Marks & Spencer (M&S) has shared findings from its first ‘fill your own’ trial as it expands the scheme to a second store.
Its first trial started in mid-December at its shop on Southampton’s Hedge End Retail Park. The trial offered more than 44 lines of packaging-free groceries, from cereals, pasta, rice and lentils through to sweets, coffee, dried fruit and nuts. It provides free recyclable paper bags, and staff assistance with filling and weighing the bags – or containers that customers choose to bring in or buy in-store. M&S promises that unpackaged products will be cheaper per gram than the packaged alternatives that are available.
Now it’s planning to expand the trial to a second shop, in Manchester city centre to see how it might work in a different environment. In due course it will consider rolling out the scheme further.
Paul Willgoss, director of food technology at M&S, said: “Our Fill Your Own concept is one area we’re focusing on as part of our action to reduce plastic packaging and support our customers to reuse and recycle. As a completely new way of shopping, we’re keen to better understand refill across the entire store process from behind-the-scenes operations to working together with our customers to encourage behaviour change.”
The retailer is also offering free water refill stations at its Hedge End and Clapham Junction shops, and a scheme offering a 25p discount from hot drinks and food to go from Market Place that are taken away in reusable containers.
Twenty five of the 44 ‘fill your own’ products are selling at higher rates than the packaged alternatives, and customers have bought products weighing a combined 2,600kg since the trial launched. Bestsellers include M&S triple chocolate crunch cereal, porridge oats, rice, pasta, coffee and milk chocolate raisins.
Sales of reusable storage containers have risen by 38% at the Hedge End shop and by 10% across all M&S stores, compared to last year.
Refilling is engaging
Kayleigh Doran, who works at M&S Hedge End, says families come into the shop and children enjoy helping their parents refill their containers. She added: “Since the trial launched, we’re seeing more and more customers returning to use Fill Your Own and it’s not unusual for them to visit us daily. Our customers are so passionate about our trial that they’re spreading the word with friends and family and visits are increasing week by week.”
By filling their own containers, shoppers can buy the amount they need for a recipe or for their situation, whether they live alone or in a larger family. “Some of our younger or more health-conscious customers also enjoy being able to buy a handful of chocolates to avoid the temptation of eating bigger packs,” says Doran.
Trying new products
Shoppers are able to use the scheme to sample products that are new to them. Doran says: “With our coffee sampling station next to Fill Your Own, it’s no surprise that every coffee flavour is currently outselling our packaged alternatives.”
Bringing in containers
At the beginning of the trial most customers filled the paper bags supplied by M&S. But that’s changed as time has gone on and shoppers are now bringing in their own containers or buying those on sale in the store. “It’s a gradual change that requires a new way of thinking, but it’s clear that it’s starting to catch on,” says Doran.
M&S’s own findings suggest that more than 75% of shoppers are consciously trying to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that they use. Two-thirds are more likely to consider refilling their grocery containers than did a year ago, while 23% specifically seek out retailers offering this service.
The key barrier to uptake of this service is the challenge of finding retailers that offer it, experienced by 38%. That’s followed by the need to take containers (18%) and the perception that unpackaged is more expensive than packaged alternatives (14%).
Marks & Spencer is an Elite retailer in RXUK Top500 research.
Image courtesy of M&S