Fusing Sustainability and Business with Jeff Yorzyk of HelloFresh

April 11, 2024

Play/Pause Download

HelloFresh Senior Director of Responsibility Jeff Yorzyk has over 20 years of experience in sustainability across a broad range of sectors, acquired from commercial and consulting roles with pioneering firms like Five Winds International and Thinkstep (now Sphera). His expertise spans sustainability program development, strategic management systems, ESG reporting, and product sustainability / life cycle assessment – with roots in environmental compliance. As the Senior Director of Sustainability for HelloFresh North America, Jeff spent the last 7 years enjoying the unique opportunity to build a sustainability program from the ground inside the global leader in the meal kit category, HelloFresh. 

John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a Rockstar Impact Podcast guest? Go to impactpodcast.com and just click Be a Guest to recommend someone today. This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and Impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.

Subscribe For The Latest Impact Updates

Subscribe to get the latest Impact episodes delivered right to your inbox each week!
Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you or share your information. You can unsubscribe at any time.

John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited to have with us today, Jeff Yorzyk. He’s the senior director of sustainability for HelloFresh North America. Welcome to The Impact Podcast, Jeff.

Jeff Yorzyk: Thanks so much. Happy to be here and join the incredible group of speakers that you’ve interviewed.

John: Hey, you know Jeff, this is your first time on Impact. We’re so excited to have you. This is HelloFresh’s first time on the show. We’ve been doing the show now, almost 17 years, so it’s really an honor to have you on. But before we get talking about everything you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability at HelloFresh, I’d love to hear first about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get on this fantastic journey?

Jeff: Yeah, thanks so much. It has been a fantastic journey at that too, I can’t deny. I’ll be honest, my dad was an Eagle Scout. Used to take us on canoe trips, fishing as a kid. So, I really at a very early age developed a strong appreciation for being outside, engaging with the outdoors. Then went off to university, ended up getting a degree in chemical engineering. Found it super fascinating, but got to the end of it and really didn’t want to work in petroleum or chemicals. It just didn’t feel right to me. So, I went into the environmental field, frankly, and spent a bunch of time in cleanup and compliance work. I ended up getting a master’s degree in environmental science, and then actually I was on a six-day solo hike by myself on the Continental Divide and wrote something in my journal along the lines of what would it mean to get in front of this? How do you stop waste before it happens? That was before a lot of these dual degrees and things we see now were available. So, I decided to go to business school and see if I could pivot to the front end of the conversation and stop waste before it happened. So, it’s kind of a long shot but it worked. In my last semester, I met a partner in a tiny little boutique sustainability consulting firm and joined that firm in actually 2003. It was about a year or so after I graduated just a string of efforts to create a career in sustainability back then when it was really young. But then I spent 10 years there. It was an end-to-end education and the technical tools of sustainability like product life cycle assessment, management systems, and public reporting and some of these things that are really mainstream right now. So, it was an incredible time for me, but to be honest, I can trace my career in sustainability back to a hike in the mountains and the Indian Peaks Wilderness area outside of Boulder, Colorado is a really special place for me now. My partner and I actually did a commitment ceremony there just a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite places in the whole earth.

John: There’s something actually elegant and poetic about figuring out your life on a six-day solo journey. Come on now, and that makes a whole ton of sense to me, actually. I love that. Talk a little bit about HelloFresh. HelloFresh is a newer brand, comparatively speaking in American history, but it’s an important brand. Where did you decide and how did you decide to join HelloFresh and when did you get involved with sustainability at HelloFresh?

Jeff: Yeah. After a number of years, over a decade developing skills on the consulting side, I basically stumbled over the opportunity. A friend of mine called me to tell me he had heard about an opening that he thought I’d be perfect for. I’ve always been an avid home chef. I really love cooking, and I was fascinated by the way they’re disrupting the food system and just making home cooking with whole ingredients available and accessible. Not everybody has that background of learning to cook. I learned to cook at my mother’s heel but that’s becoming less and less common. So, I got my first box actually back in 2014 and I was just blown away at how powerful this was. Cooking can be a super intimidating experience for people, and this company made it fun and easy for people to get up and to get in the game. It was just way too exciting to pass up. So, I ended up joining the company in 2016. I’d always felt I wanted to lead a program and consulting was basically a vehicle where I developed the experience and the skills to do it, but it was a hard decision to lead consulting, to be honest. It just felt like this would pull together so many different elements of my background in a new way that was really exciting for me in a company that was in a really disruptive space in the food sector. So, I joined in 2016 and really the rest is history at this point.

John: How big is HelloFresh now? How many homes do you serve? Is it only North America? Or are you serving other countries around the world right now as well?

Jeff: So, HelloFresh actually is active in 18 different markets around the world.

John: Wow.

Jeff: So we’re nationwide in the US and by far we’re the largest meal kit in the United States. But actually, we delivered more than 490 million meals to customers across the US at this point. A box has different numbers of meals in it that we would ship to our customer, but it’s not unheard of for us to ship a million boxes a week in the US alone. Just to be clear, HelloFresh is based in Berlin over in Germany but for people who don’t know meal kits, we deliver fresh ingredients to our customers’ door steps every week. So, they receive step-by-step recipes, complete with nutritional information, and essentially fresh free measured ingredients to get them whipping up delicious dinners in no time. So, there’s vegetarian and vegan options, as well as plenty of omnivore options for folks who want other proteins in their meals as well.

John: So as you and I know, folks in your roles, and I think it’s one of the greatest fraternities on the planet, senior director of sustainability. Sustainability could be read narrowly depending on the company and the DNA of a company or organization, it could also be very, very broad. Talk a little bit about what senior director of sustainability means at HelloFresh.

Jeff: Yeah. Our mission as a company is to change the way people eat forever, and that includes sustainability and social impact initiatives. So, I oversee sustainability and social impact for all of North America. I spend a lot of time working with the different business leaders to understand how to integrate sustainability into their work streams. So, I have what I call a small but mighty team of sustainability professionals and I really love leading them. Mentorship is such an important part of being in a senior role. But we have essentially environmental sustainability initiatives, we have a number of social impact initiatives here in North America, and then I collaborate regularly with our Berlin based team that is pulling all that together for annual corporate reporting over in Europe and some of those types of things and investor reporting. I get involved all over the place where it makes sense. With a background in environmental consulting, I get to pull together a lot of pieces of what I’ve done before in the past. But certainly, the program has a number of pillars I could go into for it there. It’s really a pretty interesting program, I think.

John: Well, in terms of HelloFresh and sustainability, talk a little bit about where you choose to spend the vast majority of your time moving your mission forward.

Jeff: Yeah. The environmental sustainability program has a number of components that the key pillars are essentially fighting food waste, reducing carbon emissions, and packaging sustainability. So, what does that mean, right? On the food waste side, reducing food waste is one of the strongest benefits of a meal kit. We’ve done some in-home food waste studies and seen as much as 45% reduction in food waste related to dinner, relative to portion of ingredients, and some of those types of pre-planning. So, that’s important. Approximately 40% of our food supply is wasted mainly because of distribution efficiency out there. So, we believe food belongs in people’s mouths, not in a landfill. So, what we’re doing is not only trying to enable that on the customer side in terms of really making sure that they have very low food waste related to dinner through proportioning and some of those types of things. But frankly, my team is relentless when it comes to minimizing food waste from our operations. Our menus turnover every week, we need at least a small buffer volume to make sure we can fulfill against customer orders and last-minute changes and things like that. But once something becomes what we would call unsold inventory, we are really strongly focused on, first of all, how do we donate as much of it as possible to local food banks, get it into the mouths of people who need it. Well over 50% of our unsold food ends up at a food bank and then after that, how do we keep it out of a landfill? And so, we really start hammering at things like composting or anaerobic digestion to create biogas and make energy. So, really, really pushing at that to try and explore what does zero food waste to landfill even mean? So, food waste number one. Then reducing carbon emissions. Clearly, this is the global issue of our time. Any company not working on is missing the target. So, we prioritize avoiding, reducing, and replacing emissions. Back in 2020, we switched all of our facilities over to 100% renewable electricity, that’s mostly wind, and then managing our refrigeration systems. Most of the companies in food do have to manage large refrigeration systems. Those are pretty potent greenhouse gases, so we manage those very carefully, and then frankly we shortened the supply chain for a lot of our customers. So, we did a lifecycle assessment back in 2021 and really saw that the increased efficiency of distribution as well as the reduction in food waste as it turns out really lead to a pretty significant reduction, about 25% in the carbon impact of food for our customers really just based on those two things. Then of course, focusing on things like retrofitting, LEDs, older facilities, making sure that our facilities are as efficient as possible. So, in 2022 we actually achieved a 50% reduction in carbon emissions compared to our 2019 baseline. We’ve set 2025 targets at this point. Really happy with the progress we’ve made and continue to go after it. [Crosstalk] Sorry, go ahead.

John: No, no. This is fascinating. You’re getting ahead. Besides changing the way people eat forever, you’re really tackling some of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, such as food waste and food going to landfills and the waste that we have there.

Jeff: Exactly. Exactly.

John: [Crosstalk] unnecessarily do, really going to landfills. So, that’s incredible. I forgot to ask you, in terms of physicality of your footprint, how big of the operations are you managing in North America in terms of, as you say, doing all those offsets, vis-a-vis wind power, and other ways of getting your carbon footprint down? How much physicality are you managing actually?

Jeff: Yeah. There’re 11 distribution centers in the US depending on how you cut them up, but those could be anywhere from a 80,000 square foot facility to a 350,000 square foot facility. So, some of them are quite big. A lot of them are large refrigerated spaces where we’re packing the meal kits. So, it’s pretty large. In terms of the energy use, easily 50,000 megawatts a year in terms of energy electricity use mostly electricity driving those refrigeration systems. But it’s sizable for sure.

John: Wow. So, let’s shift from environmental to social. What does the social impact look like at HelloFresh?

Jeff: Yeah, we’ve worked really hard on this one, and we’re pretty proud of it, I got to be honest. Our social impact program focuses on increasing the accessibility and availability of nutritious food and fighting insecurity. So, we recently published a report called Hunger Matters in the US that found that one in three Americans have experienced food insecurity in their lifetime which is totally astounding as far as I’m concerned. Even more unusual, younger generations reported significant levels of food insecurity, so students and folks just entering the workforce. So, it’s not just a specific economic demographic or the elderly anymore. It’s really affecting a lot of people. In the end, hunger never sleeps, so HelloFresh works at this every week, all year long, to combat hunger alongside the local organizations, government officials, logistics professionals even our own customers. So, as I was talking about, we have a weekly turnover of our meal kit recipes, which means that we can identify surplus food in our system really, really early. Our quality team is able to review everything left at the end of the week created by those buffer volumes and last-minute choice changes by customers and basically identify perfectly good food that we won’t be able to use. So, at that point, it’s technically just taking up space in the warehouse, so we’re trying to get it out to the building as quickly as possible. We’ve got really amazing food banking and food rescue partners who help us get it into the community as quickly as possible. So, that’s our surplus, and that’s a pretty significant stream. But beyond that, we actually have two social impact initiatives at HelloFresh, the biggest one really is called Meals with Meaning. Essentially, we provide 40,000 free meal kits every week with wholesome, easy to follow recipes. We worked actually with our food rescue charities to define what would a meal kit for the food insecure look like, and then essentially brought our culinary team who loves to design recipes and our procurement team who are excellent at sourcing food. In fact, we source new food against that every week. So, when we looked at it, we didn’t think we could trust the variability in our surplus volumes, so we just realized we had to buy it. So, that’s 40,000 servings a week going out into communities like Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Worth, Newark, New York City, and Phoenix. Essentially, we partnered with our food rescue partners to figure out how to pack that, how to distribute it, and how to get it really into the community. We actually started this program right at the height of the COVID Pandemic in Newark, New Jersey, and then over in New York where the need was so strong at that time. Frankly, this was a public-private partnership that just came out of pure necessity that has just exceeded our expectations at this point. We’re really good at designing food and sourcing food, and teaching people how to pack kit bags, but the charities and the municipalities we partner with are astoundingly good at figuring out who needs it, how to get it there, and how to keep repeating that process week over week. It’s really incredible.

John: Our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Jeff Yorzyk with us today. He’s a senior director of sustainability of HelloFresh North America. To find Jeff and his colleagues and all the great important work they’re doing in sustainability, please go to www.hellofresh.com. Talk a little bit about sourcing, you just brought up the word sourcing. Responsible sourcing has become a big deal in our food supply in the United States and actually around the world. What does that mean in HelloFresh, and how deep does your sourcing go when it comes to regenerative agriculture and all the other key terms that are now upon us with regards to the sustainability revolution here in North America?

Jeff: Right, right. Yeah, the whole world has realized that your supply chain is where most of your impacts are especially for consumer forward companies like HelloFresh. Certainly, when we did our life cycle assessment back in 2021, we saw a huge impact of ingredients there and we continue to see the evidence of it. First of all, food quality and safety is really our number one metric. So, when we work with suppliers, there’s essentially no supplier that does not see someone from our quality team to put boots on the ground, look at their operation and understand what they’re doing there, and make sure that we feel comfortable with it. Our supply chain program, I think will be evolving for a long time. In 2024, and actually in 2023, we really started building out a human right’s due diligence piece of that supply chain. Some of that is related to evolving European standards but it’s a great opportunity to go beyond that in 2024 now and look at what’s being asked to address the broader issues of sustainability and supply chain. So, it’s common knowledge there that the big levers are sitting in supply chain. So, honestly, we worked really hard to get our own house in order through things like renewable energy plans and fighting food waste so that we’re ready to really start talking to our suppliers about efficiency there. So, we’re really on the cusp of some really expansive work as we go into 2024 now as well.

John: I love it. Packaging has become a big story also when it comes to the sustainability world. How do you approach packaging and make it as sustainable as possible, but as you just said, make sure that you’re delivering the food in the best and the safest way possible as well? How do you balance that high wire act?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. I think at this point, everybody also really knows that packaging has some kind of environmental impact.

John: Sure.

Jeff: There’s definitely a lot of challenges there, but for all of its problems, packaging also has a purpose. That’s something to keep in mind all the time that food quality and safety, especially in a product that’s delivered to your front door, is really critical. So, that leads all of our conversations about packaging is how do we get that food to a customer at a quality level and ensuring food safety at a level that we insist on as an organization to provide the product that we do to them? But after that, then we start looking at how do we prioritize around sustainable packaging? So, can we minimize the amount of packaging and continuously seek more sustainable solutions? Basic philosophy is avoid packaging when you can, reduce it where you have to use it, promote recyclability, and identify opportunities to innovate when you can. Things like a piece of citrus or something, a lot of those, they come in their own packaging, so those aren’t getting packaged. But where we see some items that are going to maybe suffer from humidity in the box or whatever it might be, there’s some level of packaging required and we strive to minimize it. But I’ll be honest here, the way we approached this was really prioritizing starting with what I would call the delivery system. So, non-food contact packaging. We did a great job making sure the insulation in the box is recyclable. We phased out styrofoam and some of those kind of products, and really tried to make sure things were curbside recyclable. We also focused on recycled content in things like the box and things like that. One caveat here, I’ll be very honest about, if there is one place for breakthrough innovation in meal kits, it’s ice packs, and that’s just in cold chain shipping of any kind. We’ve worked on a bunch of ideas from trying to seal water into a bag to returnable ice packs and nothing’s really performed the way we need it to yet. But open plea to anybody listening, if there’s a breakthrough on ice packs, we’re open to listening to it. Then on the food contact side that’s where we have to go item by item to find opportunities for more sustainable packaging to see what the item is. A sauce might be a little bit more difficult than rice and grains. So, actually in 2023, we worked on a paper solution for rice and grains instead of using plastic film. We had really good results with it. We’re actually in the process of rolling that out in 2024. So, it becomes like an item by item search when you’re in the food contact world, because you’ve got all these regulations around food safety and quality. They really drive the product. So, in the end, we try to help our customers recycle the packaging properly, understand what the options are, minimized how much we use. We’re pretty proud in 2022, we actually have reduced our packaging materials by 12% over our 2020 baseline, and we continue to work at that. I think packaging and supply chain are things the food industry will be working on beyond our lifetimes.

John: Talk a little bit about transparency. As you and I know, sustainability, one of the pillars of great sustainable practices is radical transparency. Do you create an impact or sustainability report every year that you publish?

Jeff: We do. We do. So, being based in Berlin over in Germany, we’re subject to European reporting laws, which include a requirement to produce a non-financial report which is under the NFRD or non-Financial Reporting Directive. In 2024, that has pivoted into the CSRD, which is the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. So, yes, we do report annually on our sustainability outcomes, our performance, where we’re standing relative to targets especially where we stand relative to what’s called a materiality assessment. It’s pretty common tool in sustainability but what’s material about the way that our company intersects with sustainability, we report on that every year. CSRD, the new European regulation is taking it to another level at this point. But we have quite a bit there as well as for the things that don’t end up in an annual report, which quite soon is actually going to be even attached to our financial report. Europe is actually elevating the quality level of sustainability data to the same level as financial data which is an amazing exercise. We’re all learning from it. It’s going to transform sustainability as far as I’m concerned. But we also have websites. We do have a sustainability section on our website. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we talk about more of the details of the things we’re working on and the partners we have and celebrating some of those things in ways that don’t always fit into an investor grade report and things like that.

John: Jeff, we’re now in the beginning of 2024. What gets you most excited right now? What initiatives or programs are you the most excited about that you’re allowed to talk about right now?

Jeff: Yeah. There’re a few things there. I mentioned that we’re really working to expand our supply chain program this year. So, that one, I’m really excited about. Being an ex-consultant, I took what I might call a concentric circles approach, where we really worked on our facilities, our own in-house sustainability to get our own house in order before we started going out to the supply chain, and essentially trying to tell them what to do. So, now we’re ready to really launch into that. So, 2023, we really started digging in on the human rights side. 2024, we’re expanding that now into looking more at things like the carbon impact of the food we’re sourcing. We’ve got some great data partners in place that we really enjoy working with specifically a company called HowGood that’s doing a fantastic job bringing emissions factor data and things like that to the table. So, that’s one area. Then on the tactical level, rolling out things like the paper packaging for rice and grains. We’re already looking at more ways to apply that same technology that we’re using for that, so those are two. Then frankly, from a professional perspective, I’m really excited about the way that sustainability reporting is evolving in the world. We all knew it had to happen at some point. Europe appears to be on the cutting edge of it right now. So, really being at a company that’s in the first wave of organizations that are reporting to these new regulations, it’s just really exciting to be embracing that and figuring out how we’re really going to move the needle and create that level of comfortability that investors are really demanding now.

John: That’s interesting. Jeff, all great brands have a lot of things in common, just like all great families have a lot of things in common. Where do you find benchmarks? HelloFresh is such a unique company and a leader in its branding. Where do you find benchmarks to try to give you inspiration and aspiration to continue to push sustainability and the mission at HelloFresh Forward?

Jeff: Great, great question. You’re right, there really isn’t a multi-billion-dollar multinational meal kit company that we can compare ourselves to out there. Certainly, we compare ourselves to all of our competitors. We look at what are the large grocers doing? What are home delivery companies doing? And some of those types of folks who are in the same space. We watch all of them, and then certainly we talk to investors, investor groups. We have a great investor relations team that really does quite a bit of outreach. Oh, I’m lost on that one. Finally, we work to just see what’s expected out there. Some of these ranking firms MSCI, sustainalytics, some of these folks, they’ve got expectations too. So, we may not have direct comps, but we definitely have a lot of different people in similar spaces to us, as well as some of these investor groups that have publishing expectations and places to look for best in class and things that we can model.

John: Jeff, I’ve been doing this show since 2007 and had almost 2000 guests on now. You have one of the most gorgeous and beautiful backgrounds we’ve ever had on this show. Tell a little bit of how you got that most gorgeous background there.

Jeff: Thank you much. Yeah, with the age of just so many virtual meetings anymore, I decided to start bringing seasonally and geographically appropriate backgrounds. So, we can all upload backgrounds. Why not use some of the great pictures that we all tend to take on a beautiful day. This is actually the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado in the background, which is where our Colorado office is. I took this picture on the way to work. It was a very, very cold day. It was about 10 below. We had gotten some snow the night before, so the sky was just amazingly blue. But I really enjoyed taking photos. I love the environment. I take a lot of photos of it. So, why not bring them to bear in video calls and instead of a cold office background.

John: Gorgeous.

Jeff: Something like that.

John: Did you study professional photography or are you just an amazing layman photographer?

Jeff: Apparently, I’m an amazing layman. Thank you. Appreciate the compliment.

John: I love it. I love it. Jeff, just beautiful. Just thank you. Thank you for coming on the show today, and you’re always welcome back here to share this. As you and I know, there’s no finish line in sustainability, and it’s an ongoing process and journey, and you’re always welcome to come on back, the Impact podcast, to continue your journey, to continue your story at HelloFresh. For our listeners and viewers who want to find Jeff and his colleagues and all the important work they’re doing at HelloFresh and sustainability, please go to www.hellofresh.com. Jeff Yorzyk, thank you so much for being a guest today on The Impact Podcast, and thank you and your colleagues for doing all the great work in your sustainability you’re doing at HelloFresh, but more importantly, thank you for making the world a better place.

Jeff: John, thank you so much. Really appreciate the work that you do, helping bring awareness to what companies are doing and helping us as sustainability professionals to learn about each other. I look forward to meeting anybody who wants to reach out.

John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com. This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect com.