A plea for refill stations at the grocery store

I was delighted to read the feeds this morning and see this in the Globe:

An open letter to Loblaw’s Galen Weston (Loblaws is a Canadian supermarket)

To: Galen G. Weston, executive chairman, Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

I’ve been thinking. I like what you’ve been doing with the whole President’s Choice Organics thing, but I’m not sure it’s the right focus if you’re trying to position your company as a grocery leader in the 21st century (after all, once Wal-Mart got on the organics bandwagon, everyone else became, by default, part of the crowd). So, here’s my tip to put you on the cutting edge: President’s Choice Refillables.

Yes, I think refillables are destined to be the future for grocery stores everywhere, and I’m here to make their case so you will lead the way. (read whole article)


I’ve had this idea (well, in parts anyways) and explained it to a friend last semester. Why can’t we have recyclable packaging? The amount of packaging that we go through on our weekly trip to the grocery store is abominable. From the individually wrapped red pepper to the awful disposable lunch packs. (of which I try to stay away from… but can’t completely avoid the plastic!)

Says the BBC over 4 years ago…. Grocery packaging ‘costs £15bn’

Supermarket shoppers are spending £470 a year – a sixth of their food budget – on packaging, a report suggests.

They found customers spent £15bn on packaging each year and that delivery lorries travel the equivalent of two return trips to the moon every day

So, I’m putting this out there so that it’s not just for Loblaws, it’s for anyone in the grocery biz on this side of the Atlantic too.

Please, someone, be innovative and change this industry around.

Understandably, this is not just a ‘poof’, done, task. Changing the packaging industry requires all of the suppliers to get on board too. And that, would most definitely be a feat considering that packaging is all about marketing, consumer protection, marketing, and again… marketing…. So, for this to work, many players would need to get involved and accept it.

Must say, that although I love to hate Wal-Mart, the world’s largest public corp is making headways on its environmental performance and could be the one to make this a go. (A friend of mine is always quick to point that out for me with these posts.) And their clout in the supply chain is like no other. (Mattel, the toy maker relies on 40% of its sales from only three stores – Wal-Mart, Target and Toys-R-Us).

But in terms of the feasibility of refillables, I bike everywhere… so, don’t have a solution quite yet, but glass jars might be a tad difficult in my bike basket…

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2 thoughts on “A plea for refill stations at the grocery store

  1. swandiver says:

    I don’t know why it went away, possibly sanitation reasons but when I was about 10 I spent the summer with my father in Jacksonville, FL. The Winn-Dixie grocery store had a whole section next to their bulk food aisle to refill 2 and 3 liter bottles of soda. You paid like $1.09 for the first bottle then .59 for each refill.

    A lot of the grocery stores also had a bulk food section. I don’t know what happened.

  2. Jay Godse says:

    Re-fillables is a hard call to make for a business. We have had bulk-food stores for ages, but I don’t exactly see hordes of people beating a path to their door.

    Soda pop may seem like the obvious answer, but it isn’t. If you pay $1 for a bottle of soda and $0.50 for refills, people will eventually clue in and realize that the refill actually only costs $0.10 on a really bad day, and the rest is profit margin. With margins like those, many inventors could build re-fillers that dispensed soda pop at the same cost, but at a fraction of the price to the end-user, and that would drive down the profit margins to the soda manufacturers and the retailers.

    In general, the proprietary interface between the manufacturer and the end-user packaging allows the manufacturer and retailer to collude to collect monopoly rents on these products. Opening up these interfaces with re-fillables would drive down profit margins, and drive some grocers out of business.

    Since there is no incentive for food manufacturers or food retailers, I don’t see re-fillable packaging grabbing a much larger market share beyond what they already have.

    Having said all of that, you are right in that re-fillable packaging could save everybody up and down the food-chain lots of money and resources. The hard problem is in structuring the incentives in the value-chain to make it happen.

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