Refrigerated & Frozen Foods honors both Fresh Express and Pilgrim’s Pride for their green supply chain achievements.

When it comes to sustainable supply chain efforts, some companies waver and falter. Whether it’s too many steps, too heavy of criteria or too costly to employ, it takes a lot of responsibility to become, well, responsible.

However, to other companies, operating according to a sustainable corporate responsibility structure is more than just a report that’s issued every year-it’s the only way to do business.

That’s why Refrigerated & Frozen Foods honors both Fresh Express and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. with its second annual Sustainability Supply Chain of the Year award.

Both processors have stayed the course by showcasing significant supply chain carbon reduction, optimizing their supply chain network, enhancing logistics and transportation models and increasing “green” awareness through internal corporate sustainability programs.

Here’s a look at their year-over-year achievements.

Re-FRESHing the way

From a corporate standpoint, “we have a strong interest to do our contribution [to corporate sustainability] by minimizing our impact on the environment,” says Ana Lucia Alonzo, director of product supply planning for Fresh Express, makers of Faces of Fresh and Artisanal Salads brand salads.

The Salinas, Calif., subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International Inc., Charlotte, N.C., continuously enforces corporate sustainability through a laundry list of accolades.

For example, in 2005, Fresh Express began cooperation with Smart Way, a collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the freight transportation industry to help freight shippers, carriers and logistics companies save money and improve fuel efficiency. Through this project, Fresh Express acquired three 200 containers that reduced energy consumption by 40%.

It also instituted the first Electric Lane project, which employs electricity grids to power refrigerated trailers during loading, thus reducing diesel CO² emissions by more than 38,000 pounds and fuel consumption by more than 1,800 gallons.

“In general, product supply has taken a leading role in developing a lot of these different industries,” Alonzo says. “It’s a grassroots sustainability effort.”

Between 2007 and 2009, Fresh Express’ R&D team conducted 10 commercial-scale trials in Northern California (summer) and Southern California and Arizona (winter) growing regions using GAIN (Grower Ag-Vantage through Irrigation and Nutrient Management), an on-farm agricultural sustainability program designed to minimize nutrient and irrigation use while maintaining product quality. As a result, Fresh Express reduced water consumption by 16% and nitrogen fertilizer by 32% in the summer regions. (There are different challenges and trials focused on pre-plant and sidedress nutrient application practices during the winter growing regions). For both growing regions, Fresh Express maintained yield and product quality when compared to standard practices.

In 2010, Fresh Express distributed nitrogen quick tests during the company’s regional season kick-off meetings, followed by hands-on training and a GAIN website, which is scheduled to be released in May.

Fresh Express also founded Chiquita’s Internal Global Sustainability Council, which “oversees challenges that are environmentally directed to increase environmental performance across all of our brands and segments,” Alonzo says. “The over-arching framework involves more than being environmentally responsible.”

In addition, Fresh Express collaborates with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Transportation and Logistics, Cambridge, Mass., to determine its carbon footprint and other diesel reduction programs.

The study shows Fresh Express reduced CO² emissions by 44.81% per case from 2.23 pounds to 1.23 pounds and produced 8.3% fewer food miles. Fresh Express also improved air quality by 17%, which is equivalent to removing 110,000 cars from U.S. highways per year.

“Because of all of the work we did with MIT, we were able to determine that there was a need for some of the big companies to get together and find topics that were common to all about environmental responsiveness,” Alonzo adds.

That’s why Chiquita-Fresh Express became a founding member of LEAP (Leaders of Environmental Performance Consortium), which was created by MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics. LEAP is comprised of about five to six companies who joined efforts to compose and practice responsible environmental solutions applicable across the many industries represented in the consortium. Additionally, LEAP developed and contributed with carbon offset studies and articles about environmental opportunities.

“We would like to understand what has been a successful mechanism to improve carbon footprint and motivate the industry to develop standard practices,” Alonzo says.

Fresh Express also received the coveted Black Pearl Award for Corporate Excellence in Food Protection and Quality from the International Association for Food Protection, Des Moines, Iowa.

“Each week, millions of consumers enjoy Chiquita and Fresh Express products with full confidence in their safety,” says Fernando Aguirre, chairman and CEO. “A commitment to food safety is not only part of our strategy, but it is in our company DNA.”

Fresh Express brand Artisanal Salads also won first place in the PMA Impact Packaging awards for its NaturSave bags, which reduced plastic by 50% compared to other packaged salads.

“In addition to all of the programs and projects that we have engaged with for environmental performance, internally, we have placed a significant interest in initiatives that allow us to minimize empty miles on an ongoing basis, optimize our network and maximize the value that we provide to our customers,” Alonzo adds. “Over the last seven to eight years, we have initiated the process to embed operations and sustainability to enable the creation of strong pillars that would maximize our long-term success as an organization.”

Sustainable and proud

Conducting business according to the principles of sustainability and environmentally sound rules is only half the battle-the other half is doing so with pride.

That’s why Pilgrim’s has “made a concerted effort to analyze and improve our warehousing operations to maximize efficiencies and reduce environmental impact,” says Clay Matthews, senior director of supply chain for the Greeley, Colo.-based company. (JBS USA, also headquartered in Greeley, Colo., acquired a majority stockholder position in Pilgrim’s in December 2009).

For instance, it implemented the “Pilgrim’s Sustainable Progress” system, which serves as the environmental framework for day-to-day operations, Matthews adds.

“Under the Sustainable Progress system, warehousing and transportation issues are directly addressed by the transportation, supply chain, packaging and operations teams,” he notes. “In addition, the goals and activities of our energy and wastes and by-products teams will indirectly impact these issue areas.”

This program is led by nine “Executive Champions” who are members of upper management and are responsible for providing expertise pertaining to defined business areas, such as transportation, supply chain, packaging, energy, operations, wastes and by-products, waste and wastewater, land and air and communications.

Last year, Pilgrim’s reduced the usage of outside warehouses by 50% (from 40 warehouses to 20) and reduced the number of internal product transfers, resulting in approximately $3 million in annual savings.

“The next phase of our plan will incorporate our further processing facilities and more clearly align planned production with customer orders and order history,” Matthews says. “We plan to fully implement the program by late 2012.”

Pilgrim’s also succeeded in revamping its packaging thanks to package reduction projects on 27 items, resulting in more than $1 million in savings. 

“We achieved particular success in our Pilgrim’s Wing Dings and Zings packaging,” says Matthews. “Our packaging optimization efforts allowed for more efficient transportation and a reduction in damaged products. We experienced more than a 9% increase in the number of cases packed per truck and reduced packaging claims and donated (distressed) product by $135,000 in one month alone.”

However, achieving sustainability and packaging optimization goals aren’t just a one-time shot. In fact, they are ongoing initiatives that keep Pilgrim’s on the forefront of making a better tomorrow for its employees, customers and consumers.

“In packaging, we plan to increase our use of recyclable or biodegradable packaging per unit of production by 5% by 2015,” Matthews adds. “We are also aggressively pursuing a strategy to achieve 100% landfill-free status at one of our major distribution centers by the end of 2012.”

Additional future goals include increasing fuel efficiency by 20%, decreasing fleet food miles per unit of production by 10% and fueling 10% of its fleets with renewable fuels, all by 2015.

To Fresh Express and Pilgrim’s, operating according to a sustainable corporate responsibility structure is not only the right way to do business-it’s the only way.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ editor-in-chief Marina Mayer will present the 2012 Sustainability Supply Chain award to both companies at the Food Logistics Forum, June 3-5 in New Orleans.

Fresh Express

Profile: The Salinas, Calif., processor (and subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International Inc., Charlotte, N.C.) produces nearly 40 million bags of salad per month.


• Multi-year collaboration with MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics.

• Implemented Green Transportation Initiative, which improved fuel efficiency of ground fleet by 9%.

• Partnered with USEPA’s Smart Way shipper program.

• Received recognition from the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority for its recycling program, in which it decreased 958 tons of waste and 22 tons of CO² from 2008-2009.

• Awarded the Black Pearl Award for Corporate Excellence in Food Protection and Quality from the International Association for Food Protection.

Pilgrim’s Pride

Profile: This Greeley, Colo.-based company is the second largest chicken producer in the world, operating 29 fresh processing plants and eight prepared foods cook plants in 14 U.S. states, as well as Puerto Rico and Mexico. JBS USA, Greeley, Colo., holds a majority stockholder position in Pilgrim’s.


• Reduced the usage of outside warehouses by 50% (from 40 warehouses to 20), resulting in approximately $3 million in fewer transfers from warehouse to warehouse in 2011.

• Implemented “Pilgrim’s Sustainable Progress” system, which serves as the environmental framework for day-to-day operations.

• Initiated package reduction projects on 27 items, including the Wing Dings and Zings packaging, resulting in more than $1 million in savings.

• Experienced a more than 9% increase in the number of cases packed per truck and reduced packaging claims and donated/distressed product by $135,000 in one month alone.

Call for 2013 Sustainable Supply Chain Nominations

It’s never too early to begin thinking of next year’s Sustainability Supply Chain winner(s). Throw your hat in the ring now.

The Sustainability Supply Chain award recognizes a refrigerated or frozen food processor’s year-over-year efforts to reduce carbon footprint in transportation and warehousing activities, including front-end transportation savings, warehouse network, transportation and packaging optimization, warehouse improvements and noteworthy supply chain efforts.

Do you or someone you know fit the bill?

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods welcomes nominations from processors, as well as third-party logistics, warehousing and/or transportation suppliers.

Please email editor-in-chief Marina Mayer at