A dedicated refillable zone, the UK’s first supermarket frozen ‘pick and mix’ and first borrow-a-box program are among a series of ideas being looked at in a unique test from Waitrose & Partners, which has the potential to save thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic and packaging.

The test is designed to help determine how customers might be prepared to shop differently in the future. The retailer has therefore transformed its Botley Road shop in Oxford and taken hundreds of products out of their packaging.

It has the largest number of loose fruit and vegetable lines of any national supermarket, has removed plastic wrap from its flowers and indoor plants and has launched refillable options for everything from wine to beer and cereals to coffees as well as cleaning products.

The test, which will be branded strongly with ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ across the shop to maximize awareness, will run for a period of 11 weeks until 18 August as the supermarket seeks as much feedback as possible. A feedback survey will also be available on its website page, Waitrose.com/Unpacked, and #WaitroseUnpacked will feature on Twitter and Instagram.

Packaged equivalents of the products will remain in their usual areas to create an effective test.

For example, given the choice between buying packaged or unpackaged fruit and vegetables, which one do customers go for.

The ‘Unpacked’ concepts include:

Produce unpacked – 160 loose fruit and vegetable products will be available at the store – the most loose fruit and vegetable lines offered by any national supermarket.

Frozen pick and mix – Frozen mango, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple and raspberries are packaging free and will be available as pick and mix.

Plastic removed from flowers and plants – Plastic wrap has been removed from all flowers and indoor plants and replaced with 100% recyclable and 100% PEFC certified craft paper.

Detergent and washing up liquid refillables – Waitrose & Partners is the first supermarket to partner with Ecover and provide an automatic detergent and washing up liquid dispenser where customers will be able to refill their reusable Ecover containers.

Wine and beer refillables – Four different wines and four different beers available on tap to take home in reusable bottles to cut down on the use of glass bottles.

Coffee refills – Customers can grind one of four coffees in store to take home in a reusable container to reduce glass and plastic packaging.

Essential refillables – 28 products including pasta, rice, grains, couscous, lentils, cereals, dried fruit, and seeds have been taken out of packaging and will be available through dispensers

Borrow-a-box scheme – In a UK first, shoppers can borrow-a-box from store to shop with and then take home before returning on their next visit.

Head of CSR for Waitrose & Partners, Tor Harris, said:

“We are determined to build on the work we’ve already done to reduce packaging – and this test will take our efforts to a whole new level as we help the growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way.

“This test has huge potential to shape how people might shop with us in the future so it will be fascinating to see which concepts our customers have an appetite for. We know we’re not perfect and have more to do, but we believe this is an innovative way to achieve something different.”

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.