Unilever launches its largest refill trial in Europe

Asda’s Middleton store in Leeds has relaunched as a pioneering flagship sustainability store comprising a Refill Zone supported by Unilever and sustainability and circular economy expert, Beauty Kitchen. 

Unilever is a lead partner in Asda’s trial, providing seven of its household-name brands including Radox, Simple and Alberto Balsam.  Trialling three different refill formats, this is the largest of its kind for Unilever in Europe, providing a real-world ‘test and learn’ to understand what works best for consumers in a retail environment.  The trial forms part of Unilever’s commitment to halve its use of virgin plastic by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging and to ensure all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Unilever’s Beauty & Personal Care brands will be trialling touch-free refill machines developed by Beauty Kitchen. Radox shower gel, Simple liquid handwash and Alberto Balsam shampoo and conditioner, along with Persil laundry liquid, will be dispensed in reusable aluminium or stainless steel bottles via three machines using the 'Return, Refill, Repeat' premise.  First-time shoppers will be provided with a bottle, while returning shoppers will reuse their existing bottle. 

Once filled, shoppers add their printed label to the bottle and take it to checkout as usual. Each bottle has a unique QR code, a feature which will enable full traceability of each bottle allowing Unilever to track the full buy, use, refill process and gain better insight into the circular model. Together, these three Refill Stations could save the equivalent of 30,000 plastic water bottles in just one store in one year.

Other refill solutions being trialled include an entire bay offering concentrated in-home refills for Cif, and self-serve containers for Unilever tea brands PG Tips and Pukka.

Sebastian Munden, executive vice president of Unilever UK & Ireland, says: “I am very excited by the potential to test and learn from this fantastic partnership with Asda. It's a great opportunity for us to find out, across seven of our leading brands, just how shoppers respond to using refillable and reusable packaging in-store. We are all committed to driving lasting change when it comes to plastic, but to do so we must create scalable solutions and make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices. On our journey to halving our use of virgin plastic by 2025 we will have to be bold and totally rethink products and packaging, and we will only do that by testing a range of solutions with shoppers in real-life conditions."

Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and sustainability expert, adds:  “The need to act on the plastic pollution crisis is urgent and focusing consumer behaviour on sustainability and cradle to cradle practise is a vital part of the solution. This exciting partnership to power Refill Stations is a pivotal point in creating a sustainable future and instilling a reuse mindset.”

The trial is part of Unilever UK & Ireland’s #GetPlasticWise campaign, its five-point plastic plan to accelerate progress towards Unilever’s global 2025 plastic targets.

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