Closing The Loop On Sustainability

Considering the previous recipients of PRODUCE BUSINESS’ Retail Sustainability Award — H-E-B, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Wakefern/Shoprite and Wegmans —the magnitude of the news set in. Patti Olenick, sustainability manager for this year’s winner, Weis Markets — the 163-store, family chain, headquartered in Sunbury, PA, with stores scattered among five eastern states, — says she was taken aback. “We were honored and elated, but did we have enough to fill the pages?” she and her executive team contemplated after receiving word of this unexpected recognition.

(L-R) Kevin Small, Patti Olenick and John Lerch at the “Urban Fresh” store.

If only Olenick realized the novella unfolding as she welcomed us to the corporate headquarters of the publicly held — yet independently spirited retailer — to begin a tour of the new Weis/Selinsgrove store, then its remodeled flagship located in Lewisburg, PA, followed by a visit to its bustling centralized distribution center in Milton, and lastly to a burgeoning “Urban Fresh”-format store near Philadelphia. The award’s validity resonated as the corporate team shared the company’s story and vision — revealing the latest sustainability developments.


Weis is closing the loop on sustainability from field to fork; from family farms to family tables; from unsaleable food to food banks; to 360-degree composting and recycling programs; as well as impactful energy reduction initiatives. All the while bringing its employees, suppliers, customers and the industry along for the ride.

Innovative sustainable initiatives start at the heart of the produce department — ranging from a resourceful way to recycle troublesome waxed cardboard produce boxes [see “Recycling Wax Cardboard” on page 40] to pioneering closed-door refrigerated cases for bagged salads, explains Dan Koch, vice president of fresh. Piggybacking off the chain’s unique commitment to enclosed refrigerated cases for dairy products and meat, the choice is proving a solid return on investment — not only to save energy, but also to prolong product quality and shelf life — while maintaining sales numbers of open refrigerated cases, according to Kevin Small, vice president of construction and development. The store development department is the central catalyst for all things sustainable within the corporate structure.

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Behind the scenes without bravado, Weis Markets has been turning the pages on sustainability since its founding in 1912.

Initially, the Weis brothers, Sigmund and Harry, worked in their father’s general store. Eventually, they opened their first Weis Pure Foods corner grocery store, embracing local farmers, piloting promising technologies, and inventing solutions to long-standing industry problems, explains Dan Koch, vice president of fresh.

(L-R) Weis associate; Patti Olenick, sustainability manager; Kurt Schertle, COO; Ken Whitacre, Publisher of PRODUCE BUSINESS; Weis floral associate; David Gose, senior vice president of operations; and Weis associate.

Continuing the generational legacy, Robert Weis recently stepped down as chairman after 69 years at the company to serve as an adviser, as his son Jonathan Weis, president and chief executive, is taking the reins.


“Yes, we have been publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange since 1965, but the Weis Family lives by a philosophy of being self-reliant and independent,” as well as diehard stewards of the environment, says Dennis Curtin, director of communications, and 20-year veteran at Weis.

The company owns and operates its own dairy, ice cream, and meat processing plants, as well as in-house, fresh-cut produce program.

“While a lot of supermarket companies contract with a third party to supply their stores, we do it ourselves through a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center near our store support center, which is about 12 miles away in Milton, PA,” says Joe Kleman, vice president distribution.

The East Coast chain’s radius spans five states; primarily Pennsylvania, with a good presence in Maryland, as well as New York, New Jersey, and a couple of stores in West Virginia.