Aldi Tests Refill–Solutions in UK-Retail

Image Source: Aldi UK

In an industry where the reduction of single-use plastics is progressively becoming a focal point, Aldi, in collaboration with the UK Refill Coalition, is piloting an in-store and online refill system for dry goods. This initiative, set to be implemented in Aldi’s Solihull store and through Ocado Retail’s online operations, aligns with the industry trend towards material-saving strategies. It represents a concerted effort to integrate practical refill solutions, reflecting the retail sector’s ongoing endeavors to adapt to changing consumer behaviors and expectations regarding packaging. 


The Refill Coalition, comprising GoUnpackaged, Aldi UK, Ocado Retail, and CHEP, has developed a solution that utilizes reusable bulk vessels for refilling food staples and household products. This system aims to diminish the reliance on single-use packaging by offering an alternative that is both cost-effective and efficient. Aldi’s involvement in this coalition signals a proactive stance in exploring packaging strategies that resonate with the contemporary push towards reducing material waste. 


The Refill solution 

  • The proposed solution involves the introduction of reusable bulk vessels, specifically engineered to facilitate large-scale refills of essential food items such as cereals and pasta, alongside a range of cleaning, personal care, and other household products.  
  • The system is projected to lower the cost of these products by reducing the need for single-use packaging and improving overall efficiency. 
  • In practice, existing bulk dispensers at refill stations within stores will be substituted with new reusable vessels, which are designed to be refillable and transportable along with the products.  
  • Customers are being motivated to participate by bringing their own containers to these stations, where they can use a weighing system for refills.  
  • Each of the reusable vessels has the potential to supplant as many as twenty-four traditional single-use plastic packages. 

In parallel, for online shoppers, a smaller, consumer-sized vessel version is being introduced, which will be pre-filled by suppliers and delivered as part of Ocado’s online offer.  

Significantly, each of these online vessels is capable of replacing up to five single-use plastic packages and can be conveniently returned to the Ocado delivery personnel, facilitating a circular model of consumption and delivery. 


Adaptability and consumer engagement 

The solution can theoretically be adapted by any supplier or retailer, offering a versatile approach to reduce costs and minimize food waste. 

  • It is hoped that the adaptability of the solution facilitates an increase in the number of stores capable of offering refill services and the initiative can make refillable packaging more accessible to a wider consumer base. 
  • Surveys indicate that between 67% and 85% of UK adults are open to trying refillable options in mainstream supermarkets. 
  • Approximately 73% of consumers express a willingness to use refillable packaging during online shopping. 

A key aspect of Aldi’s refill initiative is its alignment with consumer willingness to participate in waste reduction. The introduction of reusable vessels, both in-store and for online orders, is designed to ease the transition for consumers, encouraging them to embrace refillable options. The Coalition’s approach acknowledges the importance of incentivizing consumers through convenience and potential cost benefits. 


Industry Collaboration and Broader Implications 

Supported by the UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge fund, this collaboration brought together different players in the industry, including Berry Global, DIGI, Eden, and Trade Fixtures, to develop new equipment and streamline the refill process. If successful, the trial could set a precedent for the wider rollout of refill stations across stores and online platforms. The Coalition’s projection that UK households refilling one item per week could eliminate over 1.4 billion single-use packaging items annually underlines the potential impact of the initiative. 


Refill systems gain momentum 

The refillable solutions piloted by Aldi and the UK Refill Coalition is a pragmatic response to the ongoing dialogue around packaging waste reduction. While the idea of refill stations in grocery stores is not new, initiatives of that scale including the online shipping channel exemplify a growing industry recognition of the potential of such strategies to meet consumer expectations and sustainability goals. The potential success of the pilot could influence the future trajectory of packaging distribution towards reuse and refill in retail. In any case it is highlighting the significance of practical, consumer-centric approaches in reducing packaging waste.  

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