion training.
Governance Key for Relentless Sustainable Goals of Rakuten and Walmart
Sound corporate behavior is second to none for an agile business process and an inclusive global system that complements ethical business practices. Rakuten creates a list of ESG themes with the assistance of external experts and refers to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Materiality Map.
The Japanese company has appointed a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) to undergird compliance management. It has banked on a risk-based approach to define high-risk issues and implement measures, such as prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing; prohibition of bribery and corruption; and adherence to competition, antitrust, and other related laws.
Rakuten has propelled board diversity—outside directors account for 58.3% of the BoD, while 25% are foreign directors. Meanwhile, Walmart expects Board members to disclose their race/ethnicity and gender annually. Its board had 27% women and 18% directors who are racially/ethnically diverse (as of April 2023).
Millennials and Gen Z want the e-commerce sector to foster social contributions, operate in a responsible supply chain, and bolster transparency. ESG reporting could be pronounced, prompting online incumbents to further their investments in sustainability. Grand View Research anticipates the global online grocery market size to depict upward growth through 2030. Investments in the circular economy can create momentum and be a differentiating factor in an ever-growing competition in the online grocery business.