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One of Utah's largest grocery store chains is launching a program aimed at feeding needy individuals and families statewide, as well as doing away with food waste companywide.

SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah's largest grocery store chains is launching a program aimed at feeding needy individuals and families statewide, as well as doing away with food waste companywide.

Smith’s Food & Drug Stores, under its parent company The Kroger Co., has announced a national effort to target hunger in the communities in which Smith’s and Kroger stores do business. The company also has pledged to eliminate waste across all store brands by 2025.

“No family in a community we serve should ever go hungry, and no food in a store we operate should ever go to waste,” said Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen.

Among the nation’s largest retail grocers, Smith's operates 143 stores in seven Western states: Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Nationwide, 42 million Americans struggle with hunger, while an estimated 72 billion pounds of food end up in a landfill every year, a news release stated.

“More than 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. each year goes unconsumed, while 1 in 8 people struggle with hunger. That just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “As America’s grocer and one of the largest retailers in the world, we are committing to doing something about it.”

The program is called Zero Hunger Zero Waste, explained Smith's Division corporate affairs manager Aubriana Martindale. The company is crowdsourcing for solutions, asking communities, partners and other stakeholders to help provide ideas, feedback and best practices as the effort evolves, she said.

She noted the company is working closely with both Feeding America Network and the World Wildlife Fund to develop transparent metrics to track the program's progress. The goal is to develop a program that will make use of all unsold food and consumable products.

"We try to donate as much as we possibly can to the Food Bank in terms of perishables and reclamation, but we understand that all of (the offerings) are not edible, so we want to turn to composting and feeding animals as well."

In Utah, Smith's has partnered with Cow Chow — an organization that accepts food donations that don't qualify for food banks to help feed livestock, Martindale said. The company is also creating incentives to encourage customers to join in the effort to reduce waste, such as loyalty points for recycling.

Among the steps the company is taking to implement the ambitious plan: establishing a $10 million innovation fund within the Kroger Co. Foundation to address hunger, food waste and the paradoxical relationship between the two; accelerate food donations to provide 3 billion meals nationwide by 2025; advocate for public policy solutions to address hunger and to shorten the line at food banks; and eliminate food waste by 2025 through prevention, donation and diversion efforts in all Kroger brand stores.

In addition, the company hopes to improve the health of millions of Americans by making balanced meals more readily available, share scalable food waste solutions with other retailers, restaurants and local governments, and work within Kroger’s supply chain to reduce farm-to-fork food loss, the release stated.

In Utah, Smith's donated 1.7 million meals last year, Martindale said. This new program hopes to expand their effort exponentially.

"This is our vision and we know it is a 'moonshot vision,'" she said. "It is going to take all of (our partners and competitors) coming together to solve this problem."