UK supermarket, Morrisons, has begun testing ‘rentable’ boxes in four stores with the objective to further reduce single-use plastic. Claiming to be the first initiative trialled among UK supermarkets, Morrisons hopes the “Refill a Box” scheme at its salad bars will reach wider use across the retail and foodservice industry. The supermarket states a deposit of £5 is held as customers use the box. This is then refunded after the return of the container within a seven-day time period.

Made from fully recyclable polypropylene, the boxes can be reused up to 400 times. Durability is a key product attribute that plays an increasingly influential role over the disposability of single-use plastic. To use the “Refill a Box” scheme, Morrisons’ customers can use the CauliBox app to collect an empty box by scanning the QR code on the Salad Bar point-of-sale. After their return, the boxes are machine washed and sanitised before their re-use at a pick-up point in store.

This digital integration works in a similar fashion to some reusable containers already on supermarket shelves. Circular packaging company, LOOP, has successfully worked with food brands to shift their product into LOOP containers that can be repeatedly reused. Consumers may also use the app to find the nearest return point and check their deposit balance. In the years ahead, app compatibility will be vital to ensure a “check” on consumer behaviour. Digital tools can help to nudge consumers with notifications and reminders, while providing a convenient way to monitor containers due for return. Product reusability has grown beyond a fad and become a tangible part of food and drink packaging.

According to GlobalData’s 2021 Q3 consumer survey, almost two-thirds (65%) of global consumers say “refillable/reusable” product attributes are quite or extremely important. This sentiment is universally accepted as a positive feature, with little differentiation across different age groups. Reusability services therefore possess a great degree of potential as leading retailers like Morrisons target the wider consumer base, rather than a niche demographic. On the other hand, a negative reaction maybe seen in on-the-go or impulse categories where disposable packaging is more convenient. Product reusability is making gradual inroads into retail, though we are perhaps seeing the first commercial steps within foodservice.

A key benefit of reusable packaging is its ability to transcend market segments, working well for both value and premium products. The importance placed on refillable or reusable packaging is universal, and popular across all demographics. From a regulatory standpoint, refillable packaging plays a prominent role in Europe as part of the EU’s Circular Economy action plan. Retailers and foodservice operators should therefore work with circular providers to offer reusability as it becomes an increasingly visible alternative to disposable packaging.

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