Unilever Launches Its Largest Refill Trial in Europe

Tuesday 20 October saw Asda’s Middleton store in Leeds relaunched as a pioneering flagship sustainability store comprising a Refill Zone supported by Unilever and sustainability and circular economy experts Beauty Kitchen.

Unilever is a lead partner in Asda’s trial providing seven of its household-name brands including Persil, PG Tips, Radox, Cif, Simple, Pukka and Alberto Balsam. Trialling three different refill formats, this is the largest of its kind for Unilever in Europe providing a real-world ‘test and learn’ to understand what works best for consumers in a retail environment.

The three different refill models trialled inside the store are:

Touch-free Refill Machines (developed by Beauty Kitchen): Beauty & Personal Care brands (Radox shower gel, Simple liquid handwash and Alberto Balsam shampoo and conditioner) along with Persil laundry liquid will be dispensed in reusable aluminium or stainless steel bottles via three machines using the Return, Refill, Repeat premise. First-time shoppers will be provided with a bottle whilst returning shoppers will reuse their existing bottle. Once filled, shoppers add their printed label to the bottle and take it to checkout as usual. Each bottle has a unique QR code, a feature which will enable full traceability of each bottle allowing Unilever to track the full buy, use, refill process and gain better insight into the circular model. Together these three Refill Stations could save the equivalent of 30,000 plastic water bottles in just one store in one year.*

In-home refills: Cif ecorefills offer an in-home refill experience and the store will provide shoppers with an entire bay dedicated to the ten times concentrated refill for sprays which allow you to use a Cif spray bottle for life. Ecorefills use 75% less plastic than the standard cleaning bottle and mean 87% less trucks on the road. An entire fixture of ten times concentrated spray cleaners across the Asda estate could save 990 tonnes of plastic every year.

Self-serve containers: Unilever tea brands PG Tips and Pukka will be available through self-serve containers or ‘hoppers’ for loose tea and tongs to self-dispense fully biodegradable teabags. Shoppers will be able to take their own reusable container into store or buy one there. Once their container is full, they take it to the weighing station where a label is printed ready for payment at the checkout.

Sebastian Munden, Executive Vice President of Unilever UK & Ireland said: “I am very excited by the potential to test and learn from this fantastic partnership with Asda. It’s a great opportunity for us to find out, across seven of our leading brands, just how shoppers respond to using refillable and reusable packaging in-store. We are all committed to driving lasting change when it comes to plastic, but to do so we must create scalable solutions and make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices.

On our journey to halving our use of virgin plastic by 2025 we will have to be bold and totally rethink products and packaging, and we will only do that by testing a range of solutions with shoppers in real-life conditions.”

The trial is part of Unilever UK & Ireland’s #GetPlasticWise campaign, their five-point plastic plan to accelerate progress towards Unilever’s global 2025 plastic targets. As founding signatories of the UK Plastics Pact, Unilever believes that to truly tackle plastics waste in the UK it must be a collaborative effort across the full value chain – right from suppliers, manufacturers and waste management companies through to consumers. Unilever is committed to halving their use of virgin plastic and ensuring all of their plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Jo Chidley, Founder of Beauty Kitchen and sustainability expert comments, “The need to act on the plastic pollution crisis is urgent and focusing consumer behaviour on sustainability and cradle to cradle practise is a vital part of the solution. This exciting partnership to power Refill Stations is a pivotal point in creating a sustainable future and instilling a reuse mindset”.

Concerns over plastic waste remain high in the UK. Plastic waste is the top global environmental concern for GB shoppers, according to a Kantar report from June this year, with 60% of shoppers saying they will use a refill if it is available.**

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