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Why green is the next big thing in supermarket retail

by Rachel Cook

If you’re a multiple, you’ll know already that you have to be one step ahead of your customers, finding the things that they need before they know they need them. That’s why I reckon it’s time that retailers get over their focus on the healthy shopping experience and start leading their customers towards a green shopping experience.

Now, I’m not saying let’s stop focussing on health; after all, we’re fatter than ever, still eating too much of the wrong thing, drinking more than we should… But there’s been a marked improvement in the healthy provision, and long may it continue.

However, at the same time it needs someone to lead the way in a more ethical and sustainable way to shop – and it needs to be the multiples. I’ve a few ideas of my own about how British supermarkets can start developing a more eco-aware retail proposition…

  • Where is the trend coming from?
    Around four years ago it was all about clean eating. Quinoa, kale, peanut butter on everything, etc. Yep, clean was cool on a big scale. And while it was implied that this was good for the world as well as for those pesky gut enzymes, eco was certainly not front and centre of the story.

    Well, there’s a change a-coming, from many angles. According to recent research, two-thirds of consumers said they bought environmental products – even if they cost more. And two-thirds of consumers consciously choose to avoid specific brands or items due to environmental concerns, a figure that has increased by 26% in the last six years.

    No doubt its inspiration is coming from many angles and it’s been going on for some time, but 2017 has seen a marked increase in media coverage of the horrors we’re inflicting on the world. Think of the news stories covering the over-farming to meet our hipster foodie needs (hello illegal deforestation in Mexico to feed our #avocrisis). Not to mention the vegan propaganda spread by What The Health earlier in 2017. And how about those terrifying scenes of plastic islands that’ve made the news over the last few months? It’s getting harder to avoid.

  • The stats back it up, too. The UK alone produces more than 170m tonnes of waste every year and a shocking proportion of that is food packaging, much of which can’t be recycled and will not decompose. I don’t want to bang my hemp-scented drum too hard, but the effects on the planet are getting ever closer to home, and to me it’s evident that we have to take responsibility.

    How can retailers lead the eco-shopping revolution?

  • Let’s start with product packaging, encouraged by the multiples (although of course perpetuated/enabled by consumers).

    You know the stuff: an individually bagged orange. A single garlic bulb in a net. Sheathed cucumbers. Individually wrapped bars within boxes, to be later put back into another bag… Endless throwaway packaging sold in an environment that typically has a large proportion of returning customers, ripe for education.

    I believe the best way to start is to incentivise at point of purchase, to help customers make the right decision. Forget schemes like H&M’s clothes recycling points for example, which ask customers to remember to bring their old clothes into the shop to get their discount. Even I, someone who loves a discount, is big on saving the planet AND has a good memory, has perpetually failed to do this.

    So instead, how about:

    1. Doing away with pre-packaged fruit and veg
    Encourage shoppers to take just what they need, cutting down on both food waste and excessive packaging. Just think of it as channelling some market stall nostalgia.

    2. Reusable produce bags
    Forgo the endless reels of plastic bags and encourage shoppers to bring their own, and sell them in store, too.

    Now, I’ve tried out a few recently and it’s just as easy as bringing your own bag for life. The bags can be machine-washed or flung in the dishwasher and used countless times. Would need more incentives for it to really take off (or penalties for not using them), as well as less confused cashiers. My current favourite are these cotton net bags (shown below).

  • 3. Fill-your-own containers (like Ecover)
    Health food shops have been doing this for ages of course, and Ecover are all over it. Simply take your empty bottle of fabric softener and fill it up – easy. But what’s to stop more getting in on the act?

    As an aside, our client, Keelham Farm Shop, is brilliant at the whole fill-your-own thing, not to mention tons more eco-friendly initiatives. Their bag your own works a treat; just grab a bag and take as much as you like – it’s easy AND everyone loves having a go at this more than you can fathom.

  • 4. Prioritise larger refill packs like Method
    Another cleaning product specialist leading the way is Method, who sell their own refill packs so you can refill at home. However, a sighting of these packs is rare (I’ve only spotted one, and I’ve been looking). I’d like to see retailers taking these seriously, and manufactures being careful not to over package, too.

    5. Help customers to make a change
    If you don’t get customers on board, it’s all in vain of course. So, what about:

    • - Clear price advantage for customers who buy unpacked.
    • - Cross merchandising of reusable bags and boxes alongside the bag-your-own produce.
    • - ‘Snap me and keep me’ printed prompts or recipes around the fresh produce aisle that replace those previously found on packaging.

    6. Milk men
    Retailers, how do you fancy helping bringing back the milk round to areas who aren’t currently served? They help reduce waste plastic and are also a lovely addition to the community. It’s going to happen, I swear.

    7. Take a lead from Harrogate Spring Water and encourage at-home recycling
    Assuming that the packaging is already bought, the next best thing is to make sure that it’s recycled. The best way to do that? Take your rubbish home with you to be recycled in your standard kerb-side recycling, instead of using the on the go bins which are often sent to landfill. Retailers and manufacturers alike need to help customers get this message and make it easy.

    Our recent campaign for Harrogate Spring Water and Keep Britain Tidy does just this. The Incredible Shrinking Bottle campaign is focussed on recycling plastic bottles. We created the strapline ‘Twist it, cap it, recycle it’, encouraging customers to twist their bottle as small as possible to take it home with them, and brought it to life across packaging, online and in a short film. Read more about the Incredible Shrinking Bottle.

  • Yours hopefully,
    This is all just a starter for ten of course. A spattering of sense, a sprinkling of ideas (when a deluge of change is really what’s required). Really i just think it’s about time that the multiples cottoned on that it’s cool to be kind to the world and got on board with making a change.

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