Waitrose has become the latest supermarket to leave the Refill Coalition, The Grocer has learned.
The high-end grocer was among the original supermarket signatories in 2020 – along with Morrisons, M&S and Ocado Retail – to join the scheme, but it is understood it decided to leave the collaboration preceding the launch of the initiative’s first in-store trial, which went live at an Aldi store in Solihull this week.
It leaves Aldi – which joined earlier this year – and Ocado Retail as the only grocers who are currently full-time members of the coalition, which also includes the supply chain solutions company CHEP and the refill consultancy GoUnpackaged.
When it launched, the coalition was billed as the grocery industry’s best chance of creating a truly scalable, end-to-end refill solution. The crux of its efforts have been focused on the development of a standardised vessel to act as dispensers in refill stations, which, when empty, can be sent back to suppliers to be refilled and redistributed back to supermarkets.
However, direct support for the scheme has waned among supermarkets amid concerns over the consumer appetite for refill solutions, at a time when there has been wider shift in government policy away from greener initiatives during the cost of living crisis.
The development of in-store trials has also been held up by complexities including Covid-19 and wider supply chain challenges, with some grocers instead turning their attention to developing their own schemes in house.
Waitrose joins Morrisons, M&S, Lidl and Sainsbury’s as the grocers to have left the coalition.
The supermarket said it had decided to leave in order to explore other ways in which it could reduce its plastic footprint.
“We remain in close contact with The Refill Coalition and they have been a huge support to us over the years,” a spokeswoman for Waitrose told The Grocer.
“As well as the refill areas in select Waitrose shops, we’re also exploring other areas where we can have a big impact on reducing packaging.”
Waitrose continues to operate its own refillable initiative, called Unpacked. The scheme launched in 2019, and while the supermarket has increased the range of available products, the scheme has yet to be scaled beyond four stores.
It also has the target of ensuring that all of its own label packaging is either reusable or at home compostable by the end of 2023. So far, 96% of its packaging meets that standard, Waitrose said.
The retailer did not confirm the exact date when it left the coalition, but said it remained an “interested supporter” of its work.
“Waitrose have been very engaged partners in the development of the system so far and we are sad that they are unable to be part of the initial in-store launch,” said a spokeswoman for The Refill Coalition.
“The success of the in-store launch this week, and the progress towards the online launch in early 2024, shows the commitment of coalition partners to drive change within industry.
“We are in discussions with, and would welcome, other retailers that want to join and help drive a scalable solution for refills.”
A parallel home delivery version of the in-store trial is set to go live with Ocado Retail in early 2024, with the coalition retailers aiming to roll the systems out across other stores if they prove effective.