Refill pilot was launched in 2020

Asda scraps in-store refill trials; outlines packaging sustainability progress

Asda has increased its recyclable own-brand packaging

Asda has shared its recent packaging achievements in its latest Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report, which also reveals the grocery retailer has scrapped its in-store refill trials.

In the report, which was published yesterday (8 July), the business said that it has increased the proportion of own-brand packaging that can be recycled by 3% year-on-year to 96%, on the way towards its target of 100% recyclability by 2025.

Meanwhile, changes to beef mince and steak trays saw reduced packaging of 120 tonnes annually, and improvements to shelf life from nine days to 14 days on beef mince; and over 1.8 million lids of its ‘Just Essentials’ soft cheese now include 30% recycled content in packaging.

Furthermore, it said it removed the colour milk caps on Asda branded fresh milk to improve the recyclability of 200 million pieces of plastic annually.

But the company said it has scrapped its in-store refill trials in their current form due to challenges including low adoption and customer perceptions on quality.

It stated in the report: “Over the past four years, our refill trial stores have taught us a lot about the complexities of scaling refillable packaging. We’ve achieved some success in landing customer-facing propositions in-store, supported by collaboration with key suppliers and organisations such as WRAP and IGD.

“However, we have experienced operational issues and commercial challenges with our existing approach. Our research showed that the key barriers which included cost, convenience, cleanliness, and perceived product quality have prevented customers from engaging with the refill proposition.

“In 2023, we worked with the IGD and Hubbub to understand how communication can be tailored to customers to encourage uptake. This included geotargeted social media advertisements for refill, in-store signage and updated digital assets.

“As a result of this work, we found that our communication initiatives increased awareness about the affordability of refill zones compared to prepackaged alternatives. Despite this increased awareness of the affordability of refill, customer uptake remained low.

“Refill, in its current format, remains too challenging for our business to scale and operate. As with any trial, we need to adapt and evolve. Therefore, we are exiting the refill trials in our four existing stores. Moving forwards, we intend to deliver new, scalable refill and prefill trials that build on our learnings and improve customer uptake, operational feasibility and commercial viability.”

The Grocer described the move as “another major blow to the industry’s war on plastic”.

The publication said Asda had launched its first plastic pilot store in Middleton, Leeds in 2020, featuring 15 refillable stations that offered products including PG Tips, Vimto, Kellogg’s, Radox and Persil and which allowed customers to bring their own containers into store to fill them with these items and other staples.

Meanwhile, Asda said it has made a continued reduction in carbon emissions (scope 1-3), down 7% on 2022 and 15% since Asda first began reporting its full carbon footprint in 2020.  To drive further reductions, Asda’s highest carbon impact suppliers are now required to share sustainability progress through the EcoVadis data-sharing and assessment platform.

Asda co-owner Mohsin Issa commented: “There is a lot to be proud of this year. It was pleasing to receive our first external ESG rating by Sustainable Fitch and a score in line with leading retailers globally. It’s also great to see carbon emissions continue to reduce, down 7% on last year, and the recyclability of our own brand packaging move up to 96%, near to our 2025 target of 100%.

“It’s not always plain sailing though, and there are areas in which progress has been slower or even in the wrong direction. We’ve reported these as normal and we remain committed to finding solutions; so, while we celebrate the achievements of 2023, we know our work is nowhere near done.”