Circular Retail: Beauty Kitchen wants ‘Re’ programme to direct change

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Beauty Kitchen's Re programme is already working with Unilever, Asda and Co-op and due to launch with Elemis next year at John Lewis department stores [Getty Images]
Beauty Kitchen's Re programme is already working with Unilever, Asda and Co-op and due to launch with Elemis next year at John Lewis department stores [Getty Images]

Related tags Beauty Kitchen reusable packaging refillable packaging refill revolution circular beauty circular economy sustainable beauty beauty retail refills

UK indie brand Beauty Kitchen is upscaling its circular retail programme ‘Re’ that it says should drive meaningful and non-competitive change in the coming years, and its founder has high hopes of onboarding a plethora of big and small brands.

Initially launched last year, the Re programme offered beauty and personal care brands and retailers standardised refillable bottles and refill stations in a bid to support scalable, sustainable change. Developed as a business unit within indie brand Beauty Kitchen, the programme had already secured Unilever, Asda and Co-op in the UK and was set to launch with Elemis at John Lewis department stores in early 2022. It was also running with Beauty Kitchen in the Netherlands and Belgium at Holland & Barrett stores, as well as across the UK.

The wider ambition was to onboard many more beauty and personal care brands and retailers in the coming months, according to Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and Re.

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Chidley said: “There’s quite a lot of brands we can’t talk about (…) but we’re talking to everyone you’d be expecting us to talk to. So, that’s quite exciting.”

The goal was to scale-up the programme in the UK firstly, she said, with wider expansion into Europe “the next logical step”.

Asked if Beauty Kitchen had international ambitions for Re, she said: “If we take Asia and America, they are really quite far behind in their recycling journey, and they’re even further behind in their reuse journey. However, there are some countries in Asia, like India in particular, that are very high on reuse. So, there are some markets we would potentially leapfrog into because it makes sense culturally, but, at the moment, we want to get it right in the UK.”

For the UK, she said the goal was to rollout more than 250 return points within the next nine months but also stretch beyond beauty into other high-use adjacent categories, like home care.

Closing the loop for brands, retailers and consumers

Chidley said for the Re programme to truly make a difference and drive circular change, brands, retailers and consumers had to come together.

“Having anything that’s a circular business model is tricky, because if you have a circular business model you have to truly collaborate. You’re not creating something that is ultimately competitive advantage just for your business; you are creating advantage for everyone, and that doesn’t sit well with linear businesses.”

Re offers reusable bottles that beauty companies can brand accordingly [Image: Beauty Kitchen/Re]
Re offers reusable bottles that beauty companies can brand accordingly [Image: Beauty Kitchen/Re]

The Re programme had been designed to work in a circular way with all manner of beauty and retail brands, large and small, offering no exclusivity to any of them, she said. All the refillable bottles were the same; all the refill stations were the same, she said, though of course these could be branded accordingly. “We will be responsible for the initial packaging, not the labelling, not the branding, not anything that would be intrinsic to a brand. We are just the vehicle for the product.”

The concept of offering the same packaging and refill stations for all was an important one, Chidley said, because it was crucial to creating a shift in consumer mindsets around circularity – encouraging consumers to buy for the ingredients and formulation, not the packaging. “All we’re doing is helping consumers, brands and retailers make that switch into ‘product as a service’, rather than just single-use packaging,”​ she said.

Circular beauty and retail relies on ‘accessibility’

Moving forward, Chidley said the success of programmes like Re would wholeheartedly rely on the level of “accessibility”​ they offered for consumers.

The refillable beauty items and refill stations had to be convenient to purchase, use and return, as well as offer enough brand choice, she said. If this wasn’t achieved, she said consumers wouldn’t engage.

“It comes down to the nuts and bolts: is it convenient, accessible and do I have the choice of brands I want to choose from? That’s really what we’re trying to do – build up the repertoire in terms of the number of brands,”​ she said. Re was already working with Unilever, for example, and ten of its brands, and with the onboarding of L’Occitane-owned Elemis, there was scope to stretch choice even further, she said.

Re will launch with Elemis in John Lewis department stores early next year [Image: Beauty Kitchen/Re]
Re will launch with Elemis in John Lewis department stores early next year [Image: Beauty Kitchen/Re]

“Although the biggest brands are much more challenging and possibly even difficult to deal with, because they have a very low risk profile in terms of change management, the opportunity for sustainability is huge because they give us access to a lot of choice of brands. They’ve also got the relationship with large retailers which then makes things more accessible and convenient.”

As Beauty Kitchen worked on expanding and upscaling Re, Chidley said it would consciously try to onboard more large brands, but also indie, prestige and luxury brands to offer consumer that all-important choice in the reuse and refill market.

‘Reuse will not be right for everything’

However, whilst Beauty Kitchen had strong growth ambitions for Re, Chidley said understandably it wouldn’t fit every brand or retailer, though the goal was for it to be important to many.

“Reuse will not be right for everything. But reuse definitely has to be a pillar in the packaging we use going forward,”​ she said.

And centralising and removing competition from reuse and refill retail, she said, would be central to achieving this. “If you think about when electric vehicles hit the market, they all had different plugs and plug points which was a nightmare for us to move to electrical vehicles. And even back in Victorian times, all the train lines were on different gauges, so you couldn’t get a train from London to Edinburgh without changing trains. And the reason for that was competitive advantage (…) In a circular economy, we can’t do that.”

For circular business models to truly scale, in beauty, retail or other categories, she said the “widgets”​ had to be standardised – a huge shift in mindset for traditional industry players, though not necessarily a big shift in action terms.

“If we think about packaging and all the packaging that’s available to use at the moment, we could go onto a packaging supplier’s website and look at all the different components they have, and actually, there’s not as many as you think,”​ she said. The goal of Re was to just bring all these components to the market in reusable formats.

Onboarding suppliers and working alongside other reuse players

Bringing on suppliers, from packaging and the wider supply chain, was therefore key, Chidley said. “For me, it’s about getting, not just brands and retailers, but industry – i.e. supply chain and sourcing – onboard too, because we’re not a packaging company but what we’re really good at is bringing different elements together to create a circular business model that people can access. That’s where the opportunity is for everyone.” 

Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and Re
Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and Re

Asked if Beauty Kitchen and Re was going head-to-head with TerraCycle and its Loop programme, Chidley said no, it was instead working alongside it.

“The reuse market, in terms of the players in there, we all know each other and we’re all helping each other out,” ​she said. And it remained a very niche market with plenty of room to grow and lots still to achieve, she said.

Whilst Loop was working with the “grocery industry at large”,​ in partnership with Tesco, she said Re was taking a beauty-first approach and working “slightly differently”.

“There’s plenty of space for everyone. All I want to do is make sure we don’t create widgets that don’t fit,”​ she said.

Reuse beauty to become mainstream soon?

So, just how far off was the beauty category in mainstreaming a refill revolution [one of CosmeticsDesign’s Top 15 Global Beauty Trends to Watch in 2022​]?

“In my heart of hearts, I would love to say quickly,” ​Chidley said. “But I think we’re looking at a three- to five-year plan here. Because the other thing is, it’s about thoughtful disruption. You have to take people with it (…) We don’t want to be the one that creates something that makes other businesses go under, there’s something really unethical about that. It’s about bridging that gap and bringing people with us, but unfortunately that takes time,”​ she said.

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