Unilever Launches its Largest Ever Refill Trial

New Asda store in Leeds, U.K., pioneers sustainability store, offering a number of Unilever household brands available in reusable packaging through three refill models.

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In late October, U.K. supermarket chain Asda relaunched its Middleton store in Leeds as a pioneering flagship sustainability store comprising a Refill Zone supported by Unilever and U.K. beauty products company Beauty Kitchen, which is known for its “Return, Refill, Repeat” program.


See: Unilever innovates two new product formats for Loop


Unilever is a lead partner in Asda’s trial providing seven of its household brands, including Persil laundry detergent, PG Tips tea, Radox shower gel, Cif household cleaning items, Simple liquid handwash, Pukka tea, and Alberto Balsam shampoo and conditioner. Trialing three different refill formats, this is the largest project of its kind for Unilever in Europe, the company says, providing a real-world “test and learn,” to understand what works best for consumers in a retail environment.

The three different refill models being trialed inside the store are:

·      Touch-free refill machines developed by Beauty Kitchen: Beauty and personal care brands Radox, Simple, and Alberto Balsam, along with Persil laundry liquid will be dispensed in reusable aluminum or stainless steel bottles via three machines using the Return, Refill, Repeat premise. First-time shoppers will be provided with a bottle, while returning shoppers will reuse their existing bottle. Once the bottle is 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 that 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. According to Unilever, together these three Refill Stations could save the equivalent of 30,000 plastic water bottles in just one store in one year, based on a 500-mL bottle size and predicted sales of Persil, Radox, Alberto Balsam, and Simple refills.

·      In-home refills: Cif ecorefills offer an in-home refill experience, and the store will provide shoppers with an entire bay dedicated to the 10X concentrated refills for sprays that will allow them to use a Cif spray bottle for life. Ecorefills use 75% less plastic than the standard cleaning bottle, which results in 87% fewer trucks on the road. An entire fixture of 10X-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 the store or can 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.

Says Sebastian Munden, Executive Vice President of Unilever UK & Ireland, “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.”


See: Unilever Partners in ‘Refill on the Go’ Reuse Model 


Adds Beauty Kitchen founder Jo Chidley, “The need to act on the plastic pollution crisis is urgent, and focusing consumer behavior on sustainability and cradle-to-cradle practices 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.”

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