Valley Fine Foods: This year’s Eco Award winner
Packaged foods manufacturers aren’t often touted for their “green” initiatives. And yet, tucked away in the Benicia Industrial Park is Valley Fine Foods, winner of this year’s Eco Award, presented by Republic Services.
Valley Fine Foods has been a fixture in Benicia for the past thirty years.
Their products grace the aisles of our local grocery stores and beyond. The company was established by husband-and-wife Taiwanese expats and Benicia residents, Mei and Chuck Tu, in 1992. Both food scientists by trade and deeply committed to the environment, they began by producing frozen ravioli with a focus on environmental friendliness with their flagship brand, Pasta Prima™. Valley Fine Foods eventually developed two other brands, ARISTOLA™ artisan pasta and sauces and Three Bridges™ breakfast products.
Republic Services’ Eco Awards recognize local businesses for their commitment to exceptional sustainable efforts and for setting a positive example for others through their recycling efforts. With the Tu’s values guiding the company, Valley Fine Foods is a shining example of such an organization. We spoke with the company’s CEO, Todd Nettleton, and the director of manufacturing, Simon Woods, to learn about all Valley Fine Foods has been doing to be a responsible company to the environment and community. They reported that the Valley Fine Foods production plants run on solar power, and that the company has always been fastidious about recycling and reducing food waste. But in 2019, they began the Organics Initiative to establish even better practices.
The Organics Initiative aims at addressing food waste further by redirecting it out of landfills and increasing recycling of single-use plastics. T
hese goals were reached by rethinking their production line so that plastics are washed for a better acceptance rate by recycling sites, food scraps are diverted, and each piece of waste is placed in its proper receptacle. Woods emphasized that training has been a big factor in the success of the program, as has their relationship with Republic Services.
Republic Services has provided resources such as separate containers for each type of food waste to help streamline the diversion process at Valley Fine Foods. They send trucks to pick up the food waste and carry it to a processing center in Richmond. There, the food scraps are turned into compost. This summer, Woods reports, the resulting compost will be returned to Benicia for the first time to be mixed into the community’s soil.
Republic Services also initially helped with much of the training of the Valley Fine Foods staff.
Now, an ambassador program has been established to support training efforts. Woods and Nettleton say that in the future they would love to explore turning their food waste into feed, further extending the usefulness of their “waste.”
A particularly private family Chuck, Mei, and sons Ryan and Wayne Tu’s names don’t even appear on their company’s website. Nettleton and Woods impart that the Tu’s don’t seek recognition for their accomplishments and contributions, but simply care deeply about their community and being good stewards of it and the environment. Nevertheless, they and their team’s efforts are deserving of the Eco Award and of our community’s appreciation for being leaders in sustainability.