Grocery Retailers are Going Green

Grocery Retailers are Going Green

December 15, 2023
5 min read

Over the past few years, sustainability has been a growing concern for people living in the UK – a trend which permeates multiple industries and areas of our lives. With recycling rates failing to grow significantly in the last decade, Brits are looking for alternative ways to integrate sustainable practices into their everyday lives, including transforming their grocery shopping habits. So, how are grocery retailers handling this shift in consumer behaviour? Read on as we explore how UK grocery retailers adapt to changing consumer preferences as they look to offer more eco-friendly solutions.

Grocery Retailers are Tackling Food Waste

One of the core tenets of grocery retailers’ push to go green is how they are handling food waste. Wasted and expired food has long been considered an unfortunate inevitability in grocery shops and supermarkets, with tonnes of food and drink items being thrown away every year. 

In 2022, 80% of British shoppers said that they have actively tried to reduce their food wastage, so searching for more sustainable shopping options is clearly a hot topic for many of us. According to the WWF, around 8% of carbon emissions begin with wasted food, which produces harmful gases as it decomposes. So, with consumers looking for eco-friendly options and sustainability being such a priority for so many of us, it’s easy to see why food retailers are so eager to cut back on their waste.

One of the most prominent and popular ways that grocery retailers have rallied against food waste is through sales of food items, especially fruit and vegetables, that are perfectly safe to eat but do not meet aesthetic standards. Often known as ‘wonky’ fruit and veg, the cheaper price tag acts as an additional incentive for customers to choose the food that would otherwise be wasted. Nowadays, we see this in most large supermarkets, including Morrisons, Aldi, and Tesco.

More recent initiatives include Marks & Spencer’s decision to remove ‘use by’ dates on their milk, and instead replace them with ‘best before’ guidelines. This change has been introduced with the dual aims of effectively lengthening the lifespan of milk sold while keeping it within safe-to-eat standards and reducing the amount of milk that is wasted as a result. Having already made a change to their milk packaging to encourage recycling, milk appears to be a hotspot for sustainable changes in grocery retail. 

Retailers are getting creative with their drive to tackle food waste, too. In 2019, Morrison’s started working with food waste app Too Good to Go to offer expiring groceries in bulk at a discounted rate on the app. Since this move, many other UK supermarkets have followed suit, with M&S, Aldi, and Waitrose now posting ‘magic bags’ for local app users to collect. 

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Grocery Retailers are Removing Plastic Packaging

Along with food waste, single-use plastics have become one of the general public’s biggest focuses when it comes to making sustainable changes. Mintel’s research into sustainability in food shows that a third of British shoppers choose food and drink items with packaging that is plastic-free, recyclable, and/or compostable as part of their efforts to shop more sustainably. This emerging priority has seen a parallel trend, as supermarkets and grocery retailers seek to reduce their plastic packaging for food products.

One of the first initiatives in grocery retailing to showcase this growing trend was the introduction of the carrier bag charge in UK supermarkets. Retailers with 250+ staff have been compelled since 2015 in England – and earlier in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – to charge customers for plastic carrier bags. Mintel research from that year highlighted that 20% of plastic waste came from UK households, with plastic carrier bags being one of the most significant single contributors; a contributing factor that this law sought to discourage shoppers from using.

Among the largest grocery retailers and supermarkets in the UK, Waitrose has been particularly notable in its new initiatives to cut down on wasteful packaging. Their ‘Unpacked’ scheme encourages customers shopping at certain stores to bring their own containers to refill key grocery products, including dried pasta, cereal, frozen fruit, and cleaning products. Capitalising on the growing demand for refill stores around the UK, Waitrose is one of the most prominent names to be offering packaging-free grocery shopping. Perhaps initiatives like Unpacked are why Waitrose are second only to Amazon Fresh in terms of which grocery retail brands shoppers consider to be unique to alternative brands.

What We Think

With several creative new initiatives coming out of UK supermarkets and grocery retailers in recent years, which are already being widely accepted by the public, it seems that going green is a requisite priority for grocery retailers. Mintel’s research reveals that the British public is eager to find easy swaps to make their lifestyle more sustainable without sacrifice or extra expense, and options like refill stations at their usual stores and discounted soon-to-expire foods fit the bill perfectly. 

Is your business responding to the evolving attitudes and preferences of grocery shoppers? With Mintel’s leading independent consumer research, you can focus your strategies to align with the latest developments and trends in the supermarket industry. Explore our Supermarket and Grocery Market Research, or fill out the form below to sign up to Spotlight, Mintel’s free newsletter for exclusive insights.

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