M&S Food sees rise in customer appetite for refill

New research by M&S Food today reveals that over 75% of consumers are consciously trying to reduce their use of plastic packaging.

Refillable groceries are an increasingly popular solution to support this aim, with two thirds of consumers more likely to consider using them now compared to this time last year and around one in four (23%) shoppers actively seeking retailers that offer this service.

The new findings follow the launch of M&S Food’s first Fill Your Own trial in mid-December at its Hedge End Retail Park store in Southampton – offering over 44 lines of packaging-free cupboard essentials including popular cereals, pasta, rice, lentils, confectionery, coffee, dried fruits and nuts.

The research findings highlight that the main barrier to shopping refill and unpackaged groceries is the challenge of finding retailers that offer this service (38%). This is followed by the need to carry containers – highlighted by one in five (18%) – and the perception that unpackaged seems more expensive than packaged alternatives (14%).

M&S’ Fill Your Own trial aims to address some of these challenges, with all products offering even better value per gram than the packaged alternatives. To help customers adapt to the new shopping concept, M&S is providing free, widely recyclable paper bags for customers without containers to hand and colleagues are available to guide them on filling and weighing the products.

However, behaviour change is already starting to take place as customers are increasingly bringing in their own containers or purchasing one from M&S’ range. Sales of M&S’ reusable storage containers have increased by 38% at the Hedge End store since the trial launched and by 10% across all M&S stores compared to last year.

Since the trial launched two months ago, 25 out of the 44 Fill Your Own products are selling higher volumes than the packaged alternatives, with customers buying over 2,600kg of product to date. The bestselling products include M&S’s Triple Chocolate Crunch cereal, Whole Scottish Porridge Oats, Basmati Rice, Milk Chocolate Raisins, Single Origin Brazil Coffee and Fiorelli Pasta.

Kayleigh Doran, who is a colleague at M&S Hedge End, has been supporting customers at the Fill Your Own station since it launched and has highlighted some key customer insights:

Family fun: We’re seeing lots of families coming into the store to try our Fill Your Own station and kids particularly enjoy helping their parents fill their containers as a fun activity during the shopping trip.

Returning customers: Since the trial launched, we’re seeing more and more customers returning to use Fill Your Own and it’s not unusual for them to visit us daily. Our customers are so passionate about our trial that they’re spreading the word with friends and family and visits are increasing week by week.

Portion flexibility: What’s great about Fill Your Own is it offers the flexibility to suit specific needs. For example, customers who live on their own tell us it’s particularly helpful to be able to buy individual portions for meals, whilst busy parents like that they can buy specific amounts of products like lentils or rice for recipes – all while knowing it’s cheaper than our packaged versions. Some of our younger or more health-conscious customers also enjoy being able to buy a handful of chocolates to avoid the temptation of eating bigger packs.

Trying new products: The trial is encouraging customers to try new products and find their firm favourites by sampling different flavours at home, such as dried fruits or cereals, which is particularly helpful for family households with varying preferences. With our coffee sampling station next to Fill Your Own, it’s no surprise that every coffee flavour is currently outselling our packaged alternatives.

Behaviour change: At the beginning of the trial, most customers used our free, recyclable paper bags for their refill products. However, as the weeks go by, we’re seeing more and more customers adapting to bringing in their own containers or purchasing the ones we have on offer. It’s a gradual change that requires a new way of thinking, but it’s clear that it’s starting to catch on.

M&S plans to extend the Fill Your Own trial to a second store in Manchester City Centre in March, as it looks to test the refill concept across different formats and locations.

Paul Willgoss, Director of Food Technology at M&S, commented, “Our Fill Your Own concept is one area we’re focusing on as part of our action to reduce plastic packaging and support our customers to reuse and recycle.

'As a completely new way of shopping, we’re keen to better understand refill across the entire store process from behind the scenes operations to working together with our customers to encourage behaviour change.”

Fill Your Own joins other M&S initiatives to encourage customers to reuse, including free water refill stations at its Clapham Junction and Hedge End stores and a scheme to incentivise customers to use reusable containers and coffee cups by offering a 25p discount off hot drinks and food-to-go from Market Place.

M&S will continue testing the refill concept at its Hedge End and Manchester City Centre stores before considering a wider roll-out plan for the future.