Iceland removes plastic packaging from fresh produce lines in 'greengrocer' scheme
Supermarket Iceland is trialing the removal of plastic packaging from its fruit and vegetable lines at one of its largest UK stores, in a bid to gauge whether consumers are willing to buy loose produce.
Launched today (26 February) at Iceland’s Food Warehouse in Liverpool, the 12-week trial will see 35 produce lines sold loose and a further 27 switched to plastic-free packaging alternatives, such as recyclable paper pulp punnets for soft fruits and cotton nets for onions.
In order to encourage shoppers to opt for loose produce, the retailer has set the prices of all loose product lines to be lower than those of their pre-packaged equivalents. Customers will also have access to an in-store ‘greengrocer’ service where staff will help them select, weigh and ticket their fruit and vegetables.
To measure the impact of the trial and gauge consumer opinions, Iceland will run the trial alongside a customer survey, which will ask consumers about the barriers to purchasing plastic-free products and whether they enjoy the ‘greengrocer’ experience. Iceland will also be seeking customers’ opinions on compostable packaging and current recycling policies.
The survey results will be shared with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of its consultations into the measures outlined in its Resources and Waste Strategy. If the results are favourable, Iceland may roll the ‘greengrocer’ concept out to more of its UK stores, but is yet to release information of what a roll-out could look like.
“Over 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year and the retail industry can no longer ignore the plastics tidal wave which is coming our way,” Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said.
“We all have a part to play in tackling the issue and Iceland is constantly looking for ways to reduce its own plastic footprint, as we work towards our commitment. We are looking forward to seeing how our customers respond to the trial and taking forward learnings to inform the rest of our journey.”
The move from Iceland builds on its commitment to remove all single-use plastic packaging from its own-brand products by 2023 – an unprecedented pledge within the supermarket sector.
Since announcing this ambition last January, Iceland has removed plastic packaging from 81 of its product lines – a move it claims has mitigated the use of 1,500 tonnes of plastics. It has also launched a range of plastic-free chewing gum and plastic-free carrier bags.
The firm has additionally adopted a new "plastic-free" mark designed to help consumers make informed choices on plastic packaging, publicly shown support for a nationwide deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and trialled reverse vending machines in its stores. Between May 2018 and January 2019, the retailer collected more than 300,000 plastic bottles using reverse-vending machines at four UK stores and its head office.
Changing consumer trends
The launch of Iceland’s ‘greengrocer’ trial comes shortly after rival supermarket Marks & Spencer (M&S) unveiled a similar scheme at its Tolworth store in Surbiton, where plastic packaging and ‘best-before’ dates have been removed from more than 90 of the chain’s own-brand produce lines. To support these moves, the chain has trained employees to provide tips on how best to preserve fresh produce to prevent food waste at home.
Several recent pieces of research have suggested that the general public are fully on board with the retailers' moves to tackle plastic packaging waste.
One survey of 5,000 consumers last spring, for example, found that 80% would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free, while 91% would be more likely to encourage friends and family to shop there as a result of such a pledge.
More recently, a similar study of 7,000 UK shoppers found that that 92% would prefer to buy a plastic-free unit of their favourite product than one housed in plastic, with more than one-third (36%) having already begun boycotting certain brands over packaging sustainability concerns. This rises to more than one-half (56%) among millennials.