This July, it will be two years since Australian supermarkets introduced a plastic bag ban, which signalled the beginning of more sustainable shopping practices.
And while both Coles and Woolworths had a rocky start to the ban, sustainability has been a top priority in FMCG and retail ever since. In October 2019, Woolworths announced a partnership with circular shopping platform Loop that is set to revolutionise the shopping experience for consumers.
From mid 2021, the retailer will roll out customised and durable packaging unique to each product, which can be returned to store or collected by Loop to be cleaned, refilled and reused.
The reusability platform debuted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland a little over a year ago, and has since collaborated with major brands such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Nestlé.
Anthony Rossi, Loop VP of global business development, was in Australia last week to begin the process of establishing the local Loop team and start working with Australian brands on their transition from single use into reusability head of the 2021 launch with Woolworths.
“As somebody who’s worked in recycling and with Terracycle for almost a decade now, I think at this point in time, now more than ever, people want to do the right thing with respect to the environment and sustainability,” Rossi told Inside FMCG.
“Consumers have really resonated with the idea of Loop. They want to make reusability work. Without that innate desire and demand from consumers, we wouldn’t have been able to build Loop as quickly as we have.”
Beyond the high interest from consumers, Loop’s success can also be attributed to the fact that it allows brands and retailers to continue doing what they do best. For brands, that is creating the products and filling the reusable packaging; for retail partners they continue to focus on getting products into the hands of consumers.
“We still have the brand selling the product, the retailer selling the product and us cleaning the packaging,” he said.
“Our core competency in all of this is to clean and sanitise the used packaging to a point where our partners can resell it and re-enter inventory.”
To date, Loop has partnered with retail giants globally including Carrefour, Kroger and Tesco and long term the goal is to make reusability available through many different types of shopping experiences, whether that’s e-commerce or in-store.
While many of Woolworths own brand products will be part of the new circular shopping system, we can also expect to see some big FMCG brands get involved.
“We always have a very solid mix of international conglomerates, with brands that consumers know and love, but also large national brands. I think that’s really important. We absolutely want to work with Australian brands, and that’s large Australian brands, but also smaller, independent brands as well.
“Wherever there is a product that is in a single use package, we at Loop want to be able to work with that company to help them move into durable, reusable packaging.”
In terms of what works and what doesn’t, Rossi said Loop is interested in exploring all product types.
“Obviously, there are some products that lend themselves to reuse easier than others, but when I look at the work we did with Nestlé and Häagen-Dazs, we started with something incredibly hard. We started with ice cream in an e-commerce platform where we didn’t have refrigerated trucks.
“So by no means is there a limit to what we can try to do.”
Ice cream is now one of the best selling products on Loop.
“While it was a challenge, it’s one that has certainly paid off so far.”
Rossi said the response from brands has been very positive, with most willing to make the change.
“I feel as though now, more than ever, brands know they need to change. The fact that we’re working with over 300 brands globally right now is a strong signal that they’re very keen to embark upon reusability.
“Some of these brands have spent maybe 100-150 years perfecting their single-use business. Now we’re asking them to change everything and that’s not an easy task. The brands that we’re working with have stepped up to the plate in a very big way, and have set aside resources to at least try to make this work.”
Loop’s model is based on creating a net positive impact on the environment, and while it requires more of certain resources like water, Rossi is confident that they achieve that outcome.
“At the end of the day for, for something to be sustainable, it needs to be good and positive for the environment, but it also needs to be a sustainable business model.
“We’ve done upwards of two dozen LCAs (life cycle assessments) and we look at the impact in eight different categories to make sure that what we’re creating has a net positive environmental impact.”
Loop is currently building its Australian team and is set to launch at Woolworths in mid 2021.