Maya, an iguana at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, likes strawberries so much they have to be diced very small and spread throughout her greens to keep her from picking them out.

The Mystic, Conn.-based aquarium used to spend $16,000 a year on produce for Maya and other aquarium inhabitants, but a new partnership with two ShopRite stores in Connecticut allows the aquarium to pick up culled produce that would have been thrown away.

“Our aquarium houses many animals that eat a wide array of vegetables,” said Don Harrington, interim director of fish and invertebrates at the aquarium and a former employee of a fruit stand.

“These animals depend on the source of vitamins and trace elements that these vegetables and fruits provide. Just like humans, they require a healthy, nutritional diet,” Harrington said.

Edison, N.J.-based ShopRite has 217 stores across the northeast, and Ken Capano Jr., and his family own and operate the two stores, in Norwich and New London.

“We’re always looking for a unique partnership like this,” Capano said.

But Capano, owner and vice president of operations for the stores, wasn’t looking for this one. He heard about the opportunity through a contact with Coca-Cola.

Steve Perrelli, general manager of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southeastern New England Inc., Needham Heights, Mass., is a member of the aquarium’s board and was asked to look into lower-cost options for the animals’ food.

“Steve does a lot of work with Mystic Aquarium, and was talking to me about doing some cross-advertising,” Capano said. “He said, ‘Would you feel like doing a partnership with them? They could save a lot of money.’”

Shop Rite helps aquarium dwellers eat healthy

Steve Parrelli, general manager of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southeastern New England Inc., (from left) helped coordinate the partnership between Ken Capano Jr., owner and vice president of operations of the ShopRite stores, and Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration’s Don Harrington, interim director of fish and invertebrates, and Peter Glankoff, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs. Courtesy Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration

Harrington had the idea of looking to a supermarket for help. The arrangement works perfectly for ShopRite, Capano said.

“We take the culls down, separate them, and they pick them up,” Capano said. “We’d be culling anyway, so all we do is what can go into one box and what (goes) into another. It’s a very nominal labor increase.”

The aquarium receives edible, but bruised and damaged produce lost to shrink. Capano said his stores have been donating food to local pig farms for years.

“But pigs aren’t as picky when it comes to what they’ll eat,” Capano said. “There are certain things (Mystic Aquarium) doesn’t want, like hot peppers, and certain things they have to buy.”

Fish in the aquarium’s coral reef exhibit eat romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, green leaf lettuce, pumpkins, broccoli and swiss chard. Bats eat finely diced fruits and juice nectars, while reptiles eat diced salads.

Favorites of Charlotte the green sea turtle include green peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and snow peas, while Maya the iguana supplements her favorite strawberries with lettuce, apples, collard greens, parsley, greens and juice nectars, Harrington said.


The Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration are divisions of Sea Research Foundation Inc., Mystic, Conn.