Consumers want to ditch plastic. This is not new news. However, supermarkets don't always make it easy for consumers to do so. Loose produce is often charged at a higher premium to plastic-wrapped equivalents, and refilling tupperware is a model which is generally exclusive to independent retailers and farm shops. To the frustration of many, shopping sustainably can therefore be both expensive and inconvenient. 

Asda has sought to change this perception by making sustainability affordable and accessible to all. On 20 October 2020, Asda launched a sustainability trial store on the outskirts of Leeds, offering a unique shopping experience where customers can "drop and shop" all under one roof. The store will include refill stations, loose produce and recycling zones. Big brands are also getting onboard with the initiative, with household names agreeing to stock their products in the refill stations. Asda has also made a national promise to its customers that they will not pay more for greener options. 

The store's initiatives to help consumers easily reduce, reuse and recycle include:

  • Refill stations with household staples e.g. Kellogg's cereals, PG Tips tea bags, Quaker Oats, Lavazza and Taylors of Harrogate coffee beans and Vimto cordial;
  • Refill zone for popular brands of shampoo/ conditioner, Persil laundry detergent and hand wash/ shower gel from Unilever brands e.g. Simple and Radox (a retail first);
  • Fruit and vegetables sold loose and unwrapped;
  • Plants and flowers sold either unwrapped or with paper wrapping;
  • Removal of the outer plastic wrapping on popular canned multipacks, including Heinz beans and soups; 
  • Reverse vending machine for cans, plastic and glass bottles;
  • Sustainable fashion lines with clothing made from recycled materials; and
  • Community zone for pop-ups and partnerships with charities (e.g. a "drop and shop" partnership with the Salvation Army to enable customers to donate clothing and bric-a-brac).

The trial store will be used to test and learn which of these initiatives appeal most to consumers and can then be developed at scaled and rolled out to further locations. 

Other supermarkets have also been trialling various sustainability initiatives to see which gain traction. Tesco launched an online refill system in July, whilst Waitrose extended its successful "Waitrose Unpacked" initiative last year which allowed customers to refill their own containers. All of these trials seek to test how consumers might shop in the future. Some ideas will be successful, some will not, but those retailers who try to align themselves with their customer's values will ultimately achieve loyalty.

Consumer demand for ditching plastic is clear and the clock is ticking for retailers to show that they are listening. Large retailers also have the unique power to implement bold changes and hopefully inspire a sector-wide shift across the UK. Kudos to these supermarkets for sparking the revolution and testing how consumers might shop in the future, now let's see who follows.