Is Refill a New Trend in Retail?

Pickle Jars

In an attempt to reduce waste and packaging, several retailers in Europe are experimenting with in-store packaging free concepts. A wall or corner with bulk food dispensers is installed where consumers can fill a reusable bag or jar with the amount of product they wish.

Albert Heijn recently installed a special six-meter wall with dispensers with 70 products such as breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, spreads, tea and nuts. Eighty percent of the range is organic. Signs at the regular range indicate an option to buy the products without packaging.

In the United Kingdom, a group of supermarkets including M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose have joined the “Refill Coalition”, a trial to tackle single use plastic packaging. The coalition is to design a refill solution for products such as pasta, grains and personal care items. The solution is unique in that it also makes bulk products available for online orders, it will allow shoppers refill their own containers during home deliveries.

Aldi also offers customers household staples free of packaging. Customers can bring their own containers to the store, weigh the desired amount of product at the weighing station, and then fill their container.

The French government’s new Climate and Resilience Bill provides that by 2030, 20% of the floor surface of stores larger than 400 square meters must be adapted with refill systems.

Until now, the emphasis in reducing packaging waste has been on recycled packaging.  Now the focus is shifting to refillables, but there are logistical challenges. In-store refillable aisles take up a lot of space, it calls for an investment from retailers to install dispenser stations and the stations must be regularly filled and cleaned. The question is whether these models can be integrated seamlessly into the shopping experience and become a mass-market option.