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Member focus: Unicorn Grocery's new sustainable packaging initiatives

23rd October 2018

Cherry Whittaker

A loyal packaging scheme member since 2011, Unicorn Grocery is taking brilliant action in effort to reduce their packaging waste and reuse it as much as possible by implementing multiple new packaging initiatives in-store

Unicorn Grocery is a charming food retailer based in South Manchester supplying fresh and organic food; the majority of which is fair-trade and locally produced. 

The retailer are conscious of their environmental impact and since opening in 1996 have always strived to be sustainable, however, Unicorn like many other food retailers realise that it is now more important than ever to make their food packaging more sustainable. Therefore, at the start of 2018 Unicorn carried out consumer research to determine what packaging changes and recycling initiatives their own customers would like to see in-store. This shows that Unicorn realise the consumer is key. The 'Blue Planet effect' has considerably affected the general public who are now seemingly far more conscious of their own environmental impact; they want to ensure they are making purchases from brands who share the same values and who are taking steps to minimise the harmful impact of their packaging waste.

Following Unicorn's research, they have subsequently developed various initiatives particularly focused upon reducing the company's single-use plastic packaging usage as well as their customers'. Some are already in place whilst others are just simmering behind the scenes; these are as follows:

  • Packaging charge scheme (already in place): This initiative replaces Unicorn's current deli counter discount scheme with the aim of increasing their deli pot reuse rate. The revised scheme now means that Unicorn customers pay an additional charge for the tub which appears on their receipt and if they then reuse their tub at the deli counter at a future point, customers don't need to pay for the tub. A high 79% of consumers who completed a survey as part of Unicorn's research wanted to see this scheme in-store, therefore, the likelihood of this achieving its aim is positive.
  • Soup cup deposit scheme (to be implemented soon): This will work in a similar way to Starbucks' reward scheme for customers using their own coffee cups.  Unicorn plan to involve a new option to give a deposit for a reusable cup when purchasing soup which customers will be refunded for when they return the cup. The alternative option will be to pay an extra 20p for a disposable cup, however, if a customer buys soup using their own reusable containers or Unicorn's deposit scheme cups then this additional 20p charge will be removed. Making these the only options for purchasing soup is a great move towards increasing consumers' usage of reusable cups.
  • Bottle refill point (in place now in Unicorn's garden!): This is purely for the benefit of Unicorn's local community. The water refill station is free and Unicorn hope that it will encourage local people to fill-up reusable water bottles instead of re-buying single-use plastic water bottles.
  •  Zero packaging station (to be trialled in 2019): Unicorn need to determine if achieving zero packaging would be feasible for their size of store and large number of product types sold, therefore, they plan to trial a zero packaging station on one range of products in 2019 - including lentils, quinoa, peas etc. This will enable customer's to bring in their own containers or use a paper bag and purchase only the specific amount of the aforementioned food types required. 
  • Plastic carrier bag alternatives: Unicorn already have many alternative options to the classic plastic bag for customers to pack their shopping in at the tills, including free cardboard boxes and used carrier bags, in addition to Unicorn's own range of reusable jute and cloth bags. However, next year they plan to implement a new reusable cloth bag which like the soup cups, customers pay a deposit for then don't have to buy any more unnecessary bags if they forget their own. Even better, these bags will be made from plastic water bottles - reuse at its best! 

This won't be an exhaustive list; Unicorn Grocery will continue researching and developing additional initiatives working collectively with their suppliers, customers and local community to continually support boosting recycling levels and improve sustainability in the food retail sector. 

This work Unicorn Grocery is undertaking is truly inspiring, especially for the smaller independent food retailers. We hear lots about what market leading food/supermarket chains are doing to reduce their environmental impact, but Unicorn are proving it is possible to make a big difference even as a much smaller player in the industry. 

Discover more about Unicorn Grocery on their website here: https://www.unicorn-grocery.coop/