Unilever unveils Europe’s largest supermarket refill trial under tide of consumer demand
23 Oct 2020 --- Unilever is launching its largest ever supermarket refill trial in Europe. Beginning in a single Asda supermarket in the UK, customers are encouraged to refill packaging for seven leading Unilever products.
The company expects up to 30,000 plastic water bottles to be saved in the store in its first year.
Three different refill machine designs will contain seven of Unilever’s household name products. A machine for beauty and personal care brands, another for Persil laundry liquid, and a touch-free machine containing Pukka and PG Tips tea bags will be available.
The trial is created in collaboration with Beauty Kitchen, a UK based beauty and skincare products company who designed the touch-free refill machine.
Based on the “return, refill, repeat” principle, customers are provided with a plastic container into which the machines dispense a chosen product and then prints a unique QR code label. The code allows Unilever to trace the purchases and refills and learn more about consumer behavior to expand the scheme in the future.
“As simple as possible”
The trial allows Unilever to assess and optimize the refill scheme to make it as simple as possible for users.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to find out, across seven of our leading brands, just how shoppers respond to using refillable and reusable packaging in-store,” says Sebastian Munden, vice president of Unilever UK and Ireland.
“We are all committed to driving lasting change when it comes to plastic, but to do so, we must create scalable solutions and make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices.”
Collaboration to combat plastic pollution
Asda’s new “Sustainability Store,” based in Middleton, Leeds, UK, is the first of its kind. Besides refill stations, it contains unwrapped produce, recycling stations and a clothing line produced from recycled materials.
Unilever’s collaboration is a step toward bringing stakeholders together to reduce plastic usage throughout the industry, it says.
This comes as part of the company’s efforts to reduce virgin plastics in its supply chain by 50 percent and ensure all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2025. It says this can only be achieved by testing bold new ideas in real-life conditions.
Beauty Kitchen also maintains that figuring out how to coerce consumer behavior effectively is an indispensable part of the battle.
“The need to act on the plastic pollution crisis is urgent and focusing consumer behavior on sustainability and cradle-to-cradle practice is a vital part of the solution,” says founder Jo Chidley.
“This exciting partnership to power the refill stations is a pivotal point in creating a sustainable future and instilling a reuse mindset.”
Rise in refills
Unilever’s scheme follows earlier efforts to push consumers into reusing packaging. Cif ecorefill, released by the company last year, allows users to keep spray cleaning bottles “for life.”
The Cif power and shine bottles are made with 75 percent less plastic. The refill release came with a report by Unilever stating that 62 percent of customers said reuse was more important to them than recycling, 83 percent wish they had better access to refilling stations and only 16 percent are currently buying refills.
High-end UK greengrocer Marks and Spencer launched a similar trial earlier this year in several of its own UK stores. Forty-four “Fill your own” products were offered, 25 of which showed increased sales after two months. The added benefit of portion flexibility played a role in promoting the scheme.
Luxury fragrance brand Armani also rolled out a refillable option for its perfumes this year, with a new perfume line dubbed “My Way,” as part of a five-year pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent. The perfume is packaged in recycled and recyclable material and can be replenished in stores for life.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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