The Grocer has learnt that Eziserv, the company that supplied refill technology to Asda for a recent Wrap-funded dispensing trial involving laundry detergents, has been in talks with one of the UK's big three milk suppliers about using the same technology to sell milk in supermarkets.
Until now the system has only been used for non-food but there was no reason why it could not be adjusted for milk, said Eziserv MD Richard Garnett.
"The important change would be around hygiene and cleaning, so we would look at the machine having a cleaning function not dissimilar to those used in some coffee machines.
"We have already looked at technology at on-farm dairies, where the milking machinery is cleaned automatically daily."
This isn't the first time a refilling concept for milk has been suggested to cut down on packaging waste. Dairy Crest launched the Jugit milk bag in 2008, which is available in Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury's and Tesco. But the idea of in-store dispensing went much further, said Garnett.
"The important distinction is that no jug is involved. We would look at using packaging pouches, similar to those used by Original Source shower gels, but with a slightly bigger opening for pouring. Also, customers would choose their pouch, in whichever size required.
Eziserv is exploring two types of pouch, Garnett said. "The first and most straightforward would be a single-use lightweight pack, which would obviously create less waste than standard milk bottles. The other option only really in the experimentation phase is a reusable refillable pouch that the customer would wash at home before bringing it into store to refill.
Results from the Wrap-funded detergent trial demonstrated that customers did buy into the refill idea, with 74% saying they would use the machine again. However, some reported that the machine was confusing and messy if they weren't shown how to use it properly.
This wouldn't be a problem if staff were adequately trained, said Garnett. "The machines are very straightforward to use and time wouldn't be an issue either. We have the ability to put multiple fill points on one machine and it would typically take about four to five seconds to fill about a litre to a litre and a half of milk."
Eziserv has also been working with Unilever to develop a Persil dispenser, which would cut the number of SKUs and allow the customer to select the fragrance and quantity required at the point of refill.
Half full or half empty – how refills are performing
Kenco Eco Refill
Launched in September 2009, the range enjoyed such success that Nescafé moved into refillable pouches a year later. The packs have 97% less packaging weight than jars (per gram of coffee).
Shoppers complained about leaks and spillages with the original system, launched in 2008. Dairy Crest relaunched the system last March and is investing in new plant to meet demand.
Operator Eziserv claimed the Wrap-funded trial was a success with 74% of those who used the refill machine saying they would do so again. However, there are no plans for Asda to roll out trials.
Calon Wen Milk
Waitrose phased out both Calon Wen refillable milk pouches and its own-brand milk bags in March last year, claiming poor demand leading to high wastage. Calon Wen blamed a lack of consumer education.