How the concept of refill retail has gained ground?


April 26, 2022 | By Zubina Ahmed

Have you thought of a situation when retail stores will offer refill stations to the consumers? If so, how does it work? The consumer brings their own reusable packaging, e.g. a plastic or glass bottle, to the store. They refill the container in a dispenser at the store and pay per volume or weight. When the product is used and container empty, the consumer brings it back to the store to refill again. All products from food items to bodycare are applicable for this Refill-concept. And the end result is obvious; it reduces packaging waste leading to a positive impact on the environment.

We all know that we need to make a conscious effort to reduce our plastic waste to help the environment. Last month HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai just launched ‘Dubai Can’, a sustainable refillable water bottle initiative in the city. With the introduction of 34 free water refilling stations located around Dubai, the initiative encourages residents and tourists to forgo plastic disposable water bottles and instead use refillable bottles. The initiative is part of Dubai’s efforts to conserve the environment and promote sustainability.

Net-zero waste, no plastic packaging, eco-shopping and sustainability are the most likely terms that have come up lately, with a growing number of refill retail stores risen in popularity. Leading Supermarket chain Carrefour owned and operated by Majid Al Futtaim in the UAE, recently opened its first BIO store in the UAE. The store offers recyclable paper bags and uses biodegradable packaging across its fresh products in line with the leading retailer’s mission to eliminate single-use plastic from its operations by 2025. Morevoer, Customers will find refilling stations for water and detergents that are quick and easy to use and help to prevent excessive plastic consumption. The store also houses an innovative hydroponic farm to offset Carrefour’s carbon footprint and bolster food security in the UAE. 

The advanced store concept implements eco-friendly equipment to reduce energy consumption by as much as 15 per cent, plus digital price tags connected through WiFi offer a sustainable substitute to printed paper labels. What’s more, all the tables and shelves have been made using recycled pallets, and a pick by weight sections seeks to reduce waste by allowing customers to bring home their desired quantities of nuts, spices, and dried fruits in recyclable paper bags. “We are honoured to have gained the support of the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment as we seek to champion healthy living and forge a greener future together with our government. The development of Carrefour BIO is part of our ongoing mission to elevate retail and provide our customers with more choices. Choices that can protect the interests of their health, their wallet and the environment”, said Hani Weiss, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Retail.

Carrefour Launches the First BIO Store in the UAE

Locally-owned supermarket Spinneys has opened the doors of its first sustainable concept store in Dubai’s Layan community, next to Sustainability City in 2021.  The new branch aims to offer customers an easy, convenient way to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and to shop more sustainably. A key sustainability feature of the store is its ‘Refill Stop’ a new concept embedded across a range of departments encouraging customers to reuse and replenish their own containers. Customers receive a discount at the deli counter for bringing their own container and dispensers are provided throughout the store encouraging refillable shopping across multiple household categories such as coffee, spices, honey, pasta, pulses, snacks and event detergent from Ecover – a new refillable initiative with a launch discount.

As a first for retail in the region, the store also offers a refillable water station with complimentary room temperature water for customers to top their bottles up with as well as chilled, sparkling and naturally infused botanical essence waters such as lemon balm and peppermint for 5 to 10 AED per refill.  Removing unnecessary plastic is also a key focus for Spinneys, where products will be sourced with recyclable packaging and recycled content where possible. There is a firm ‘no plastic bags’ policy at the check-out too. Customers must either bring their own or pay 50 fils for a paper bag. “At Spinneys, we are making sustainable choices for the future. We know that we have a lot of work to do to become a truly sustainable organisation, but we are proud of the positive steps we are making – and the new concept store is a testament to that”, said Sunil Kumar, CEO, Spinneys. 

Spinneys and PepsiCo partner to drive a circular economy in the UAE

In the beginning of 2021, UK supermarket chain Waitrose revealed their refillables scheme by becoming the first  supermarket to integrate unpacked items into its regular aisles. They unveiled its vision of environmentally conscious shopping, offering customers the chance to buy food and drink that is completely free of packaging as part of a ground-breaking trial for a large retailer. In a new drive to try to eliminate unnecessary plastic and packaging shoppers will be able to fill their own containers with a range of products from a series of dispensers using a dedicated refill station, one of the first to be installed by a major UK supermarket. Customers are being given refillable options for products including wine and beer, rice and cleaning materials, with prices typically 15% cheaper than the packaged alternatives.

Besides grocery stores, the beauty industry is also adopting the refillable sustainable route. One of which is the British-born, ethical cosmetics company The Body Shop. “ The beauty industry is in such an urgent need of a makeover. Sustainable innovation is part of who we are, and we will continue to drive such forward-thinking in the region.Every year this sector generates billons of plastic which ends up in landfills or in the oceans. Amid the crisis, we can’t do without grave transformative brands that we love and that’s when the Body Shop comes in. The sustainability of the materials used in our products, the packaging and the activism are the core fundamentals of our stores, ” said Qas Qayyum, The Body Shop EMEA Franchise Director.

The refill station at the new stores in Mall of the Emirates  gives the brand an opportunity to make refills easy, convenient and mainstream.“We are on a mission to make refill accessible across our 500 stores around the world and that’s the ambition which is really exciting. We want to help more people to opt out of plastic packaging, eliminate waste before the product is taken off from the shelves. By creating these refill stations, we don’t just put aluminum bottles in someone’s hand, we put a much needed change and sustainability in their hands, we put back power in their hands to drive change and thats what excites us”, elaborated Qas Qayyum. Now, customers can purchase a refillable 300ml aluminum bottle and fill it up with any of 12 of the brand’s best- loved shower gels, shampoos, conditioners and hand washes. And, when you run out of lather, you just need to bring back the cleaned bottle, ready to be refilled.

How can beauty brands strive for sustainability?

Around the world, post-packaging beauty retailers are following suit. Department store Harvey Nichols will include a refill station as part of its new state-of-the-art hair and beauty space and South Korean cosmetics giant Amorepacific is ahead of the curve, opening the country’s first beauty refill station last year, with 15 types of shampoo and body wash available to fill in a recyclable coconut shell container. With such positive changes in place, as we edge closer, the adoption of refill retail is slowly and seamlessly being embedded into our shopping experience. With time we will know if  shoppers are ready yet to embrace reusable packaging?

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