It all looks so idyllic in the press shot. A Waitrose shopper carefully pours pasta into a container lovingly brought from home. Her look of serene concentration is one that suggests she is not only having pasta for dinner, but is doing the right thing. This is not just pasta: it’s Waitrose, guilt-free pasta. Or something like that.
In real life, the Waitrose Unpacked trial is unlikely to be quite as idyllic. One careful shopper is a very different scenario from a horde of Waitrose devotees scrambling to get their orecchiette and fusilli. Add kids into the mix and you can imagine how quickly free-pour pasta (and free-pour cereals, detergent and wine) could become anything but serene.
Then there are the practical considerations. Firstly, pouring out pasta takes much longer than grabbing a pack off the shelf. At busy times, this could easily create queues. Secondly, you have to weigh the items to work out the price – which has the potential to create even more in-store congestion.
In terms of store cleanliness, it’s a potential minefield. It wouldn’t be hard for this genteel pouring area to quickly descend into a sea of spilled pasta and cereal (making the #WaitroseUnpacked Instagram hashtag potentially dangerous). And no one wants to associate their local Waitrose with hygiene concerns.
But none of the above should detract from the power of the idea. At a time when plastic concerns are higher than ever – for proof, see the new series by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – it’s encouraging to see Waitrose taking a lead in this area. Indeed, Waitrose head of CSR Tor Harris says there are a “growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way”. That’s not simply buying products in recyclable packaging. That’s ditching packaging as much as possible.
The 11-week trial at Waitrose’s Botley Road store in Oxford should help identify any teething problems with the concept. If these can be ironed out, there’s no reason why packaging-free bays couldn’t roll out on a wider scale. Yes, it will require customers to think about bringing their own containers before they visit the shop. And yes, it could take a little longer to get your essentials.
But it wasn’t long ago that the idea of bringing your own bag to the supermarket seemed a bit out there. Today, shoppers kick themselves if they have to resort to shelling out for a 5p carrier. It goes to show just how much of a difference a financial penalty can make. If Waitrose can include some kind of monetary incentive for going packaging-free, it may be on to a winner.
Plus, who doesn’t want to pour out their own orecchiette?
Emma won the PPA New Talent Award for New Section Editor of the Year in 2016. Prior to joining The Grocer in 2016, Emma was deputy and features editor at Chemist+Druggist, a weekly magazine and website for UK pharmacists.
Follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaWeinbren