Telling the truth about SME life today

Category: Changing public perceptions

Mission: Persuade retailers to use less packaging

Packaging has irritated environmentalists for years. It creates litter, wastes fossil fuels and most of it ends up rotting in landfills. Yet supermarkets still sell everything from bananas to sandwiches entombed in multiple layers of packaging. How to get them to change

Enter Catherine Conway. Her Islington grocery store, Unpackaged, sells organic food such as rice, chickpeas and kidney beans, with one catch: customers must bring their own packaging.

“Actually we do supply reusable boxes,” admits Conway. “But ideally we’d like customers to bring their own containers. Three-quarters do. We are providing a working example of how society could live without packaging. The mission of Unpackaged is to change consumer behaviour and to show big retailers how they could cut down on packaging.”

The store is certainly having an impact. After receiving lots of publicity in the grocery press since it opened in 2007, the store has received visits from all the major supermarkets. Kenco Coffee is running a campaign focusing on reduced packaging.

Suddenly packaging is a major industry issue. Conway insists she’s not solely responsible (“I’m not that arrogant”), though she’s undoubtedly played a massive role. She says Unpackaged is achieving what a charity could not.

“If I thought I could get the message across by starting an NGO then that’s what I would have done. But by being a viable business I am making a commercial case, and that is so much more powerful. Supermarkets will change their behaviour when they realise they can make more money this way. I am showing them how it can be done and proving that there is a sound business case for less packaging. They are taking notice and are moving in the right direction.”

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