Greener groceries: inside the race to make food shopping kinder on the planet

Greener groceries: inside the race to make food shopping kinder on the planet

By
Louise Burfitt
October 11, 2021

🛒 What is it?

  • Grocery stores are big business, more so than ever in the last year, with restaurants closed around the world, and online food shops and home delivery surging
  • Yet sprawling stores, complex global supply chains, and an almost unimaginable amount of plastic and food waste mean the industry is also bad news for the planet. 
  • But as 65% of consumers desire sustainable food choices, supermarkets and fresh food retailers are gradually making the changes needed to make the way we buy our meals easier on the Earth. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • When it comes to going green, grocery stores definitely face an uphill climb.
  • Food waste, plastic pollution and food miles are just some of the major environmental issues facing the sector. And consumers aren’t happy about it. 

📈 The figures

  • The worldwide food & grocery retail market had total revenues of $9753.9bn in 2020, and grew at a CAGR of 7% between 2016-2020. 
  • And it’s on track to generate an additional $440bn in sales between 2020 and 2022, yielding a 3.1% CAGR.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Consumers are on board with the move to greener grocery concepts. In fact, 71% of consumers say large supermarket chains should be legally mandated to produce annual reports on their perishable and packaging waste, and face monetary fines if they fail to do so.
  • Where packaging is concerned, the shift towards sustainability is driving a wholesale transformation in consumer goods packaging, with many consumers shocked to learn of packaging’s effects on the environment. Research shows that two-thirds of grocery shoppers want a complete ban on non-recyclable packaging, while 69% wanted to avoid single-use plastics.
  • And when it comes to food waste? Awareness is rising of this global issue. One-third of all food produced for humans goes to waste, releasing 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Supermarkets realise they have to act to keep up. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Surplus fresh food, including oddly-shaped or slightly damaged fruit and veggies, sold at a discount? Sounds good to us. No wonder many green grocery startups are based around this model: check out the UK’s Oddbox, Wefood in Denmark, Italy’s Babaco Market and Throw No More in Norway. Investors think it’s a good idea too: ‘ugly’ discount veg platform Misfits Market raised $200m in Series C funding this spring. 
  • Packaging is also a major issue: supermarkets have long preferred plastics for keeping food fresher for longer. And it’s cheap and available. But a growing wave of grocery stores are basing their business model - and ethics - around using little to no plastic or single-use packaging. Pieter Pot in the Netherlands is a zero-waste grocery store that operates a handy deposit and delivery system. French supermarket Carrefour, meanwhile, partnered with The Loop this year to offer customers low-packaging options.
  • Almost all major UK supermarkets have launched or are planning bulk-buy refill aisles, including Asda and Morrisons. Across the pond, Trader Joe’s has long offered bulk-bought discounts where shoppers can bring their own containers, while new entrants Precycle in New York and Hello Bulk Market in Utah operate on a zero-packaging philosophy. 
  • Retailers are also turning to tech to go green, whether that’s dynamic pricing powered by AI to reduce wastage of perishables, or smart fridges in Aldi. Shelf Engine in the USA helps grocery stores reduce waste (and saves them money in the process) while Seebo offers a data-powered food waste reduction service in Israel. Motivated by minimising waste (the grocery industry in the US is responsible for 10% of all food waste), the company is transforming how grocery retailers buy and stock highly perishable goods.
  • And as consumers seek out sustainable, ethical groceries - with fewer food miles and better eco credentials - there’s a growing number of alternatives to the major conglomerates. The UK’s Farmdrop - an organic veg and locally produced foods company, delivered in a box scheme - experienced a bumper 2020, having to enforce online queues and wait-lists to keep up with demand. Farmy in Switzerland and Cortilia in Italy offer a similar service. 

👀 Who? (29 companies in this space)

  • Afresh (AI-powered OS built for grocery retailers, USA)
  • Amfora (regenerative ag startup selling farm-to kitchen food, Switzerland)
  • Babaco Market (wonky fruit and veg, Italy)
  • Cortilia (online fresh food delivery from local farmers, Italy)
  • Crisp (supermarket delivery app, Netherlands)
  • Farmdrop (organic, local fresh food delivery, UK)
  • Farmy (fresh food delivery, Switzerland)
  • FoodDock (online directory of community-based farms, USA)
  • Fresh.Land (digital platform reducing 88% of emissions post-harvest, Denmark)
  • Hello Bulk Markets (zero-packaging grocery store, USA)
  • Karma  (discounted surplus food, Sweden)
  • Lyfa (home food delivery without packaging, Switzerland)
  • Matsmart (e-commerce battling global food waste, Sweden)
  • Milk & More (milk and fresh food delivery, UK) 
  • Misfits Market (sustainably sourced, discount grocery delivery, USA)
  • Oddbox (wonky veg delivery, UK) 
  • Olio (food waste prevention community app, UK)
  • Picnic Technologies (smart grocery tech, USA)
  • Pieter Pot (refillable pot grocery shopping system, Netherlands) 
  • Precycle (zero-waste grocery store, USA)
  • Seebo (AI-assisted and data-powered food waste reduction, Israel)
  • Shelf Engine (tech to prevent supermarket overstock, USA)
  • Sunrise Daily Goods (FMCG innovation, USA)
  • The Modern Milkman (milk delivery, UK)
  • Thrive Market (organic product e-commerce platform, USA)
  • Throw No More (discounted surplus supermarket food, Norway)
  • Waitrose Unpacked (no-packaging grocery store system, UK)
  • Wasteless (AI-powered dynamic pricing for perishable food products, Israel)
  • Wefood (surplus food sales, Denmark)

🇮🇱 Case study: Wasteless

  • AI-powered startup Wasteless, founded in Israel, aims to help supermarkets and online grocery stores recapture the full value of their perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.
  • Food waste can cost grocery retailers up to $900bn annually, according to the startup, and cutting waste is not just a cost saving, but also an environmental necessity.
  • Wasteless says that its intelligent software can reduce carbon emissions, saves 750 tonnes of waste from going to landfill and 3.5 billion litres of water. On average, their pricing engine offers a 50% reduction in food waste.
  • By taking the approach that they do, Wasteless is tackling the problem before food is wasted, helping to solve the surplus food problem faced by supermarkets. 
  • Their trademark AI technology automatically lowers the prices of perishables as they near their best-before date. 
  • And the onboarding process is a breeze for retailers: the software is easily integrated into existing supermarket systems and runs on an automated basis in the background.

📦 Case study: Waitrose Unpacked  

  • In 2019, Waitrose became the first major UK supermarket to offer its customers a range of products free from all packaging. 
  • What started as a trial in one store in Oxford (known as Waitrose Unpacked) soon expanded to 3 more locations, following the pilot scheme’s success, with further rollouts planned (and pushed back by the pandemic). 
  • Although smaller, independent stores have been offering ‘refills’ for decades, the fact that a major grocery retailer put its money where its mouth was on the environment is big news. And many other supermarkets quickly followed suit.
  • Customers can bring their own containers to the high-end food shop, or pick up compostable bags in-store. Products - including pasta, raisins, cereal as well as frozen fruit and wine - are sold by weight. Shoppers can also fill up on laundry detergent and toiletries.
  • Future plans include altering the layout of the store to better integrate the Unpacked aisles, in an attempt to encourage further customers to switch to the zero-packaging options. 

👍 The good

  • Most grocery stores recognise that embracing sustainability is a matter not of if, but of when. And the cannier retail groups have already seen that eco-friendliness is a win with consumers and a key competitive advantage in a crowded market. 
  • When it comes to food waste and packaging, changes can be made quickly, maximising impact. The plastic-bag ban in various European countries dramatically reduced their use, while France banned supermarkets from chucking out usable food, resulting in donations to charities and massively limited food waste by supermarkets. 
  • With the growth of options in the greener grocery sector, customers have more choices for organic fresh food and a wider range of price brackets. Wonky veg companies and surplus discounters allow for a broader church of consumers to buy fresh food that doesn’t harm the planet. 

👎 The bad

  • It is vital to remember that supermarkets are just one piece of the climate puzzle. More important, perhaps, than packaging and plastics is the kind of food we eat and how we source it. Grocery stores have much to offer in that regard, too, but some chains have been accused of greenwashing, only implementing the convenient and cost-effective steps needed for change.  
  • The major grocery retailers are still making changes at a very slow pace, in relation to the massive emissions and plastic pollution numbers associated with the industry. Change needs to be swifter to make a real impact. 
  • Issues around packaging and waste can be complex. We know plastics aren’t great for the planet, yet their usage does extend the shelf life of fresh food - which might otherwise go to waste. A joined-up approach is crucial. 
  • Retail is characterized by low margins, pressing daily challenges, and complex just-in-time global supply chains. Focusing on longer-term issues, like climate change, doesn’t always make sense for the industry and that’s a worry.

💡The bottom line

  • Grocery retail has a way to go to address the waste and emissions associated with the sector, but the tangible progress made in the sector already - particularly on plastics and packaging - is cause for celebration. 
  • And the benefits of going green are twofold: it not only helps retailers of fresh food put the environment first, it also benefits their bottom line. 
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🛒 What is it?

  • Grocery stores are big business, more so than ever in the last year, with restaurants closed around the world, and online food shops and home delivery surging
  • Yet sprawling stores, complex global supply chains, and an almost unimaginable amount of plastic and food waste mean the industry is also bad news for the planet. 
  • But as 65% of consumers desire sustainable food choices, supermarkets and fresh food retailers are gradually making the changes needed to make the way we buy our meals easier on the Earth. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • When it comes to going green, grocery stores definitely face an uphill climb.
  • Food waste, plastic pollution and food miles are just some of the major environmental issues facing the sector. And consumers aren’t happy about it. 

📈 The figures

  • The worldwide food & grocery retail market had total revenues of $9753.9bn in 2020, and grew at a CAGR of 7% between 2016-2020. 
  • And it’s on track to generate an additional $440bn in sales between 2020 and 2022, yielding a 3.1% CAGR.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Consumers are on board with the move to greener grocery concepts. In fact, 71% of consumers say large supermarket chains should be legally mandated to produce annual reports on their perishable and packaging waste, and face monetary fines if they fail to do so.
  • Where packaging is concerned, the shift towards sustainability is driving a wholesale transformation in consumer goods packaging, with many consumers shocked to learn of packaging’s effects on the environment. Research shows that two-thirds of grocery shoppers want a complete ban on non-recyclable packaging, while 69% wanted to avoid single-use plastics.
  • And when it comes to food waste? Awareness is rising of this global issue. One-third of all food produced for humans goes to waste, releasing 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Supermarkets realise they have to act to keep up. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Surplus fresh food, including oddly-shaped or slightly damaged fruit and veggies, sold at a discount? Sounds good to us. No wonder many green grocery startups are based around this model: check out the UK’s Oddbox, Wefood in Denmark, Italy’s Babaco Market and Throw No More in Norway. Investors think it’s a good idea too: ‘ugly’ discount veg platform Misfits Market raised $200m in Series C funding this spring. 
  • Packaging is also a major issue: supermarkets have long preferred plastics for keeping food fresher for longer. And it’s cheap and available. But a growing wave of grocery stores are basing their business model - and ethics - around using little to no plastic or single-use packaging. Pieter Pot in the Netherlands is a zero-waste grocery store that operates a handy deposit and delivery system. French supermarket Carrefour, meanwhile, partnered with The Loop this year to offer customers low-packaging options.
  • Almost all major UK supermarkets have launched or are planning bulk-buy refill aisles, including Asda and Morrisons. Across the pond, Trader Joe’s has long offered bulk-bought discounts where shoppers can bring their own containers, while new entrants Precycle in New York and Hello Bulk Market in Utah operate on a zero-packaging philosophy. 
  • Retailers are also turning to tech to go green, whether that’s dynamic pricing powered by AI to reduce wastage of perishables, or smart fridges in Aldi. Shelf Engine in the USA helps grocery stores reduce waste (and saves them money in the process) while Seebo offers a data-powered food waste reduction service in Israel. Motivated by minimising waste (the grocery industry in the US is responsible for 10% of all food waste), the company is transforming how grocery retailers buy and stock highly perishable goods.
  • And as consumers seek out sustainable, ethical groceries - with fewer food miles and better eco credentials - there’s a growing number of alternatives to the major conglomerates. The UK’s Farmdrop - an organic veg and locally produced foods company, delivered in a box scheme - experienced a bumper 2020, having to enforce online queues and wait-lists to keep up with demand. Farmy in Switzerland and Cortilia in Italy offer a similar service. 

👀 Who? (29 companies in this space)

  • Afresh (AI-powered OS built for grocery retailers, USA)
  • Amfora (regenerative ag startup selling farm-to kitchen food, Switzerland)
  • Babaco Market (wonky fruit and veg, Italy)
  • Cortilia (online fresh food delivery from local farmers, Italy)
  • Crisp (supermarket delivery app, Netherlands)
  • Farmdrop (organic, local fresh food delivery, UK)
  • Farmy (fresh food delivery, Switzerland)
  • FoodDock (online directory of community-based farms, USA)
  • Fresh.Land (digital platform reducing 88% of emissions post-harvest, Denmark)
  • Hello Bulk Markets (zero-packaging grocery store, USA)
  • Karma  (discounted surplus food, Sweden)
  • Lyfa (home food delivery without packaging, Switzerland)
  • Matsmart (e-commerce battling global food waste, Sweden)
  • Milk & More (milk and fresh food delivery, UK) 
  • Misfits Market (sustainably sourced, discount grocery delivery, USA)
  • Oddbox (wonky veg delivery, UK) 
  • Olio (food waste prevention community app, UK)
  • Picnic Technologies (smart grocery tech, USA)
  • Pieter Pot (refillable pot grocery shopping system, Netherlands) 
  • Precycle (zero-waste grocery store, USA)
  • Seebo (AI-assisted and data-powered food waste reduction, Israel)
  • Shelf Engine (tech to prevent supermarket overstock, USA)
  • Sunrise Daily Goods (FMCG innovation, USA)
  • The Modern Milkman (milk delivery, UK)
  • Thrive Market (organic product e-commerce platform, USA)
  • Throw No More (discounted surplus supermarket food, Norway)
  • Waitrose Unpacked (no-packaging grocery store system, UK)
  • Wasteless (AI-powered dynamic pricing for perishable food products, Israel)
  • Wefood (surplus food sales, Denmark)

🇮🇱 Case study: Wasteless

  • AI-powered startup Wasteless, founded in Israel, aims to help supermarkets and online grocery stores recapture the full value of their perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.
  • Food waste can cost grocery retailers up to $900bn annually, according to the startup, and cutting waste is not just a cost saving, but also an environmental necessity.
  • Wasteless says that its intelligent software can reduce carbon emissions, saves 750 tonnes of waste from going to landfill and 3.5 billion litres of water. On average, their pricing engine offers a 50% reduction in food waste.
  • By taking the approach that they do, Wasteless is tackling the problem before food is wasted, helping to solve the surplus food problem faced by supermarkets. 
  • Their trademark AI technology automatically lowers the prices of perishables as they near their best-before date. 
  • And the onboarding process is a breeze for retailers: the software is easily integrated into existing supermarket systems and runs on an automated basis in the background.

📦 Case study: Waitrose Unpacked  

  • In 2019, Waitrose became the first major UK supermarket to offer its customers a range of products free from all packaging. 
  • What started as a trial in one store in Oxford (known as Waitrose Unpacked) soon expanded to 3 more locations, following the pilot scheme’s success, with further rollouts planned (and pushed back by the pandemic). 
  • Although smaller, independent stores have been offering ‘refills’ for decades, the fact that a major grocery retailer put its money where its mouth was on the environment is big news. And many other supermarkets quickly followed suit.
  • Customers can bring their own containers to the high-end food shop, or pick up compostable bags in-store. Products - including pasta, raisins, cereal as well as frozen fruit and wine - are sold by weight. Shoppers can also fill up on laundry detergent and toiletries.
  • Future plans include altering the layout of the store to better integrate the Unpacked aisles, in an attempt to encourage further customers to switch to the zero-packaging options. 

👍 The good

  • Most grocery stores recognise that embracing sustainability is a matter not of if, but of when. And the cannier retail groups have already seen that eco-friendliness is a win with consumers and a key competitive advantage in a crowded market. 
  • When it comes to food waste and packaging, changes can be made quickly, maximising impact. The plastic-bag ban in various European countries dramatically reduced their use, while France banned supermarkets from chucking out usable food, resulting in donations to charities and massively limited food waste by supermarkets. 
  • With the growth of options in the greener grocery sector, customers have more choices for organic fresh food and a wider range of price brackets. Wonky veg companies and surplus discounters allow for a broader church of consumers to buy fresh food that doesn’t harm the planet. 

👎 The bad

  • It is vital to remember that supermarkets are just one piece of the climate puzzle. More important, perhaps, than packaging and plastics is the kind of food we eat and how we source it. Grocery stores have much to offer in that regard, too, but some chains have been accused of greenwashing, only implementing the convenient and cost-effective steps needed for change.  
  • The major grocery retailers are still making changes at a very slow pace, in relation to the massive emissions and plastic pollution numbers associated with the industry. Change needs to be swifter to make a real impact. 
  • Issues around packaging and waste can be complex. We know plastics aren’t great for the planet, yet their usage does extend the shelf life of fresh food - which might otherwise go to waste. A joined-up approach is crucial. 
  • Retail is characterized by low margins, pressing daily challenges, and complex just-in-time global supply chains. Focusing on longer-term issues, like climate change, doesn’t always make sense for the industry and that’s a worry.

💡The bottom line

  • Grocery retail has a way to go to address the waste and emissions associated with the sector, but the tangible progress made in the sector already - particularly on plastics and packaging - is cause for celebration. 
  • And the benefits of going green are twofold: it not only helps retailers of fresh food put the environment first, it also benefits their bottom line. 

🛒 What is it?

  • Grocery stores are big business, more so than ever in the last year, with restaurants closed around the world, and online food shops and home delivery surging
  • Yet sprawling stores, complex global supply chains, and an almost unimaginable amount of plastic and food waste mean the industry is also bad news for the planet. 
  • But as 65% of consumers desire sustainable food choices, supermarkets and fresh food retailers are gradually making the changes needed to make the way we buy our meals easier on the Earth. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • When it comes to going green, grocery stores definitely face an uphill climb.
  • Food waste, plastic pollution and food miles are just some of the major environmental issues facing the sector. And consumers aren’t happy about it. 

📈 The figures

  • The worldwide food & grocery retail market had total revenues of $9753.9bn in 2020, and grew at a CAGR of 7% between 2016-2020. 
  • And it’s on track to generate an additional $440bn in sales between 2020 and 2022, yielding a 3.1% CAGR.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Consumers are on board with the move to greener grocery concepts. In fact, 71% of consumers say large supermarket chains should be legally mandated to produce annual reports on their perishable and packaging waste, and face monetary fines if they fail to do so.
  • Where packaging is concerned, the shift towards sustainability is driving a wholesale transformation in consumer goods packaging, with many consumers shocked to learn of packaging’s effects on the environment. Research shows that two-thirds of grocery shoppers want a complete ban on non-recyclable packaging, while 69% wanted to avoid single-use plastics.
  • And when it comes to food waste? Awareness is rising of this global issue. One-third of all food produced for humans goes to waste, releasing 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Supermarkets realise they have to act to keep up. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Surplus fresh food, including oddly-shaped or slightly damaged fruit and veggies, sold at a discount? Sounds good to us. No wonder many green grocery startups are based around this model: check out the UK’s Oddbox, Wefood in Denmark, Italy’s Babaco Market and Throw No More in Norway. Investors think it’s a good idea too: ‘ugly’ discount veg platform Misfits Market raised $200m in Series C funding this spring. 
  • Packaging is also a major issue: supermarkets have long preferred plastics for keeping food fresher for longer. And it’s cheap and available. But a growing wave of grocery stores are basing their business model - and ethics - around using little to no plastic or single-use packaging. Pieter Pot in the Netherlands is a zero-waste grocery store that operates a handy deposit and delivery system. French supermarket Carrefour, meanwhile, partnered with The Loop this year to offer customers low-packaging options.
  • Almost all major UK supermarkets have launched or are planning bulk-buy refill aisles, including Asda and Morrisons. Across the pond, Trader Joe’s has long offered bulk-bought discounts where shoppers can bring their own containers, while new entrants Precycle in New York and Hello Bulk Market in Utah operate on a zero-packaging philosophy. 
  • Retailers are also turning to tech to go green, whether that’s dynamic pricing powered by AI to reduce wastage of perishables, or smart fridges in Aldi. Shelf Engine in the USA helps grocery stores reduce waste (and saves them money in the process) while Seebo offers a data-powered food waste reduction service in Israel. Motivated by minimising waste (the grocery industry in the US is responsible for 10% of all food waste), the company is transforming how grocery retailers buy and stock highly perishable goods.
  • And as consumers seek out sustainable, ethical groceries - with fewer food miles and better eco credentials - there’s a growing number of alternatives to the major conglomerates. The UK’s Farmdrop - an organic veg and locally produced foods company, delivered in a box scheme - experienced a bumper 2020, having to enforce online queues and wait-lists to keep up with demand. Farmy in Switzerland and Cortilia in Italy offer a similar service. 

👀 Who? (29 companies in this space)

  • Afresh (AI-powered OS built for grocery retailers, USA)
  • Amfora (regenerative ag startup selling farm-to kitchen food, Switzerland)
  • Babaco Market (wonky fruit and veg, Italy)
  • Cortilia (online fresh food delivery from local farmers, Italy)
  • Crisp (supermarket delivery app, Netherlands)
  • Farmdrop (organic, local fresh food delivery, UK)
  • Farmy (fresh food delivery, Switzerland)
  • FoodDock (online directory of community-based farms, USA)
  • Fresh.Land (digital platform reducing 88% of emissions post-harvest, Denmark)
  • Hello Bulk Markets (zero-packaging grocery store, USA)
  • Karma  (discounted surplus food, Sweden)
  • Lyfa (home food delivery without packaging, Switzerland)
  • Matsmart (e-commerce battling global food waste, Sweden)
  • Milk & More (milk and fresh food delivery, UK) 
  • Misfits Market (sustainably sourced, discount grocery delivery, USA)
  • Oddbox (wonky veg delivery, UK) 
  • Olio (food waste prevention community app, UK)
  • Picnic Technologies (smart grocery tech, USA)
  • Pieter Pot (refillable pot grocery shopping system, Netherlands) 
  • Precycle (zero-waste grocery store, USA)
  • Seebo (AI-assisted and data-powered food waste reduction, Israel)
  • Shelf Engine (tech to prevent supermarket overstock, USA)
  • Sunrise Daily Goods (FMCG innovation, USA)
  • The Modern Milkman (milk delivery, UK)
  • Thrive Market (organic product e-commerce platform, USA)
  • Throw No More (discounted surplus supermarket food, Norway)
  • Waitrose Unpacked (no-packaging grocery store system, UK)
  • Wasteless (AI-powered dynamic pricing for perishable food products, Israel)
  • Wefood (surplus food sales, Denmark)

🇮🇱 Case study: Wasteless

  • AI-powered startup Wasteless, founded in Israel, aims to help supermarkets and online grocery stores recapture the full value of their perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.
  • Food waste can cost grocery retailers up to $900bn annually, according to the startup, and cutting waste is not just a cost saving, but also an environmental necessity.
  • Wasteless says that its intelligent software can reduce carbon emissions, saves 750 tonnes of waste from going to landfill and 3.5 billion litres of water. On average, their pricing engine offers a 50% reduction in food waste.
  • By taking the approach that they do, Wasteless is tackling the problem before food is wasted, helping to solve the surplus food problem faced by supermarkets. 
  • Their trademark AI technology automatically lowers the prices of perishables as they near their best-before date. 
  • And the onboarding process is a breeze for retailers: the software is easily integrated into existing supermarket systems and runs on an automated basis in the background.

📦 Case study: Waitrose Unpacked  

  • In 2019, Waitrose became the first major UK supermarket to offer its customers a range of products free from all packaging. 
  • What started as a trial in one store in Oxford (known as Waitrose Unpacked) soon expanded to 3 more locations, following the pilot scheme’s success, with further rollouts planned (and pushed back by the pandemic). 
  • Although smaller, independent stores have been offering ‘refills’ for decades, the fact that a major grocery retailer put its money where its mouth was on the environment is big news. And many other supermarkets quickly followed suit.
  • Customers can bring their own containers to the high-end food shop, or pick up compostable bags in-store. Products - including pasta, raisins, cereal as well as frozen fruit and wine - are sold by weight. Shoppers can also fill up on laundry detergent and toiletries.
  • Future plans include altering the layout of the store to better integrate the Unpacked aisles, in an attempt to encourage further customers to switch to the zero-packaging options. 

👍 The good

  • Most grocery stores recognise that embracing sustainability is a matter not of if, but of when. And the cannier retail groups have already seen that eco-friendliness is a win with consumers and a key competitive advantage in a crowded market. 
  • When it comes to food waste and packaging, changes can be made quickly, maximising impact. The plastic-bag ban in various European countries dramatically reduced their use, while France banned supermarkets from chucking out usable food, resulting in donations to charities and massively limited food waste by supermarkets. 
  • With the growth of options in the greener grocery sector, customers have more choices for organic fresh food and a wider range of price brackets. Wonky veg companies and surplus discounters allow for a broader church of consumers to buy fresh food that doesn’t harm the planet. 

👎 The bad

  • It is vital to remember that supermarkets are just one piece of the climate puzzle. More important, perhaps, than packaging and plastics is the kind of food we eat and how we source it. Grocery stores have much to offer in that regard, too, but some chains have been accused of greenwashing, only implementing the convenient and cost-effective steps needed for change.  
  • The major grocery retailers are still making changes at a very slow pace, in relation to the massive emissions and plastic pollution numbers associated with the industry. Change needs to be swifter to make a real impact. 
  • Issues around packaging and waste can be complex. We know plastics aren’t great for the planet, yet their usage does extend the shelf life of fresh food - which might otherwise go to waste. A joined-up approach is crucial. 
  • Retail is characterized by low margins, pressing daily challenges, and complex just-in-time global supply chains. Focusing on longer-term issues, like climate change, doesn’t always make sense for the industry and that’s a worry.

💡The bottom line

  • Grocery retail has a way to go to address the waste and emissions associated with the sector, but the tangible progress made in the sector already - particularly on plastics and packaging - is cause for celebration. 
  • And the benefits of going green are twofold: it not only helps retailers of fresh food put the environment first, it also benefits their bottom line. 

🛒 What is it?

  • Grocery stores are big business, more so than ever in the last year, with restaurants closed around the world, and online food shops and home delivery surging
  • Yet sprawling stores, complex global supply chains, and an almost unimaginable amount of plastic and food waste mean the industry is also bad news for the planet. 
  • But as 65% of consumers desire sustainable food choices, supermarkets and fresh food retailers are gradually making the changes needed to make the way we buy our meals easier on the Earth. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • When it comes to going green, grocery stores definitely face an uphill climb.
  • Food waste, plastic pollution and food miles are just some of the major environmental issues facing the sector. And consumers aren’t happy about it. 

📈 The figures

  • The worldwide food & grocery retail market had total revenues of $9753.9bn in 2020, and grew at a CAGR of 7% between 2016-2020. 
  • And it’s on track to generate an additional $440bn in sales between 2020 and 2022, yielding a 3.1% CAGR.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Consumers are on board with the move to greener grocery concepts. In fact, 71% of consumers say large supermarket chains should be legally mandated to produce annual reports on their perishable and packaging waste, and face monetary fines if they fail to do so.
  • Where packaging is concerned, the shift towards sustainability is driving a wholesale transformation in consumer goods packaging, with many consumers shocked to learn of packaging’s effects on the environment. Research shows that two-thirds of grocery shoppers want a complete ban on non-recyclable packaging, while 69% wanted to avoid single-use plastics.
  • And when it comes to food waste? Awareness is rising of this global issue. One-third of all food produced for humans goes to waste, releasing 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Supermarkets realise they have to act to keep up. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Surplus fresh food, including oddly-shaped or slightly damaged fruit and veggies, sold at a discount? Sounds good to us. No wonder many green grocery startups are based around this model: check out the UK’s Oddbox, Wefood in Denmark, Italy’s Babaco Market and Throw No More in Norway. Investors think it’s a good idea too: ‘ugly’ discount veg platform Misfits Market raised $200m in Series C funding this spring. 
  • Packaging is also a major issue: supermarkets have long preferred plastics for keeping food fresher for longer. And it’s cheap and available. But a growing wave of grocery stores are basing their business model - and ethics - around using little to no plastic or single-use packaging. Pieter Pot in the Netherlands is a zero-waste grocery store that operates a handy deposit and delivery system. French supermarket Carrefour, meanwhile, partnered with The Loop this year to offer customers low-packaging options.
  • Almost all major UK supermarkets have launched or are planning bulk-buy refill aisles, including Asda and Morrisons. Across the pond, Trader Joe’s has long offered bulk-bought discounts where shoppers can bring their own containers, while new entrants Precycle in New York and Hello Bulk Market in Utah operate on a zero-packaging philosophy. 
  • Retailers are also turning to tech to go green, whether that’s dynamic pricing powered by AI to reduce wastage of perishables, or smart fridges in Aldi. Shelf Engine in the USA helps grocery stores reduce waste (and saves them money in the process) while Seebo offers a data-powered food waste reduction service in Israel. Motivated by minimising waste (the grocery industry in the US is responsible for 10% of all food waste), the company is transforming how grocery retailers buy and stock highly perishable goods.
  • And as consumers seek out sustainable, ethical groceries - with fewer food miles and better eco credentials - there’s a growing number of alternatives to the major conglomerates. The UK’s Farmdrop - an organic veg and locally produced foods company, delivered in a box scheme - experienced a bumper 2020, having to enforce online queues and wait-lists to keep up with demand. Farmy in Switzerland and Cortilia in Italy offer a similar service. 

👀 Who? (29 companies in this space)

  • Afresh (AI-powered OS built for grocery retailers, USA)
  • Amfora (regenerative ag startup selling farm-to kitchen food, Switzerland)
  • Babaco Market (wonky fruit and veg, Italy)
  • Cortilia (online fresh food delivery from local farmers, Italy)
  • Crisp (supermarket delivery app, Netherlands)
  • Farmdrop (organic, local fresh food delivery, UK)
  • Farmy (fresh food delivery, Switzerland)
  • FoodDock (online directory of community-based farms, USA)
  • Fresh.Land (digital platform reducing 88% of emissions post-harvest, Denmark)
  • Hello Bulk Markets (zero-packaging grocery store, USA)
  • Karma  (discounted surplus food, Sweden)
  • Lyfa (home food delivery without packaging, Switzerland)
  • Matsmart (e-commerce battling global food waste, Sweden)
  • Milk & More (milk and fresh food delivery, UK) 
  • Misfits Market (sustainably sourced, discount grocery delivery, USA)
  • Oddbox (wonky veg delivery, UK) 
  • Olio (food waste prevention community app, UK)
  • Picnic Technologies (smart grocery tech, USA)
  • Pieter Pot (refillable pot grocery shopping system, Netherlands) 
  • Precycle (zero-waste grocery store, USA)
  • Seebo (AI-assisted and data-powered food waste reduction, Israel)
  • Shelf Engine (tech to prevent supermarket overstock, USA)
  • Sunrise Daily Goods (FMCG innovation, USA)
  • The Modern Milkman (milk delivery, UK)
  • Thrive Market (organic product e-commerce platform, USA)
  • Throw No More (discounted surplus supermarket food, Norway)
  • Waitrose Unpacked (no-packaging grocery store system, UK)
  • Wasteless (AI-powered dynamic pricing for perishable food products, Israel)
  • Wefood (surplus food sales, Denmark)

🇮🇱 Case study: Wasteless

  • AI-powered startup Wasteless, founded in Israel, aims to help supermarkets and online grocery stores recapture the full value of their perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.
  • Food waste can cost grocery retailers up to $900bn annually, according to the startup, and cutting waste is not just a cost saving, but also an environmental necessity.
  • Wasteless says that its intelligent software can reduce carbon emissions, saves 750 tonnes of waste from going to landfill and 3.5 billion litres of water. On average, their pricing engine offers a 50% reduction in food waste.
  • By taking the approach that they do, Wasteless is tackling the problem before food is wasted, helping to solve the surplus food problem faced by supermarkets. 
  • Their trademark AI technology automatically lowers the prices of perishables as they near their best-before date. 
  • And the onboarding process is a breeze for retailers: the software is easily integrated into existing supermarket systems and runs on an automated basis in the background.

📦 Case study: Waitrose Unpacked  

  • In 2019, Waitrose became the first major UK supermarket to offer its customers a range of products free from all packaging. 
  • What started as a trial in one store in Oxford (known as Waitrose Unpacked) soon expanded to 3 more locations, following the pilot scheme’s success, with further rollouts planned (and pushed back by the pandemic). 
  • Although smaller, independent stores have been offering ‘refills’ for decades, the fact that a major grocery retailer put its money where its mouth was on the environment is big news. And many other supermarkets quickly followed suit.
  • Customers can bring their own containers to the high-end food shop, or pick up compostable bags in-store. Products - including pasta, raisins, cereal as well as frozen fruit and wine - are sold by weight. Shoppers can also fill up on laundry detergent and toiletries.
  • Future plans include altering the layout of the store to better integrate the Unpacked aisles, in an attempt to encourage further customers to switch to the zero-packaging options. 

👍 The good

  • Most grocery stores recognise that embracing sustainability is a matter not of if, but of when. And the cannier retail groups have already seen that eco-friendliness is a win with consumers and a key competitive advantage in a crowded market. 
  • When it comes to food waste and packaging, changes can be made quickly, maximising impact. The plastic-bag ban in various European countries dramatically reduced their use, while France banned supermarkets from chucking out usable food, resulting in donations to charities and massively limited food waste by supermarkets. 
  • With the growth of options in the greener grocery sector, customers have more choices for organic fresh food and a wider range of price brackets. Wonky veg companies and surplus discounters allow for a broader church of consumers to buy fresh food that doesn’t harm the planet. 

👎 The bad

  • It is vital to remember that supermarkets are just one piece of the climate puzzle. More important, perhaps, than packaging and plastics is the kind of food we eat and how we source it. Grocery stores have much to offer in that regard, too, but some chains have been accused of greenwashing, only implementing the convenient and cost-effective steps needed for change.  
  • The major grocery retailers are still making changes at a very slow pace, in relation to the massive emissions and plastic pollution numbers associated with the industry. Change needs to be swifter to make a real impact. 
  • Issues around packaging and waste can be complex. We know plastics aren’t great for the planet, yet their usage does extend the shelf life of fresh food - which might otherwise go to waste. A joined-up approach is crucial. 
  • Retail is characterized by low margins, pressing daily challenges, and complex just-in-time global supply chains. Focusing on longer-term issues, like climate change, doesn’t always make sense for the industry and that’s a worry.

💡The bottom line

  • Grocery retail has a way to go to address the waste and emissions associated with the sector, but the tangible progress made in the sector already - particularly on plastics and packaging - is cause for celebration. 
  • And the benefits of going green are twofold: it not only helps retailers of fresh food put the environment first, it also benefits their bottom line. 
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