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Retail Unwrapped – the war on packaging continues

Nick Hoenig

The march on plastic and excess packaging continues apace, with two stories catching our eye this week. The first is the rollout of ‘Waitrose Unwrapped’, where a number of lines across the shop are sold loose, and is receiving very positive feedback from customers. Alongside this, Wrap, the Government-funded charity, is urging retailers to sell more loose products to support customers wasting less and cutting down on packaging.

It’s a great encapsulation of the changing customer attitudes towards packaging, and what a bold grocer is doing to address this. More generally, this trend will give retailers significant pause for thought as it’s not that easy to implement.

Within the supply chain, there’s complexity added by shipping produce loose, namely a greater risk of damage. However, it’s store operations where challenges multiply. For staff, there’s a greater workload in displaying / decanting loose products. At the checkout, retailers have also largely eradicated loose items as they are more complicated for self-checkout machines (and online shops) to manage than selling things as ‘each’.

None of these reasons are of course irresolvable, or a good reason to keep packaging, but it will likely mean that the wider pace of change will be slow, it will add extra steps to your shop, and it will likely add extra cost on to a basket.

On a more immediate note, retailers in the news continue to tread familiar ground  – Mothercare has called in the administrators, and M&S report very challenging sales, attributed to poor operations and not executing a transformation programme well. Coming into the final quarter of 2019, it looks like we’ll have a tough trading period ahead. Consumer spending is weak, but customers always shop major events like Christmas – nobody ‘cancels’ it, it’s just a question of how carefree customers go with their spending. Coupled with the fact that retailers have been stocking up for Brexit, we’re likely to see discounting start at Black Friday and remain largely steady all the way through, as customers shop forensically for deals. Whilst we may be starting to think about a white Christmas, retailers will be praying the snow doesn’t come in December and put another challenge in the way!


Nick Hoenig

Managing Consultant, Operations Transformation

Retail, with a focus on Store Transformation and Store Evolution, Proposition Development, and Landing Change in Retail