Refillable retail still looking to gain traction.


Re-fill stations in stores offering bulk food items and sustainable household products can dramatically reduce waste packaging and have been embraced by many small independents but they have so far failed to gain traction in large retail chains.


Marks & Spencer could be about to help change this situation with the announcement of a scaling-up of the pilot it has been running of pre-filled and reusable packaging involving a small number of own-label home-care products in six stores since June 2022.


Working with refillable platform provider Reposit (in a project supported by UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Fund) it involves customers paying a deposit for a container that can then be redeemed against a second purchase. Unlike other similar trials that have been undertaken, the Reposit initiative with M&S does not involve different bespoke branded containers. Instead, there is a standardised vessel for each product category.


With this flexibility the next step is for more brands to be involved as well as other retailers. The aim is to have over 100 products across various categories (Ecover and Beauty Kitchen are currently on-board) across 200 stores. Talks are underway with the likes of P&G, Arla and Nestlé while on the stores side M&S is an initial powerful advocate for greater adoption of the refillable proposition in stores.


Lucinda Langton, head of sustainability within food at M&S, says: “Our customers are always pushing us to lead on issues they care about including reducing single-use plastic. The M&S Refilled Pilot has had a strong presence from customers since launch last year, and we’re excited to join this UKRI-backed partnership to expand this reuse option further.”


The move by M&S has been undertaken during a period when Aldi ended its trial involving loose foods sold in refillable containers and Tesco curtailed its 10-store initiative with Loop, which involved branded containers.


Waitrose had initially been enthusiastic with its refillable initiative Unpacked when it was introduced in a single store in 2019 with customers encouraged to bring their own containers, bottles and bags to then weigh and fill with groceries such as dried pasta, cereal, coffee, frozen fruit, meat, fish, detergent and washing up liquid. However, it has only been rolled out to two further stores since the launch.


London-based supermarket chain Planet Organic has also been active in the refillable area for some years, working with pioneer in the field Unpackaged, but the most action in the refillable market so far has firmly been with smaller independents. Many of them are single store businesses although The Source Bulk Foods has grown its operations to six locations in London.


The retailer, which is noticeably located in affluent areas, sells over 450 bulk foods including organic wholefoods, cooking oils and sustainable household products from its physical outlets as well as an online store with a home delivery service.


Also set to operate in the online space is newly-launched circular grocery business Weekly.Shop that aims to supply products in refillable containers that it will then collect, wash and reuse for future orders. It has been set up by the founders of online petfood retailer and will initially offer around 40% of a regular shopping basket and hopes to boost this to 80% over time as it adds the likes of meat and fish to the initial ranges that include dairy, bakery and personal care.