ASDA Middleton Refill

A pioneering trial of plastic refill technology, once hailed as a vision of the future of eco shopping, attracted combined sales across four trial stores as low as £1,000 a week, The Grocer has learned. 

Earlier this week, Asda revealed it was to scrap its trials of refillable packaging technology, in a major blow to the industry’s war on plastic.

The closure of the four refill sites at stores in Middleton (Leeds), York, Toryglen and Milton Keynes from the end of July comes after a recent report from the IGD warned that supermarkets risked losing the war on plastic unless ways could be found to scale up the use of refillable and reusable solutions to reduce single-use plastic.

However, the dire sales figures, according to industry sources, suggest that without sweeping behavioural changes from consumers, supermarket efforts to provide new ways of shopping look destined to fail.

“We have trialed refill zones in these stores for almost four years and have continually evolved the proposition during this period to persuade customers to embrace this way of shopping,” said an Asda spokesman. “Unfortunately, the lack of uptake and operational challenges this format presents means we can no longer continue to operate the trial in these stores.”

Asda’s pullout is the latest in a series of setbacks to progress towards refillable and reusable packaging.

In May last year, M&S and Morrisons pulled out of the so-called Refill Coalition – which is attempting to standardise in-store dispensers – before live trials of its solution had even begun. Waitrose folllowed suit in October, leaving Aldi and Ocado as the only retailer members of the initiative.  

Commenting on M&S’s exit at the time, CEO Stuart Machin told The Grocer it had pulled out after two years of frustration trying to get customers to get onboard with its own refill aisles in stores. 

“Customers just weren’t responding. This has been a painful couple of years in trialling this. We did it in our third renewal store and it just didn’t warrant the space,” he said.

Tesco ditched its experiment with reusable packaging company Loop in 2022, also citing lack of commercial viability.