View from the C-Suite: Longo’s tackles food waste and rising costs

President and CEO Anthony Longo says a new app partnership is helping the company reach its sustainability goals.

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Longo’s knows evolution. While the grocery store has been family-owned since 1956, its now 36-store operation and thriving e-commerce business model are a far leap from its humble beginnings as a neighborhood fruit market.

At the helm is Anthony Longo, who has been president and CEO since 1998, and his vision has seen Longo’s through massive change, particularly during the pandemic. In 2021, Empire Company purchased a 51% stake in Longo’s and its Grocery Gateway e-commerce business for $357 million. Later that year, Grocery Gateway was absorbed under Longo’s, with a transitional moniker of “Longo’s delivered by Grocery Gateway.”

Longo’s has created an ecosystem for its shoppers by way of its rewards program, in-store and online offers, its magazine Experience, expert-recommended picks and recipes, in-store cooking classes, prepared meals, catering and a subscription program for its delivery service.

Now, Longo’s has partnered with food-waste prevention app Too Good to Go, which allows users to pick up “surprise bags” of bakery goods or prepared meals at one-third of the retail cost. The partnership encourages customers to save costs on food bills while helping restaurants and businesses divert surplus food that may have otherwise been wasted.

Here, Anthony Longo tells strategy how the early stages of the Too Good to Go partnership has been received, the company’s status report on other sustainability practices and how he plans to continue promoting Longo’s delivery service even as customers return to in-person shopping.

What benefits is Longo’s seeing from the partnership with Too Good to Go? How is the partnership being received by customers?

Through partnerships like Too Good to Go, we move closer to our sustainability goals, including diverting 95% of waste from landfills by 2025. At Longo’s we have many programs and initiatives that focus on sustainability and Too Good to Go can play a critical role.

We’re early on in our launch and our guests and team members have been very responsive to the new program, and we are seeing great early adoption and support. Guests knowing how significant a problem food waste is (Canadians waste the equivalent of $1,800 of food per year) and how they can be part of the solution is central to the success of this program. Everyone can feel good knowing that each surprise bag they purchase saves the equivalent of 2.5kg of CO2 emissions, lowering their carbon footprint.

What other sustainable business practices does Longo’s have planned for the future?

We take our responsibility as environmental stewards seriously and have set lofty goals to ensure we are contributing to happier people and a healthier planet. We know sustainability must be fully integrated, which is why we have many ongoing initiatives and programs with the environment in mind.

In our recent 2021 Sustainability Report, we have highlighted some major initiatives and the progress that is already being made, including retrofitting stores with refrigerants with lower global warming potential, successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35%, and sourcing 92% of fresh or frozen seafood products according to sustainability standards. Additionally, 45% of our Longo’s private label products, which includes cheeses, dips and sauces, are made in Ontario, and 75% of the produce found in our stores is locally sourced during the growing season.

We’re also on track to hit several of our other goals including eliminating single-use plastic checkout bags by the end of 2022 and providing electric car charging stations at all of our stores by 2024.

We can achieve incredible things when people, and businesses, work toward a common goal, and we hope to see many others following suit.

With food prices skyrocketing, how is Longo’s supporting the average Canadian with their day-to-day food costs?

Grocery retailers are still navigating challenges from the pandemic including operational and behavioural challenges. We know that many Canadians are concerned about day-to-day food costs and some have changed their shopping habits. We are striving to ensure our products are fairly priced while still sustainably sourced and made with care. We are working to support our guests by increasing the selection of our private label products and offering services that provide great quality at good prices, like in our kitchen where we have meal solutions with high quality and convenient solutions.

As we shift out of the pandemic, other obstacles have presented themselves. How is Longo’s protecting itself from supply chain issues and staffing shortages?

We have long-standing and strong relationships with our partners, which has helped us navigate and minimize the supply chain issues faced globally during the pandemic. We are always in contact with our vendors to ensure we are aware of any product availability challenges and timelines so we can minimize the impact on our guests. We’re also proud to support the many local suppliers that we have.

As for staffing challenges, Longo’s is a family-run business and how we care for our team members is incredibly important to us. We empower our team members through various programs, offer competitive wages, a comprehensive benefits package and ensure we provide notice on schedules. This has been essential to us retaining and attracting our talent.

Finally, the pandemic was a catalyst for grocery retailers to streamline delivery services and Longo’s has been a leader in that, including the implementation of delivery subscription packages. Have you seen a drop in those purchases since shoppers have felt comfortable returning to stores? How will Longo’s keep these services top-of-mind for customers in the future?

Our guests have many ways to shop with us. They enjoy shopping in-store, having the opportunity to pre-order, and many have come to rely on and appreciate delivery through Grocery Gateway as well. The pandemic certainly shaped guest behaviour and led to increased online purchases, which we expect to continue. Guests noticed and appreciated the convenience, availability and value, and because of this, e-commerce will continue to play an important role in grocery’s future.

To ensure the value proposition remains top of mind, we run many integrated marketing campaigns through email, social media and well as in-store and through our flyers and magazines. We also pay close attention to the needs of our guests and team members to ensure that we are providing the best possible experience while ensuring seamless operations and processes and inventory availability.