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#EndlessCycle: How are retailers rising to the packaging waste challenge?

#EndlessCycle: How are retailers rising to the packaging waste challenge?

Why our favourite supermarkets are shifting to sustainable packaging

Calling on all shoppers! You might think that how your favourite product is packaged is all about what brands choose to make and what we all want to buy. However, with us shoppers paying more attention than ever to the impact of our shopping choices, the retailers we make visits to everyday are becoming just as concerned with how our favourite products are packaged, helping us make easier, more sustainable choices.

So what choices are they making? You probably already know that, while disposable packaging is going out of fashion, endlessly recyclable glass is very much on trend. Well, that message is resonating with our favourite retailers, who are putting more and more glass packaging on their shelves in turn. As Carrefour’s Sustainability Outreach Lead, Scarlett Elizee, says, “we also want to move away from single use and towards a recycling and reuse model that makes the most out of glass.” Here’s why.

In much of Europe, you’re never too far from a Carrefour. Since 1958 we’ve been stocking all sorts from fresh produce to household items, to your store cupboard favourites. And, of course, these products come in some form of packaging which serves to keep them safe and tastier for longer! But we’re in a competitive, fast-moving market, so we need to make sure we’re giving shoppers exactly what they want. 

Our customers are proud of their food heritage and want to find only the freshest products on their shelves, and to know where products are coming from, how they’re produced and under what conditions. This has shifted in significant ways how we think about our role as an actor in society and our business strategy. This is why Carrefour has defined its raison d’être or purpose as leader of the food transition for all, ensuring that the products and solutions we offer are healthy, sustainable, and accessible for everyone.   

The overuse of packaging is a huge issue for our customers, so much so that in 2019 we decided to launch  a consultation to find out where we should focus our actions to reduce packaging We were intrigued to see the precise feedback we received from pastries in boxes, carrots in bags, double-wrapped sweets – the suggestions came in thick and fast. Customers also praised re-use models. It was a wake-up call. It confirmed that our customers are serious about living sustainably and that the right packaging plays a big part in that, and we knew we needed to step up. 


Striking the right balance in food packaging 

The challenge for a retailer, like us, is to find the delicate balance of providing only necessary packaging. For us, packaging is important for food safety and hygiene, as well as keeping food fresh and minimizing food waste. But packaging also helps to differentiate products. In that respect, packaging is important for customers too: it helps you to know what you’re really buying and choose what appeals to you most. So, while we want to avoid over-packaging, we can’t get rid of packaging all together. We have to strike the right balance.

We can do more to ensure that the packaging we do use is as sustainable as it can possibly be, and provide only the packaging that is necessary. That’s where glass comes in. We want to move away from single use and towards recycling and reuse models which offer glass as a core option for shoppers. We have to ensure that all packaging is convenient enough for everyday use, without compromising on quality.  

We serve every kind of customer – from ‘zero waste warriors’ who buy in bulk, to those making step-by-step changes – and whoever you are, we want to be able to offer you many solutions depending on the product. The interesting thing about glass is its variety, and shoppers just love it. 

When it comes to how a product looks on the shelf, glass has some sort of aura around it. Whether it’s for fresh orange juice, creamy yoghurt or a rich chocolate mousse, when it’s in glass, customers see it as a luxury, or a premium product. Some products are just perceived differently when they’re packaged in glass, from emblematic products like Coca Cola to milk bottles.

Rising to consumer expectations on waste

All the aesthetic considerations are secondary to the sustainability factor, though. Glass is a natural, inert material which can be recycled an infinite number of times with no loss in quality, as well as being reused in local systems. We applaud the glass industry’s investments in lightweighting and decarbonisation, like making glass bottles 30% lighter over the last 20 years. As a retailer, we’re hoping to see glass packaging manufacturers continue to make their products more sustainable and more convenient for our customers.

We’ve also set out our own ambitious commitments to be more intentional about reducing packaging and combating waste, as part of our mission to ‘lead on the food transition for all’ and as part of ourAct for Food’ campaign, so we definitely welcome the efforts from the glass industry on making glass more sustainably and reducing its carbon footprint. Any action that helps us reduce our impact on the environment is a big step in the right direction. For us, we have a clear vision for the future of packaging: we want to do our bit for the planet, whilst also meeting our customer’s expectations, and we see that glass packaging is an important tool in achieving those goals. 

Packaging is never going to disappear entirely, but we’re seeing that being intentional in how we package and stock everyday products is an impactful way to rise to our customers’ expectations on living sustainably while still continuing to tell the story of your favourite brands. While we’re a retailer and can’t dictate the choices brands make on their own packaging, we also have our private label brand which we can influence. Many Carrefour label products are well-suited to glass: oils, fruit juices and sauces are just a few examples. We see a trend emerging towards using and reusing glass, and are excited to adapt our range to match your expectations. People like you out there can make that trend go even faster, by demanding more sustainable packaging choices from your favourite brands and retailers. We’re listening, so keep challenging us – it’s how we grow! 

cover picture of Scarlette Elizée

Scarlette Elizée is the Sustainability Outreach Lead for the Carrefour Group.  Carrefour is a French multinational retail corporation, operating a chain of over 13,000 hypermarkets, grocery and convenience stores in over 30 countries. Next time you visit your local Carrefour, be sure to look out for the glass packaging in all its sustainable glory.