The Editor’s Award (sponsored by Clipper Group) is given every year to a company who have entered the awards but despite not winning their category have nonetheless caught the eye of Retail Insider editor Glynn Davis. In the Award’s third year he has chosen the work packaging consultancy Unpackaged has done with Waitrose & Partners to deliver the innovative “Waitrose Unpacked”.

Beverly Ahern of Clipper Group (left) presents the Editor’s Award to Catherine Conway and Helen Clememts of Unpackaged

Waitrose Unpacked involved taking hundreds of products out of their packaging in an 11-week test, carried out in Oxford last summer, designed to help determine how customers might be prepared to shop differently in the future.

Among several forward-thinking ideas being looked at during the trial were dedicated refill zones, frozen pick and mix, and a deposit return scheme. Packaged equivalents of the products remained in their usual areas to create an effective test. Given the choice between buying packaged or unpackaged fruit and vegetables, which one do customers go for?

The trial interrogated shopper reactions in order to solidify exactly what a future packaging-free supermarket proposition could look like; and how the supply chain would need to be reordered to make it work.

The aim of the 11-week test was to create a memorable experience in a whole supermarket setting. According to Unpackaged it wasn’t about putting in some bulk goods to see if shoppers would refill –

Instead the aim was to show how shoppers could do virtually a weekly shop with no packaging and engaging them in the retail theatre of refilling. Keen attention was also paid to the price so bulk goods were set at 15% cheaper than the packaged equivalents to cement the idea of refills being better value in the mind of the consumer.

Unpackaged supported Waitrose to implement refill technology such as hoppers and grinders for loose goods. In addition, a host of artisan suppliers such as When in Rome (wine), Toast Ale (beer) and Ecover (eco cleaning products) brought specialist refill equipment & support for their own products.

Unpackaged also helped to train the shop floor staff in how to manage the bulk areas and inspired them with why the mission was so important and how to communicate that enthusiasm to customers.

The biggest technological change was implementing self-service weighing scales in the refill zone that enables the customer to zero the weight of their container, meaning that they can manage all of the refilling themselves, and arrive at the checkout with a product barcode label identical to the rest of their shopping.

Whilst this may need some initial explanation by the Waitrose partners for some customers, it cuts down significantly on staff time at the checkout; and also functions on self-checkout and Quick Scan so is a coherent offer throughout the store.

There were inbuilt feedback walls throughout the store and Unpackaged also gauged opinion through online channels and social media via a dedicated website and the #WaitroseUnpacked hashtag. Reaction to the initial trial in the summer was so positive that it was immediately extended to several other stores where it is still ongoing now.