You can bring your own mug to most coffee places, but you can’t bring your own potato salad bowl into your favorite grocer for a fill-up.
With growing awareness of the impact of plastic waste on the environment, there is building consumer demand to lower waste and let customers BYOP: Bring Your Own Package. So, what’s stopping food retailers?
Only very few food retailers like Bulk Barn and limited natural or organic-food stores allow customers to bring their own container. There are several issues that larger full-service retailers have to ‘work through’ to make this possible.
Here are four of their main points:
Brands and retailers have hooked consumers on convenience. The words ‘grab and go’ delight many busy consumers. Retailers have built fresh and ready-to-eat meal sections to meet this demand. Produce departments are full of trays where apples or tomatoes have been preselected and packaged, saving consumers the trouble of having to actually lift something into a bag. Retailers aren’t sure yet that sustainability trumps convenience.
Retailers have the responsibility of selling a wholesome and safe product that includes the food inside and the package it comes in. When the consumer brings their own package, the food safety liability gets murky. If there are food-safety issues and illness occurs, who’s at fault: the customer’s dirty container or the retailer’s food?
The Price of Labour
Many plastic-wrapped fresh items in a supermarket have been assembled either at a vendor, commissary or as part of a carefully measured production schedule. The cost of putting a product into a container is low. If BYOP becomes customary, more staff will have to be available to serve products into their customer’s containers from home, or more infrastructure will have to be created for self-serve.
Determining the Cost of Goods
If a customer wants to buy an item like a deli salad that needs to be weighed, they certainly don’t want to be paying for the weight of their own container. This is called tare – the weight of a container that needs to be deducted off the price of the product. For retailers, this deduction is yet another employee task, which takes time and money. Bulk Barn lets customers use their standardized containers thus standardizing the tare. Most retailers, however, offer no service, no standardized containers, and no cloth produce bags.
Retailers have a lot of math to do to figure out how to make this work.