How are food and beverage manufacturers in the Rochester region embracing sustainability when it comes to reducing food waste and increasing eco-friendly packaging? We checked in with businesses of various sizes and focus to find out.
Craft Cannery: Ugly tomatoes matter
Almost every Thursday at the Craft Cannery in Bergen a big truck of “rescued” local New York-grown tomatoes arrives from Sungrow Farms (formerly InterGrow Greenhouses).
“These are number three tomatoes,” explains Craft Cannery owner and CEO Paul Guglielmo. “Number one tomatoes are beautiful – the ones you see in grocery stores. Number two tomatoes are typically used by restaurants and wholesalers. Number three are bruised and typically considered waste.”
They are not waste products to Guglielmo, though, who began buying three to seven thousand pounds of the company’s number three tomatoes weekly in 2021.
“I grew up with a grandfather who loved bad-looking tomatoes because they were the cheapest,” said Guglielmo, who is also the founder of Guglielmo Sauce, a line of marinara sauces inspired by his family’s recipe. “When you boil them down they’re all the same.”
Following a boiling process where a little tomato paste is added as a stabilizer, as well as salt and citric acid, the crushed number three tomatoes are used in select products manufactured for private clients at the Craft Cannery.
“It smells like my grandfather’s house in here when we make them,” said Guglielmo, about the boiling and crushing process that usually happens each Friday.
Some of the crushed tomato product is sold to the Headwater Food Hub — an Ontario, New York-based distributor of regional and sustainable foods — and Hudson Harvest, a Germantown-based food distributor of sustainable and source-transparent products.
“From a sustainability standpoint it makes me feel great to know somebody tonight is eating something that may not have existed had this conversation not happened,” said Guglielmo, about the relationship between the Craft Cannery and Sungrow Farms.
Wegmans: Zero waste includes giving opportunities
In 2016 Wegmans began a zero-waste initiative with a goal of a 90% recycling rate by the end of 2023 and a 95% recycling rate by 2025. As of June 2023, the Rochester-based grocery chain was at 84.5%, according to Chris Foote, sustainability procurement area manager at Wegmans.
Foote is not a fan of the term “food waste,” because he sees the potential of everything from unsold bakery items to lime peels to make a difference for the community, rather than end up in a landfill.
Wegmans does this via a multi-prong approach to food waste that follows the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. First, the company provides unsaleable food to local food banks and community organizations — an action in-line with their core values, one of which is making a difference in the communities where they serve.
“There is a strong emphasis with our stores to maximize donations if the food is still safe and edible,” said Foote, who noted that company-wide there are over 500 organizations of all sizes that such food is donated to.
Next, Wegmans has many innovative partnerships with farmers and animal-focused organizations for its food waste not suitable for human consumption, such as donating seafood scraps to the local non-profit Wild Wings, which cares for permanently injured and non-releasable birds of prey.
The final prong is its relationships with composters and recyclers like Natural Upcycling food waste collection company in Livonia, which is owned by Noblehurst Farms. Natural Upcycling takes food waste from over 100 of Wegmans’ 109 stores and, using an anaerobic digestion process, transforms it into renewable resources like electricity or natural gas.
When it comes to packaging, the company is also continually striving to reduce waste by protecting food in ways that are both sustainable and functional.
The company has a goal of reducing in-store plastic packaging made from fossil fuels, along with other single-use plastics, by 10 million pounds by 2024, according to Jason Wadsworth, packaging and sustainability category merchant – procurement at Wegmans.
Some ways Wegmans has recently made packaging more sustainable include eliminating Styrofoam egg cartons, switching from large Styrofoam containers to reusable crates for seafood shipping, and moving away from plastic clamshell containers to paper boxes for select bakery items.
“We’re currently working on our wing and sushi containers and our meat and seafood trays,” said Wadsworth, who noted twenty-two Wegmans stores now have sushi containers with fiber bottoms, rather than Styrofoam trays.
Silver Thread Vineyard: Leaders in sustainable winemaking
With a tasting room built into a hillside for natural climate control, Silver Thread Vineyard in Seneca County has embedded itself in sustainable practices since it was founded in the 1980s.
Longtime Finger Lakes winemaker Paul Brock and wine educator Shannon Brock purchased Silver Thread in 2011. The winery is fully solar-powered and was among the first vineyards in the state to receive New York Sustainable Winegrowing certification, which was launched this year.
Most recently, Silver Thread was awarded the 2023 Sustainability Award from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation for exemplary sustainable practices, which is voted on by peers.
When it comes to waste, Silver Thread strives to be a zero-waste farm. All the organic matter like stems, seeds, skin and dead yeast left behind during Silver Thread’s winemaking process is composted and spread back out on the winery as fertilizer.
On the packaging front, Silver Thread uses eco-glass, a bottle that is 30% lighter than the industry average, which helps decrease the fuel needed for production and transport.
Additionally, the vineyard uses American-made glass when possible to reduce carbon emissions from transport. And they don’t use capsules – the decorative sleeves on the neck of a wine bottle over the cork – because they create unnecessary waste.
Bottles from Silver Thread are closed with natural corks made from the renewable bark of the cork tree. Unlike most screw or plastic bottle closures, corks are recyclable and, when used with a glass bottle can be a carbon-neutral package, according to a 2019 study by Corticeira Amorim and Ernst & Young.
“When you purchase local you’re minimizing the transportation of that product,” Shannon Brock said. “Buying from a small local producer is something you can always feel good about.”
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.n