ASDA Middleton Refill

Source: Asda

Asda has scrapped its store trials of refillable packaging technology, in another major blow to the industry’s war on plastic.

The supermarket giant, which had been in trials involving a host of leading manufacturers at four stores across the UK, said the economics of the concept were found to be “too challenging” and it was pulling the plug on the scheme, which had at one stage promised a revolution in eco-inspired shopping.

Asda launched its first plastic pilot store in Middleton, Leeds in 2020, featuring 15 huge refillable stations offering 30 staples. It featured products from the likes of PG Tips, Vimto, Kellogg’s, Radox and Persil, allowing customers to bring their own containers to fill up on items such as tea, coffee, rice, pasta and washing powder.

Amid concerns the new format could not compete on price, two years ago the supermarket announced a new ‘refill price promise’ which guaranteed refill products will be cheaper than packaged alternatives.

However, in an update on its environmental strategy published today, Asda said that despite the trial increasing awareness of refillable technology, it had not been able to find a way to scale up the pilots nationally.

“Over the past four years, our refill trial stores have taught us a lot about the complexities of scaling refillable packaging,” said the report.

“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.”

Asda added that despite attempts to increase marketing of the proposition, “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.”

It said it would look in the future to develop schemes which would have “operational feasibility and commercial viability”.

Asda’s withdrawal is the latest serious blow to the war on plastic.

In April, a report by IGD said supermarkets were in danger of failing to make the vital breakthrough in changing consumer habits to single-use plastic.

The Grocer revealed in 2022 that Tesco quietly wound up its trial with reusable packaging company Loop, also citing economic barriers.

IGD’s report highlighted the work carried out by Aldi and Ocado to trial refill in-store and consumer returnables online, as part of the Refill Coalition, run by GoUnpackaged.

But it said there needed to be a “major rethink” on how refillable solutions could be rolled out across the UK in a scalable form.