‘Could be a gamechanger': Unilever to expand in-store refill and reuse trials across UK

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Unilever will continue to upscale its 'refill on the go' trials where consumers can fill up stainless-steel bottles at refill stations but it will also trial in-aisle prefilled bottles to see if uptake is better [Image: Unilever]
Unilever will continue to upscale its 'refill on the go' trials where consumers can fill up stainless-steel bottles at refill stations but it will also trial in-aisle prefilled bottles to see if uptake is better [Image: Unilever]

Related tags: Unilever, Beauty Kitchen, circular beauty, refillable packaging, refills, reusable packaging, Sustainability, retail, durable packaging

Personal care major Unilever is ramping up its refill and reuse trials in UK retailers, adding a ‘return on the go’ system for convenient in-store collection and return of pre-filled stainless-steel bottles across key brands.

Unilever had worked in partnership on the design of these trials with Beauty Kitchen founder Jo Chidley, also co-founder of the Return.Refill.Repeat concept​.

‘Test and learn’ trials with refill stations and reusable packaging

Unilever kickstarted its refill and reuse trials in the UK last year and said these new “test and learn trials”​ would cover different refill models, store formats and in-store locations. The trials would also test different shopper experiences to work out what would best empower “long-term use of refillable products”.

“To tackle plastic pollution with the speed and urgency needed, we are committed to creating scalable solutions which make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices,” ​said Sebastian Munden, general manager and executive vice president of Unilever UK & Ireland.

“We believe refills could be a gamechanger in our ambitions to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025​, however unlocking the full potential of the reuse economy would require a significant shift in how people shop. Using our well-known and trusted brands and working closely with our retailers, we are testing different refill models on a large scale in order to continue to build our understanding of how to bring about a significant change most effectively,”​ Munden said.

‘Return on the go’ – taking refills into the regular aisle

Under its new trials, Unilever would test a ‘return on the go’ system where consumers could purchase pre-filled stainless-steel bottles of product from the regular aisles that could be returned in-store once used. Once returned, these bottles – set to roll out by the end of 2021 across key Unilever brands like Simple, Radox, Laberto Balsam and Persil – would then be cleaned, refilled and restocked on-shelf for the next consumer.

Unilever is prefilling a number of its key brands into stainless-steel bottles that will be sold in the regular personal care and home care aisles [Image: Unilever]
Unilever is prefilling a number of its key brands into stainless-steel bottles that will be sold in the regular personal care and home care aisles [Image: Unilever]

“The pre-fill bottles will be available in-aisle, testing if integrating refillable products into usual shopping habits will increase uptake,”​ Unilever said.

In addition, the company would continue its ‘refill on the go’ trials where consumers could purchase and refill reusable stainless-steel bottles themselves at refill stations.

The expanded trials would rollout across seven Asda and Co-op stores in select UK cities, including Glasgow, York, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Leeds. Unilever said the trials would be expanded into more stores and cities later in the year – “driving pivotal progression within the FMCG sustainable shopping sector”.

‘Our goal is to democratise the circular economy’

Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and co-founder of Return.Refill.Repeat that Unilever had partnered with, said: “Our goal is to democratise the circular economy, using Cradle to Cradle design, to work with businesses like Unilever to give consumers access to more sustainable products. By designing packaging to be circular and smart, alongside advanced refill and return stations, we are making it accessible for consumers to reduce their plastic consumption, track their impact, and change their behaviour from one of consuming packaging to reusing it.”

Chidley recently spoke on CosmeticsDesign-Europe’s Circular Beauty​ panel, where she outlined the need for collaboration and openness​ across the beauty and personal care industry if it was to truly succeed in becoming circular. This one-hour webinar can still be watched on-demand, for free.

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