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Waitrose tests customers’ appetite for packaging-free grocery shopping

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Waitrose is testing its customers’ appetite for packaging-free grocery shops in a move that could encourage more sustainability-minded shoppers into store. 

The retailer is selling goods from fruit and vegetables to cereals and coffee free from packaging in a Waitrose Unpacked trial at its Botley Road, Oxford shop that will run for 11 weeks until August 18. 

Packaging-free shopping options include frozen fruit pick and mix, wine and beer on tap for sale in reusable bottles, the option to grind coffee in-store to take home in a reusable container, and flowers and plants wrapped in paper rather than plastic. These are available alongside approaches tried-and-tested in smaller shops including the growing range of natural food and zero waste stores. In Waitrose they include dispensers for staples such as pasta, cereal and dried fruit, refillable Ecover detergents, and loose fruit and vegetables. Shoppers can also borrow a box from the shop to take their goods home, and then return it on the next visit. The range of packaging-free options is designed to test which tactics are more or less likely to be used by shoppers – and packaged goods will continue to be available as the supermarket tests which option shoppers choose. 

Tor Harris, head of CSR at Waitrose & Partners, said: “We are determined to build on the work we have already done to reduce packaging – and this test will take our efforts to a whole new level as we help the growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way.

“This test has huge potential to shape how people might shop with us in the future, so it will be fascinating to see which concepts our customers have an appetite for. We know we’re not perfect and have more to do, but we believe this is an innovative way to achieve something different.”

Waitrose has also pledged to make all its own-brand packaging recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2023, and will remove all black plastic from its own brands by the end of this year. 

Today’s update comes a few days after the supermarket, ranked Top50 in IRUK Top500 research, unveiled its plans to install an AirDoor, from Wirth Research, at its Berkhamsted store later this year. The AirDoor promises to achieve the environmental effect that a closed door has – without the need to actually close supermarket doors. It works through sensors that detect airflow in both directions around a store entrance, counteracting flow in both directions through a self-generating wind. That, it says, creates an “invisible active barrier” that prevents outside air coming into the store, and inside air escaping. 

Jim Burnett, senior manager, technical services for Waitrose & Partners, said: “We are always looking to find innovative ways to reduce our impact on the environment and while we know we still have a lot of work to do, the potential of the AirDoor could be key in helping us make our shops even more sustainable in the future.”

Our view: Sustainablility is likely to play well in theory to Waitrose customers, but this waste-free test will see if shoppers who have visited its supermarkets for the convenience are willing to go the extra mile in practice. If successful some of these tactics first made available to consumers in the growing number of zero waste shops could well put pressure on other larger retailers to up their game, reducing packaging for goods not only bought in store but also delivered to the home or picked up through click and collect. However, much will depend on the results of this trial – we will be interested to find out what happens.

Image courtesy of Waitrose & Partners

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