In its most basic form, zero waste is about significantly reducing, and eventually eliminating, the volume of resources that we send to be disposed of. Retailers in the Food Sector have an opportunity now to make a positive impact and, with the right approach, it can be good for your business as well as the environment.
I took a walk around a number of supermarkets in the U.K. and Denmark recently and found the messages coming across quite confusing; I’m sure it is the same for many other customers.
There are a number of trends taking place in food retailing at present and I will address each one separately over the coming months; one of the trends that applies to all retailing however is that of ”going naked”.
I first noticed this trend in Holland in 2018 at Albert Heijn. The trend is now spreading to the U.K. and I predict, it will spread around the world.
Presently, it is estimated that the amount of plastic per square mile of ocean is 40,000 separate pieces. Plastic is already washing up on the remote shores of the Galapagos Islands. The Ocean Cleanup, a giant vacuum cleaner, is trying to sweep up as much plastic as possible in the Pacific Ocean. They estimate that in five years they will have collected 50% or 5 trillion pieces of plastic in that ocean.
The plastic comes from a number of sources, but retailers and suppliers have to take some responsibility for much of the non-degradable packaging that is thrown away. As a result of awareness on plastics and the devastation being caused, more and more retailers are taking responsibility for using sustainable packaging and are joining what is called the “naked produce movement”.
The Albert Heijn “naked store” in Holland started selling fruit and vegetables with no packaging and has become a tourist attraction.
The U.K. the town of Frome in Somerset has also been a leader in a number of sustainable initiatives. The fruit and vegetable grocer in town has gone back to the old system of selling produce in measured bowls, something I first saw in African markets.
In January 2019 Lush, the cosmetics company, announced it was opening its first “naked” store in Manchester.
All retailers are being challenged by consumers to reduce the amount of wastage.
McDonald’s have reverted to non-plastic straws, supermarkets are eliminating plastic bags and consumers are taking their own “long Life” coffee cups to coffee shops rather than use the non-disposable coffee cups that are often on offer.
Retailers are now being asked to take responsibility for packaging and independent retailers, such as farm shops, should be leading the way.
That said I fully accept that, compared to the supermarkets, most independent retailers are already more sustainable in their product presentation, but it is also time to make this a more strategic part of the longer-term business plan.
More farm shops and markets should own the “Naked” high ground and should be promoting the fact that they are not using plastic.
The challenge is that other retailers are claiming the high ground. In my own State of WA in Australia, the Wasteless Pantry is making inroads by going all out to promote the zero waste strategy in their business.
This is excellent, but what are we in the farm shop and market sector doing?
Zero Waste should be a marketing strategy used by farmers who are involved in retailing, it is an opportunity to take the high ground and we should let the other retailers follow
On my walk around the supermarket, I came across sticky labels on fruit and vegetables, produce such as avocados, cucumbers, pumpkins and aubergines wrapped in plastic and jackfruit in boxes.
Is all this packaging is truly necessary? If so then is there a practical alternative?
If we need to look for alternatives, the University of Singapore has developed a natural chitosan-based film enhanced with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that can double the double the shelf-life of perishable food, such as bread. This is now becoming more widely used across Asia.
Swedish supermarkets too are now starting to use plastic free laser labeling on vegetables and fruit.
These developments may not apply to the farm shop but show how large retailers are starting to take the high ground in the zero waste battle.
How can a farm retailer introduce a zero waste strategy? Many farms already have one, but do not use it enough as a marketing tool.
I think farm shops should promote they are “Naked”.
Your zero waste strategy could also revolve around:
Food waste is one of the major challenges for both consumer and retailer.
Farm retailers should have a food waste plan within their business, this should include:
The less we handle produce then the less damage we do it. Farms need to promote that produce coming from the farm is handled less than produce from the supermarket; we should be promoting more than “food miles” alone.
Most households waste food because they buy too much. In the short term the average sale may have gone up by getting the consumer to buy more, but the long term benefit is we can get them to buy what they need on a more regular basis. Ready meals are a huge promotional opportunity for farm retailers and could be a new category for many farm shops.
We should be selling produce based on the seasons. Move away wherever possible from produce that is out of season as it is often a slow seller and that is when wastage increases.
Highly sophisticated technical solutions are now available to measure product movement, help track and reduce your wastage and increase your profitability.
This is where an EPOS system designed to fit the sector really shines.
The EPOS Bureau's software can be used to manage stock, track wastage throughout your business, monitor movement of produce between departments and help you to properly manage your purchasing and control price variation.
They can also help you to structure your promotional activity at the till using retail 'intelligence' to encourage customers to be more aware in the drive towards zero-waste.
These tools make a big difference and are key in the fight to reduce waste and help you promote your message and "zero waste intent" to your customers.
There are many areas where farm retailers are at the front of change in the market place. Being “naked” is one of them, we should own the high ground, and other retailers want it. “Naked” is a major trend; we need to ensure we do not let others take the opportunity away from us.
In a future article, we will take a look at living in an era of direct delivery to the consumer and at how having the ability to deliver in the future could increase your sales.
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John Stanley is a retail consultant specialising in the farm retail sector. Based in West Australia, he is a sweet chestnut and pig farmer as well as consultant and conference speaker with clients in 35 countries. He is the author of several books in this subject, including the book 'Food Tourism... A Practical Marketing Guide'