When Liz Fox joined Aldi on its graduate area manager programme in 2012, little did she know that 10 years later she would be leading its corporate responsibility drive.
High on the agenda for many companies, corporate responsibility (CR) looks at an organisation’s impact on society, the environment and the economy. And supermarkets are no exception – most supermarkets are focusing on everything from the environmental impact of mass-consumed food, to food poverty and its connected social issues. And major chains are setting ambitious targets around everything from plastic waste to healthy eating.
Fox initially saw an online advert for Aldi’s area manager graduate programme when she was in her final year at the University of Bath – she applied and, much to her delight, soon found out she had been accepted.
Joining the retailer at a time of significant growth was a steep learning curve, she says, but the programme provided the foundations for her to then become a store operations director, looking after stores in the north-west. After four years in the job she was offered the opportunity to return to the Midlands – where she is from originally – to take up an entirely different role. “My boss turned around to me and said: ‘This fantastic opportunity has come up in our national office in the corporate responsibility department. Are you interested?’ And I said: ‘Yes.’”
She embraced the move into a completely different part of the business, enjoying getting to grips with a new specialism. Her job, as corporate responsibility director, focuses on providing short-term and long-term guidance and strategy to her team of experts.
Aldi in the UK and Ireland has been carbon neutral since 2019, but the work hasn’t stopped, she says. The supermarket’s core CR principles focus on its customers, supply chain, its people, the communities it serves and the environment. This is all brought to life by a programme called Better Everyday, through which it works to be greener, fairer and healthier. “I suppose the purpose of that is a little bit of humility, which our brand has as a business, in saying: ‘Look, we appreciate we’re not perfect, we’re not exactly where we need to be, but with continued effort, ongoing policies and evolving investment, we’re going to get better every day.”
The “greener” pillar of the programme covers everything from solar panels on stores to switching HGVs to low-carbon fuels and encouraging staff to switch off lights. In Ireland, the company has pledged to plant a million trees by 2025.
“The big piece of the pie is our supply chain,” says Fox. “And we are working to reduce carbon emissions across it.” In addition, food-waste-reduction programmes include a 75% price reduction on food products on the last day of life and 30% off products with imperfect packaging, creating less food waste. There’s also a partnership with the platform Neighbourly, which donates surplus food to local good causes.
Aldi’s “healthier” pillar aims to help customers make more sustainable and healthier choices. While the “fairer” pillar covers everything from protecting human rights, animal welfare and increasing the sale of certified products, to supporting charity partners (Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK and Barnardo’s in Ireland). “It’s very wide-ranging,” says Fox.
Fox is hopeful that these goals are attainable and suggests that one way forward is to demonstrate to customers that shopping in a more environmentally considerate way doesn’t have to be more expensive.
“We need to look after our world,” she says. It’s more important now than ever that we provide affordable, sustainable and responsible shopping baskets for our customers. With the cost-of-living crisis, the value we offer is even more important, and our community partnerships become invaluable.”
It’s not just customers who are looking at the company’s environmental impact, future employees are too, says Fox. As someone who has worked her way from graduate to director, she recognises that Aldi’s CR credentials could be key to recruiting new talent. “People want to understand that the company they’re working for is going to look after the planet that they’re living on.”
Reflecting on her own career to date, Fox speaks glowingly about the graduate scheme, admitting that the range of subsequent career opportunities took her by surprise. “I knew that there were opportunities for progression but in terms of the breadth of opportunities, that was not something I was aware of.” And in her current role, she feels “very lucky” to work in a position “that I hope can make a real positive impact on the world we live in”.
Are you ready for a career that means more? Join Aldi’s graduate area manager programme