Waitrose is launching a 'packaging-free' trial with a frozen 'pick and mix' area featuring loose fruit that doesn't need to be boxed or wrapped

Waitrose food dispenser frozen fruit

Waitrose will conduct its trial of frozen fruit at its Botley Road shop in Oxford

A trial into “packaging-free” products by Waitrose will resonate with consumers, believe retail experts.

The insight from data and analytics company GlobalData comes after the major UK supermarket chain announced it would test a dedicated refillable zone, in which customers can bring their  own containers and bags, in an effort to reduce its use of unnecessary plastic and packaging.

Thomas Brereton, retail analyst for GlobalData, believes sustainability will become one of retail’s buzzwords for the next decade, citing a survey from the company that found 94% of consumers believe it is the responsiblity of retailers to act sustainably.

Due to the upmarket brand’s demographic, Mr Brereton believes this is particularly important for Waitrose.

Waitrose packaging
Thomas Brereton, retail analyst at GlobalData (Credit:@thomas_GDretail-Twitter)

He said: “Strong sustainability credentials are also a more important issue for Waitrose than for other retailers, with the most sustainability-conscious demographics – generally older, female and more affluent shoppers – significantly overlapping with Waitrose’s core customer base, where over half of shoppers are 55-plus years old.

“But long-term success of the trial will depend on Waitrose’s ability to integrate these novel concepts in store.

“Waitrose must ensure that other points of differentiation – the quality credentials of the products and in-store visual merchandising, for example – are not compromised as a result.

“Although sustainability is of growing concern to shoppers, it lags behind criteria of customer service and quality in importance when choosing a supermarket.”


How Waitrose packaging-free trial works

Waitrose claims to be the first store to offer a frozen “pick and mix” area, which features loose mango, strawberries, cherries and pineapple – allowing customers to use their own packaging to collect various items.

This is part of the company’s Waitrose Unpacked scheme, an 11-week trial taking place at its Botley Road shop in Oxford, and will run until 18 August 2019.

Tor Harris, head of corporate social responsibility at Waitrose & Partners, said: “We are determined to build on the work we’ve 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 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 an innovative way to achieve something different.”


Details of Waitrose Unpacked scheme

Alongside its frozen fruit dispensers, Waitrose will also offer dispensers for 28 other foodstuffs, including pasta, rice, grains, couscous, lentils, cereals, dried fruit and seeds.

waitrose packaging
Waitrose will offer food dispensers for 28 other dry foods, including pasta and cereal

It will also offer refillable liquid products, including detergent and washing up liquids, as well as four different wines and beers on tap to take home in reusable bottles, in an effort to cut down on the use of plastic and glass.

The trial will also feature a “borrow-a-box” scheme. Customers can use a free container provided by a store to use when they’re shopping and then take home, before returning to the branch on the next visit.

The company will also remove plastic wrapping from all its flowers and indoor plants, replacing them with 100% recyclable paper ratified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

Alongside the dispensable food and drink, the packaged items will remain available in the usual areas to give consumers a choice.


Greenpeace gives verdict on Waitrose packaging-free pilot

Ariana Densham, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, believes the move to reduce packaging is a step in the right direction that other retailers should follow.

waitrose packaging
Ariana Densham, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK (Credit: Greenpeace)

She said: “This is a genuinely bold step from Waitrose to trial food dispensers so customers can use refillable tubs and jars.

“Lots of supermarkets are starting to sell loose fruit and vegetables, which is good, but more importantly, this kind of innovation could spark a refill culture that’s so desperately needed to cut plastics in mainstream shops.

“The top ten UK supermarkets produce 810,000 tonnes of throwaway packaging each year, so we need to see other major retailers taking plastic reduction seriously and following Waitrose’s lead.”


A more personal experience for consumers a positive one, says consumer analyst

Becoming more sustainable is not the only reason why a refillable packaging scheme could become a success for the supermarket chain, according to William Grimwade, consumer analyst for GlobalData.

waitrose packaging
William Grimwade, consumer analyst at GlobalData

He said: “Consumers are likely to enjoy a more personal and less mainstream experience of filling your own refillable containers, as 64% of UK consumers say their product choices are shaped by how enjoyable and unique a product is.

“Furthermore, 59% of UK consumers’ choices are shaped by how familiar and trustworthy a product feels.

“Refillable shopping could give Waitrose a localist, friendly appeal over other nearby supermarkets.

“On top of this, excessive plastic use has become an increasingly important issue to consumers and 65% of UK consumers see refillable and reusable containers as a factor in environmentally-friendly packaging.”