When a New Zealand supermarket chain ditched plastic packaging, produce sales skyrocketed.
A New Zealand grocery store chain has jumped on the package-free bandwagon and discovered what a boost it gives to sales. When a number of New World stores ditched plastic wrapping and foam trays, sales of fresh vegetables and fruit jumped by an impressive 300 percent.
Nigel Bond, who owns a New World store in Christchurch, told the NZ Herald that removing packaging totally changed the shopping experience.
"When we first set up the new shelving our customers were blown away. It reminded me of when I was a kid going to the fruiterer with my Dad, you could smell the fresh citrus and spring onions. By wrapping products in plastic we sanitise and deprive people of this experience; it (dispensing with plastic) was a huge driver for us."
This is an interesting aspect of zero waste shopping that isn't recognized as often as it should be – how the absence of packaging enhances one's interaction with the food and makes a person more inclined to buy a bunch of radishes, some spicy herbs, or a gorgeous shiny eggplant, just because it feels or smells wonderful in one's hand. This has the potential to improve diets significantly.
It is a cook's right to be able to handle ingredients when deciding what to purchase. As Bon Appétit's food director Carla Lalli Music explains in her new cookbook, "Where Cooking Begins," you'd be crazy not to:
"At the grocery store, train yourself to examine, touch, and smell before you buy. It's hard to assess the fragrance and freshness of a bunch of herbs when it's encased in a plastic clamshell box, so choose whole ingredients over pre-packaged ones. Avoid pre-cut fruits and vegetables."
This is clearly what more customers want, as indicated by the spike in sales. Nigel Bond, who has worked in the supermarket industry for 30 years, said the change led to "the most positive feedback from customers I have ever received."
Growers and suppliers would do well to pay attention, as they're the ones who usually dictate packaging. Supermarkets are intermediaries that have to sell what's given to them, but they can pass on customer input and advice based on sales data. Bond said that, for the most part, growers, suppliers, and food manufacturers are showing an interest in reducing plastic.
The New World chain is also trialling allowing customers to bring their own containers to the meat and seafood counters. From the NZ Herald:
"Take-up has been slow," says Brendon Jones, owner-operator at New World in Howick, "but we're committed to conducting the trial. We have limited it so far to the butchery and seafood counters, where potential food safety risks are reduced because these products are likely to be cooked after being purchased."
All of these are great initiatives that will, hopefully, catch on around the world.