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Pantene and Stubb's will be sold in reusable containers at some Kroger stores

Danielle Wiener-Bronner byline
By Danielle Wiener-BronnerCNN Business

New York (CNN Business)If you walk into one of 25 Fred Meyer stores in the Portland area this week, you'll find something unusual.

Gathered together at the end of an aisle will be an eclectic assortment of about 20 products, including shampoo and dish soap, barbecue sauce, granola and more. The items are made by well-known consumer brands like Pantene, Seventh Generation, Stubb's and Nature's Path.
But instead of their usual packaging, these products come in glass, aluminum or heavy-duty plastic. And after you buy them, you have to bring those packages back.
The items are part of a new partnership between Kroger (KR), which owns Fred Meyer grocery stores, and Loop, a platform that partners with brands and retailers to sell mainstream products in reusable packages.
Loop is launching in 25 Kroger stores in the Portland metro area.
Loop is launching in 25 Kroger stores in the Portland metro area.
As consumers become increasingly concerned about plastic pollution and sustainability, companies are ramping up their environmental pledges. Moving from disposable to reusable packaging could help prevent more waste from piling up in landfills. But before they go all-in on such initiatives, retailers want to know if customers will buy into that solution, which requires them to fundamentally change their behaviors and spend more.
A test like this can help. "We're eager to understand [consumer] adoption," said Lisa Zwack, Kroger's head of sustainability. "Is it truly something that they're interested in? What makes it palatable to them?"
Here's how it works: Customers who buy the Loop products have to pay for the product, as well as a refundable deposit for the packaging which varies from product to product and can reach up to about $10. Once they've used up the soap or the shampoo or eaten the food, they return the empty container to a bin at a participating store, and get their deposit back.
Loop products will be available at those 25 Fred Meyer locations starting Wednesday. "We anticipate the initial pilot being around six months and then from there, we will determine what any next steps or expansion would look like," Zwack said.
Prices for Loop items are "generally a bit higher than a conventional item," she added, even before the deposit, because they're more niche and therefore costlier to produce, among other reasons.

A slow expansion

Loop launched in 2019 as a global partnership that includes some of the world's largest consumer goods companies. It was founded by Tom Szaky, CEO of the recycling company TerraCycle.
The platform started as an online store where customers could choose from an array of products in reusable containers, have them delivered to their homes, and send the empties back in a special tote. There, too, they had to pay a refundable deposit for each product. Loop worked with companies from Mondelēz (MDLZ) to Nestlé (NSRGY) to develop reusable packages for their products, and coordinated the logistics from shipments to cleaning.
The service, Szaky said, was always meant as something of a test — the real goal is to make reusable packaging as widely available and convenient as possible. Buying items in mainstream retail stores, rather than on a dedicated site, is a step forward.
Customers can return empty containers to dedicated bins at participating Fred Meyer locations.
Customers can return empty containers to dedicated bins at participating Fred Meyer locations.
Loop has closed its online store now that its products are beginning to make their way into retailers across the world, including Carrefour in France, Aeon in Japan, and Tesco in the United Kingdom. Kroger is Loop's first retail partner In the United States.
Reuse initiatives stalled during the pandemic, when companies suspended programs that let people bring their own containers and focused on individually packaged products. Loop felt the impact, as the pandemic snarled supply chains and delayed its launches with companies that sidelined innovation projects to focus on stabilizing their core offerings, Szaky said.
Loop is encouraged by how things are going now, even if its progress is moving slowly. Those international retailers are adding Loop products to more of their stores, although they're still not widely available. Retailers like Walgreens are planning to start selling Loop products this year, Szaky added.

TerraCycle Adds Loop To Its Circular Economy Repertoire

TerraCycle Adds Loop To Its Circular Economy Repertoire

Older readers may remember the days when the milkman would take away your empty milk bottles and replace them with full ones. CocaCola and hundreds of other products came in reusable containers. Commerce operated on what was known as the circular economy principle — the packaging that protected consumer products got returned to the source, cleaned, and used again and again. Then came plastics, those space age wonders that allowed anything and everything to be packaged in single use containers that were simply discarded. Corporations loved them because they were cheap and relieved them of the burden of collecting all those glass bottles and reusing them. What used to be considered a necessary part of doing business now became somebody else’s problem. As usual when an economic model allows companies to privatize the profits but socialize the costs, profits soared. Society, unfortunately, has not been so lucky. Today, millions of tons of plastics are resting for all eternity in landfills or floating in the world’s oceans. Pictures of plastic waste have been circulating on the internet for the past few years, showing mounds of plastics washed up on beaches on some of the world’s most remote islands. Microplastics have been found in the deepest parts of the ocean an atop the highest mountains. The public is finally recognizing that plastic waste is a huge problem that is getting worse by the day. TerraCycle is a global company that sees a business opportunity in promoting a circular economy. “We have found that nearly everything we touch can be recycled and collect typically non-recyclable items through national, first-of-their-kind recycling platforms,” it says on its website. “Leading companies work with us to take hard-to-recycle materials from our programs, such as ocean plastic, and turn them into new products, and our new Loop platform aims to change the way the world shops with favorite brands in refillable packaging offered with convenience and style.”

Introducing Loop

Loop tote

Credit: Loop

Recently, TerraCycle created a wholly owned subsidiary called Loop. “We envision the future of how we consume as a place where we receive higher quality, better designed products, that we can “throw in a bin” when they are finished with no cleaning, no sorting, and no hassle. But instead of that bin being a trash or recycling bin, it’s a Loop reuse bin, where everything is cleaned and goes around again and again. The future is not just about sustainability, it’s about a better life, where we can access breakthrough sustainability unconsciously.” At the latest World Economic Forum meeting, Loop announced it had formed circular economy partnerships with Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelēz, and Danone. Customers can order products from a variety of companies that are shipped to them in returnable and reusable containers packed inside a reusable blue Loop container. When the products are consumed, the containers are placed inside a similar Loop container, picked up by UPS or other package delivery service, and returned to the point of origin for re-use. Customers pay a modest service fee of the use of the Loop container. CleanTechnica reader Jessica Feinleib uses the Loop service and can’t say enough good things about it. “This is a great clean tech idea,” she says. Taming the torrent of single use plastic containers is vital to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to an article from EDF on Medium, the International Energy Agency claims in a recent study that the manufacture of plastics will be one of the biggest drivers of an increase in the use of petroleum between now and 2050. In other words, we can all start driving electric cars but oil production — and the carbon emissions from oil — will continue to rise unless we do something about our insatiable appetite for single use plastics. In the final analysis, destroying the world for the sake of convenience is a monumentally dumb idea.  

Can brands avoid backlash as sustainability scrutiny piles up?

Big businesses are some of the world's largest producers of waste, and they're under mounting pressure to craft strategies to address the issue. Experts advise that actions speak louder than words.
Brands face a tough question as consumer calls for sustainability pile up: How do large producers of waste craft an environmentally conscious strategy that's authentic and won't create backlash? Experts advise that actions speak louder than words, which might be a hard pill to swallow for engagement-minded marketers. Campaigns against product materials like single-use plastics have swelled in recent years alongside problems like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of detritus floating between California and Hawaii that recent estimates peg at being twice the size of Texas. Many marketers today are centering their strategies on social causes that resonate with young consumers, and have gravitated toward sustainability. Others are under mounting public pressure to change, including McDonald's, which earlier this summer announced it would reduce the amount of plastic used in Happy Meal toys in response to a viral Change.org petition. "It's really feeding into everybody's [communications]," Oliver Yonchev, U.S. managing director at the agency Social Chain, told Marketing Dive. "I would say 10-15% of what we do has some environmental messaging attached to it." But the reality is that sustainable messaging comes with the risk of sparking accusations of "green-washing," the idea of broadcasting positive environmental values and goals without living them out. It's an insult that's been lobbed for decades, but one that's found fresh relevance as a sister term, "woke-washing," gains traction in the purposeful branding era. The key to navigating the sustainability minefield, according to experts, is a larger degree of self-awareness among brands, specifically knowing when to let sustainable decisions speak for themselves versus amplifying claims in marketing that may not always measure up. Sustainability also must ladder down into all areas of an organization, including on the operational and business-to-business end, which can be overlooked. "To really survive the change curve here, brands need to break their internal silos to redesign product alongside the other zero waste 5Rs — it's not a marketing [issue alone]," Kathryn Callow, a futurist and former Unilever global media manager, said in emailed comments to Marketing Dive, referencing the principles of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. "The list of brands in sustainability is endless[,] the list of brands making genuine impact is short," Callow said.

No time to waste

Even organizations renowned for their purpose-driven marketing have been accused of worsening the sustainability crisis. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Mondelēz, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were cited among the top-10 corporate contributors to global plastic pollution in a study conducted by Greenpeace and the Break Free From Plastic Movement last year. "The list of brands in sustainability is endless[,] the list of brands making genuine impact is short."   Kathryn Callow Futurist But any business operating at a significant scale is susceptible to these problems. "The bigger you are, the more likely that you've not got the cleanest of records," Yonchev said. "That's just a universal truth." Greater attention is being paid to sustainability as vocal generations like Gen Z and millennials hold brands to higher standards. Nielsen recently found that 81% of surveyed global consumers across gender and generational lines felt strongly that businesses should help better the environment. "If a company's business model is inherently environmentally destructive, and its only effort to be sustainable stops at occasional philanthropy or window dressing, then today's consumers will see right through it," Christine Arena, founder and CEO of Generous, a marketing and production company focused on cause-led campaigns, said in emailed comments. Ways to keep brands accountable are also proliferating in the social media age. "Technology plays a big piece," Anthony Rossi, VP global business development at Loop, a startup arm of the private recycling firm TerraCylce, told Marketing Dive. "People are watching, and there are ways to track the companies to make sure they're on track with what they've promised." Lawmakers, too, are taking notice: City-level bans on single-use plastic itemslike straws and bags have picked up momentum in states like Florida, California and Washington. "Businesses inherently want to serve their customers and be relevant," Yonchev said. "But equally, I think they're cognizant that legislation is changing state-by-state." The threat of accelerating climate change, while more closely linked to carbon dioxide emissions, is also affecting the conversation around product sustainability. As with materials like single-use plastics, corporations are some of the biggest polluters of the atmosphere, and yet few are going to the lengths needed to curb their impact, according to Arena. "I'd like to see more CEOs speak out about climate change and more broadly advocate for climate solutions," Arena said. "It is both morally and economically risky for corporations to shirk this responsibility, and continue with business as usual."

Tangible change

Reactions to these trends are becoming more tangible: PepsiCo and Coca-Cola last month both cut ties to the Plastics Industry Association, a lobbying group representing manufacturers. They joined other massive companies like Clorox and Ecolab, CNBC reported. Aquafina, a PepsiCo water brand, plans to start packaging some products in aluminum in 2020. The coffee giant Starbucks has started to phase out disposable plastic straws, with plans to be rid of them in all stores next year. A desire for more direct solutions has resulted in broader business initiatives that appear to be catching consumers' attention as well. After three years in development and extensive testing, Loop formally launched earlier this yearwith initial partners including P&G and Nestlé, which are founding investors, along with Mondelēz, PepsiCo, Unilever, Danone and others. "It's not some 2030 transition. That was a really important carrot to dangle in front of the brands."   Anthony Rossi VP of global business development, Loop The service offers sustainable packaging for an array of products from its partners, from diapers to razor blades, that are delivered, picked up and cleaned for reuse by Loop. The most important hook for the service was the baked-in infrastructure and immediacy of availability, according to Rossi. "It's not some 2030 transition," Rossi said. "That was a really important carrot to dangle in front of the brands, that this exists today. I'm not asking you to wait six years to try something."

'Disney-fying' sustainability

Loop, which is now available in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland, has more than 100 products available, with more added every week, per Rossi. Some partners, such as P&G, have worked with TerraCycle for years — relationships that helped to lay the groundwork for Loop's rollout. "Operationally speaking, this is the biggest bite of the cake we've taken," Rossi said of Loop. "In its essence, what we're asking all of our partners to do is change the way that they operate, from the packaging they use to how they fill it, how it's being sold." Early signs seem promising, even if the availability is small. "The larger players getting involved with [startups] like [Loop] are welcome[,] but it's limited scale," Callow said. Loop's employee headcount could match its parent organization, which has 21 offices around the globe, according to Rossi. Five thousand people are currently registered for the service, but 90,000 people are on a waiting list to join, he added. "If the consumer isn't going to pay for this and want this, then none of it works," Rossi said. "The demand is there." Marketing the service is still complex. Loop has a dedicated unit that works with dozens of partners to integrate the platform's messaging into their brand equity, communications and advertisements. But the heavy lifting still falls on those partners' shoulders, since Loop doesn't have the necessary degree of consumer-facing awareness. "TerraCycle as a brand, it's not Disney," Rossi said. He compared the company to a firm like Intel, which supplies other companies with the technology to power the hardware consumers actually purchase. "People know Häagen-Dazs a lot more than they know Loop," Rossi said. "We want the brands to tell the story because they have the reach."

Embedding authenticity

Beyond consumer-facing marketing and packaging, expectations to be more sustainable are manifesting in less publicly visible arenas. The Freeman Company, an agency that helps clients design and run corporate events, has seen consumer-facing brands push harder for sustainable offerings after feeling pressure to go green. "There are so many sustainable decisions, as long as you make them at the beginning, and you're designing it in, it's embedded in your thinking," Melinda Kendall, Freeman's SVP of sustainability, told Marketing Dive. "Most sustainable decisions are cheaper; they involve doing less of something." Newer digital tools open interesting avenues on the sustainability front. Tactics like digital signage, immersive technology and mobile apps not only reduce the use of materials like paper and plastic, but also naturally fit into a demand for convenience that was growing regardless of sustainability trends, according to Kendall. "Most sustainable decisions are cheaper; they involve doing less of something."   Melinda Kendall SVP of sustainability, Freeman Company "A lot of the growth lately has been in virtual reality and augmented reality," Kendall said of events-planning. "The more we can use technology to make that experience realistic, it's a very sustainable path." But like Callow, Kendall reinforced that a truly sustainable approach must be integrated across an organization internally, both for B2B and consumer-first brands. It's a cause that extends far beyond marketing and is more nuanced than many common definitions of the word suggest. "Often times, when people think about sustainability or purpose and all of that, they think in terms of it equaling recycling. All I have to do is put things in recycling bins," Kendall said. "That's good — that's better than landfill — and it's the least sustainable thing you can do out of a set of like six."  

The green column: TerraCyle’s Loop to shift single-use packaging paradigm

Loop models: e-commerce and in-store TerraCyle has launched a circular, durable packaging model for CPGs and their consumers interested in reducing single-use packaging waste streams.  Packaging and product manufacturers are well aware of the environmental impact of their companies, the negative press about single-use plastics in our oceans, consumer demand for more sustainable solutions, recycling rates with room for improvement and jam-packed landfills. TerraCycle, the globally known leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste, such as laminated snack pouches, toothbrushes and polyurethane earplugs, is blazing yet another trail, this time wholly changing the way we think about products and consumption to support our value stream in reducing its reliance on single-use packaging. This year TerraCycle has launched Loop, a circular packaging reuse solution that changes the existing model for fast moving consumer goods. Loop has created an infrastructure where the primary product containers are durable, designed for multiple uses. The containers are collected, cleaned, refilled and reused via e-commerce and retail, making reuse convenient and affordable to customers through virtual and physical shopping channels. Today a package is considered a COGS (cost of goods sold), and its cost is fully allocated per fill. The cheaper the package the lower the cost per fill. In the Loop model, the package is property of the CPG company rather than the consumer. In this way, the manufacturer’s allocation per fill is the cost divided by the number of uses it can bear. The more durable the package, the lower the cost per fill. By changing the concept around ownership, the demand for durability increases. Rick Zultner, vice president of research and development at Loop, says: ‘When the packaging is an asset to the brand, and made as durable as possible, the manufacturer can depreciate the cost over time. In the current model, single-use packaging is effectively hurting the bottom line, and there is more incentive to reduce the cost per unit as much as possible.’ The incentive to reduce the cost per unit is part of what makes hard-to-recycle laminated pouches so appealing, coupled with convenience and ease-of-use. Therefore, the underlying benefit to the Loop model is the economic structure with the ultimate incentive of eliminating single-use waste entirely. We have a long way to go before we start seeing a major shift, but there’s no doubt that global consumers are eager for a viable, sustainable consumption option such as Loop. Zultner continues: ‘There is a healthy amount of market development being done, and we know that this model makes sense to better align the total life-cycle cost of a product with the finance objectives of the company manufacturing the products.’ The circular Loop  Loop offers its reuse packaging system using two models. For e-commerce convenience, brands can integrate their product onto the Loop website. Loop executes all receiving, outbound distribution, inbound distribution and cleaning. The second option is to purchase products at Loop retail partners’ brick and mortar locations. Once the consumer is finished with the product, they can return it to the retail store. The consumer will receive their deposit back, and the empties will be transported through the grocery store distribution network back to Loop for cleaning and refilling. For initial launch, only the e-commerce option is available. In the US, UPS is Loop’s logistics partner, handling delivery and reverse logistics. Together the partners custom-designed the foldable Loop tote to handle liquids, dry goods and personal care products with protective dividers inside, using materials that offer easy cleaning. The UPS Package Design and Test Lab identified ways to mitigate material breakdown, product leaks and exterior packaging materials that display dilapidation quickly. The tote eliminates the need for the ubiquitous corrugated boxes we have become so familiar with as e-commerce users. The tote comes with a shipping label to place on the top of the tote when the containers are empty and ready to be returned. Users trigger return pick up and shipment through their account on the website. Throwback ‘milkman’ designs  Loop assists product manufacturers with the selection of their primary container materials including aluminum, stainless steel, glass and engineered plastic. Zultner explains: ‘We want to make sure the containers can be cleaned and effectively reused.’ Material selection is based on the product type and where in the household the product is used. For example, Love Beauty and Planet’s shampoo bottles are aluminum because of the hazard associated with breaking. However, REN Clean Skincare’s bottles are glass. Designs from the 1950s have made a comeback with this paradigm shift, harking back to a time where there was no concept around single-use and disposal. For example, Mondelez’s Milka brand is going back to a design more like a cookie tin from the post-war era. Manufacturers are starting small and incubating their most prominent brands using the Loop circular opportunity. Most of the Loop participants have R&D lines to do the filling in-house, or the ability to contract with a specialty filler. The objective is to design a primary container that can withstand 100 uses at a minimum. Explains Zultner: ‘In a life-cycle analysis, depending on the type of package – if it can achieve five uses, it’s considered better than single-use packaging, and any uses beyond that deliver both environmental and cost savings.’ Branding durable containers  Much of the growth in the label industry through the 1970s and 1980s can be attributed to the increasing demand for foods, beverages and beauty products in convenient, single-use packaging. According to Forbes, humans buy a million plastic bottles every minute; and it’s estimated that over half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold in 2020. Loop has officially launched in the greater Paris area, and New York state, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – all locations within a one-day shipping zone. Should these regional consumers shift their buying power even a small percentage to Loop’s reusable containers, the label industry will feel the contraction. The Loop teams are actively researching the best decoration technologies to suit the purpose of reuse on these durable containers. Zultner says: ‘We’ll need labels that remain appealing through multiple washing stages, but can be peeled off and removed without damaging the packaging and without leaving residue behind.’ Loop is looking to build a materials guide for its CPG partners, informing users on adhesive and material selection to meet their branding objectives. For instance, the adhesive and overall durability of a label on the front of the container might require more permanence than the back label, to accommodate more frequent ingredient changes during a reuse phase. Alternatively, the front of the container could incorporate direct print while only the ingredient label is pressure-sensitive and can be effectively removed frequently for updates. ‘It’s still important for brands to differentiate their products through the Loop platform,’ Zultner says. ‘And we’ll be using our resources to help uncover the best ways of branding and labeling the primary containers used in the Loop infrastructure.’ Brand participation  The Clorox Company’s Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, Unilever’s Hellman’s mayonnaise and Nestlé’s Haagen-Dazs ice cream are among the participating food brands. Terracycle has targeted the largest food conglomerates to get involved. Says Zultner: ‘It adds momentum to the initiative and can help change the entire market direction.’ With the right brand participation, Loop can more rapidly gain authority and relevance in the marketplace.   Moreover, Unilever’s power brands Dove, Axe, Love Beauty and Planet, REN Clean Skincare, and Seventh Generation are available through Loop. Procter & Gamble’s influential brands Pantene, Tide, Cascade and Crest can be purchased with reusable packaging via Loop. The opportunity TerraCycle’s Loop offers is exciting and telling in many ways about the pivotal way packaging sustainability will evolve over the next 10-15 years, or sooner. So many consumers are already heavily entrenched in today’s e-commerce infrastructure. It’s only a matter of time before leading brands participating in Loop gain user traction, achieve growth and find renewed cost models that make their businesses more profitable. In turn CPG shareholders will be more confident, and CPG customers happier about the economic and environmental decisions they’re able to make when purchasing their favorite products. Wise label converters will pay attention to the moves their customers are making in the packaging reuse space, so they can continue servicing their needs in a 21st century milkman’s world.  

Why reusable food packaging has a promising future

In searching for an innovative method to provide consumers with sustainable yet convenient packaging options, companies including Tyme Fast Food and TerraCycle's Loop program, as well as retailers including PCC Community Markets have reimagined packaging as something reusable rather than disposable.

Why Reusable Food Packaging Has a Promising Future

In searching for an innovative method to provide consumers with sustainable yet convenient packaging options, companies including Tyme Fast Food and TerraCycle's Loop program, as well as retailers including PCC Community Markets have reimagined packaging as something reusable rather than disposable.

Loblaw joins sustainable packaging program Loop

First announced earlier this year, Loop is a program from global recycling company TerraCycle, which has partnered with retailers and brands to create sustainable, reusable packaging for products in an effort to reduce waste. After placing an online order for grocery, household and personal care products, the products are delivered in a special, reusable tote. The packaging– which is designed to be specific to each brand and product – is placed back in the tote once it is used and returned to Loop for reuse. Products can be ordered for one-time use, or set to auto-refill once they are returned.

Closing The Loop On Packaging Waste

Loop,ꟷan initiative that links major consumer product brands, retailers and Terracycle,ꟷis generating a lot of excitement since its announcement in January at the Davos World Economic Forum. Loop, which will actually launch in May, is a shopping concept that will deliver common household food products in packaging that is made to be used multiple times. The system will be tested in Paris and New York as a first step, with London, Toronto and Tokyo expected to be added later in 2019.

全球25个最大品牌加入Loop, 承诺以可再装容器销售产品