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A Change in Conversation: Sustainability, Trends and Challenges with Marley Spoon
Marley Spoon is a major player in the online grocery and meal delivery game, and they’re tackling sustainability one meal at a time. We spoke to Britt Puhlmann, the Sustainability Manager at Marley Spoon to discuss how retailers can make small but mighty changes for a more eco-friendly business, and why sustainability is an ‘always on’ activity for retailers.
Why is sustainability so important for retailers in 2021 and beyond?
Beyond the obvious that developing and following a sustainability strategy is good for the planet, the retailers that ignore the issue of sustainability aren’t going to remain competitive and run the risk of losing customers. Sustainability isn’t just about reducing your carbon footprint, it can help encourage innovation and create new business opportunities, as well as showcase to customers that your brand is trying to create positive change.
Even if sustainability isn’t the centre of your business model, there are hundreds of initiatives available to retailers of all sizes that there’s no excuse for ignoring it as an issue in 2021.
Do you think the conversation around sustainability has changed in the last 18 months?
Absolutely. A few years ago customers would be lucky to find a company’s sustainability strategy or guide online, but now the issue of sustainability and how brands are acting consciously is an everyday topic. Legislation and governing bodies increasingly put pressure on organisations and markets to act and operate more environmentally friendly, e.g. ban plastic shopping bags or plastic straws, plus consumers have specific demands what they expect from businesses and their sustainability mission now, so we’re seeing more businesses implementing a sustainability strategy grow and take market share from retailers who don’t.
The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce growth exponentially. Do you believe it has done the same for sustainability? Why / why not?
Unfortunately not. Air quality might have improved as a direct result of reduced traffic, but there are still a lot of people, businesses and governments who believe that sustainability is someone else’s problem. While we’ve seen the discourse around sustainability change in these forums, we haven’t seen comparable strong action that needs to be taken to create real change.
More consumers are turning away from brands that don’t align with their values. Do you expect more retailers to increase their sustainable practices as a result?
Consumers are going to spend their money with brands that align with their own views and priorities, and as consumers become more aware of their brand choices’ impact on the environment they’ll gravitate towards brands with a sustainable mission. The retailers that don’t change are going to be left behind.
As consumers drive change with their wallets, my hope is we see a genuine change in sustainability practices and we can root out greenwashing and clever carbon accounting.
What have been some of the most significant sustainable practices that Marley Spoon has introduced recently?
While building a sustainable supply chain has been part of our mission since Marley Spoon launched, in 2021 we’ve had a greater opportunity to solidify our efforts and set goals for the future. In 2020, we reached the milestone of becoming carbon neutral and have used that as an opportunity to keep building our initiatives and bettering ourselves.
In July of this year, we opened a new production facility in Sydney, which is Marley Spoon’s greenest and most environmentally friendly production facility in the world. The building received a 5-Star (“Australian Excellence”) Green Star certification and is the model by which our future facilities will be built, using solar power and LED lights among many other improvements.
Earlier this year also released our first Global Sustainability Report which highlighted areas of the efforts we are focusing our efforts on, including:
- Carbon reduction and offsetting — To counterbalance emissions and reduce overall environmental impact, we are working with accredited CO₂ offset partner, ClimatePartner, on projects that support our sustainability mission and meet international certification standards set by programs like Verra and Gold Standard for the Global Goals.
- Packaging — Marley Spoon is a member of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), which has recognised the company as a market leader in most categories, including industry leadership and delivering outcomes to improve packaging. These recognitions take into account packaging and recycling milestones both in the box and at Marley Spoon’s production facilities. Last year, the company worked with suppliers to replace all shipments of food in cardboard boxes to crates. Nearly 600,000 crates are now being used in rotation amongst suppliers, completely removing single-use packaging from the supply chain.
- Sustainable sourcing — Every element is taken into consideration when engaging with potential suppliers, including water, energy, soil management, diversity, carbon footprint and animal welfare. Since launching, Marley Spoon has only served free-range chicken as part of the Better Chicken Commitment, which aims to drive the food industry towards higher welfare practices.
- Food waste — We are proud to be a retail leader in reducing food waste. The unique supply chain of meal kits means we order what we need to fill customer orders, so there is no over-ordering and less than one percent of food is wasted and anything that isn’t delivered to customers is donated to a food rescue organisation, OzHarvest. Last year 325,000kg of food was donated to OzHarvest, providing almost one million meals to underserved communities.
How do you believe these may impact the business?
Positively. These changes we’ve implemented not only mean that we’re working with the best partners and state of the art equipment, but we’re also reducing our costs in the long run and ensuring we’re hitting our sustainability goals for many years to come, as well as positively influencing our suppliers and theirs.
Have you conducted any innovation activities with a focus on protecting or driving positive impact for people and/or the planet?
Sustainability is an ‘always on’ activity, and for a fast-moving and growing retailer like Marley Spoon we’re always looking for ways, however small, to be more sustainable and circular. We’ve made so many small changes to our product and service to trim the environmental footprint that it may not feel big, but has a big impact.
We recently published our Modern Slavery Statement, which should have a positive impact for people and regulate fair practices.
Have you introduced any products that could be considered eco-friendly or better for the planet in any other way (e.g., biodegradable, organic, toxin-free, no animal testing, vegan/vegetarian, energy-efficient, from regenerative production)?
As a retailer we don’t create a lot of our own food products, so to continue to reduce our impact on the planet through the meal kits we provide customers, we’re ensuring we’re working with the right partners who value sustainability as much as we do. We’ve made steps to ensure our food partners are meeting our animal welfare and sustainability requirements and are following the highest industry standards.
Does your business model or aspects of it specifically drive positive impact for people and/or the planet as well as creating value for the business (e.g. social enterprise)?
The model of a meal kit business means we can take customer orders ahead of time and fulfil orders based on just the ingredients customers need. This business model not only reduces our carbon footprint and the food waste for customers but also means that as a business we have minimal food waste. A study by the University of Michigan in 2019 found meal kits had a lower overall carbon footprint than the same meals purchased at a grocery store, despite having more packaging. It found average greenhouse gas emissions were one-third lower for meal kit dinners than the store-bought meals when every step in the process – from farm to landfill – was considered.
Less than one percent of the food that comes through our packing facilities is wasted – most of the food that doesn’t go to customers is repurposed by OzHarvest and reaches local communities.
What advice would you give retailers that are hoping to become more environmentally friendly but are unsure of where to begin?
Just pick one thing that you want to address and start putting it into practice. You don’t need to have an in-depth plan or lofty goal you want to hit within a constrained timeline; do your research, learn, connect with your peers and learn from them or collaborate with them on solutions. Sustainability requires long-term efforts, so standing still and waiting to create a plan means you’re wasting time.
What does the future of online retail look like to Marley Spoon?
Personalisation and driving choice is the future. The Marley Spoon menu is the largest of any meal kit service, so we’re able to cater for personal tastes and diets, but are also making our service more available via Dinnerly, our affordable meal kit alternative. By diversifying what we’re selling we’re able to appeal to more customers and become a more consistent guest in customer kitchens each week.
Social and environmental responsibility are everyone’s business.
That’s why we’re celebrating retailers that are taking sustainability seriously.
Power Retail, in partnership with The Purpose Agents, have developed the Power Retail Sustainability Index, to highlight best practices and celebrate the leaders in online retail who are taking the next steps forward to a more sustainable future.
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