Kroger’s Fred Meyer Closes the Loop

Program built around durable, reusable packaging coming to Portland-area stores in September
Photograph courtesy of Loop

A more sustainable way to buy and replenish goods is on its way to Kroger’s Fred Meyer chain.

Loop, an innovative program built around durable, reusable packaging for brands that could usher in a new paradigm for how consumers buy and replenish consumables, will hit select Fred Meyer stores in the Portland area in September.

The displays, which will feature branded goods, including food, beverages and personal care items, in attractive durable packages meant to be collected, cleaned, refilled and resold after use in the style of propane tanks or beer kegs, will represent the first in-store launch of Loop in U.S. grocery and draws on Kroger’s leadership in waste reduction while leveraging its longstanding partnerships with brands, officials said.

Kroger was announced as an exclusive U.S. partner for Loop in 2019, participating in pilot online programs. Loop is a division of the waste company Terracycle, which separately is behind the retailer’s move to make its private brand packaging 100% recyclable over the coming years.

In an interview with WGB, Terrcycle and Loop founder Tom Szaky says that Loop concept has advantages over other approaches to package reduction, such as allowing consumers to assemble their own products from concentrate at home, or shopping while using their own containers in the style of bulk bins, primarily because it’s the most convenient to the shopper, while lifting the profile of the brands and retailers that participate.

“Kroger was one of the first retailers to join overall,” Szacky says, “and that sent a really great message. We’ve been able to really grow because of their commitment. They brought a lot of brands along because of their power to influence companies, so they’ve been a cornerstone in helping to create this as a multi-stakeholder movement in retail.”

Virtually any product can be listed on the Loop platform as long as it adheres to the organization’s packaging guidelines. Consumers get the benefit of the same product—at about the same price—they’d pay for traditionally packaged goods, plus a small deposit on the package itself to encourage its circularity. Consumers don’t need to wash the used containers, and they can be collected in multiple ways, including by scheduled pickup at home or at drop-off points as part of Loop displays in participating stores, including Walgreens, Kroger and soon, Burger King in the U.S.

Loop is already a success in places like France where it partners with the hypermarket chain Carrefour and would seem to benefit from a consumer base more willing to reward retailers that lead with sustainability than their stateside counterparts. This question interests Szaky, but he’s philosophical about his response, noting consumer motivations and attitudes vary widely and for reasons that may not be overtly apparent.

Citing survey results of consumers in France, the U.K. and the U.S., the French said they were the most concerned about environmental issues of the three, followed by consumers in the U.K. and U.S., respectively.

But when asking the same consumers about what they were willing to do about their environmental concerns, “It was the exact opposite,” Szaky says. U.S. shoppers said they were most willing of the three groups to act on their concerns—such as paying a premium or a trying a new platform, or adding a new step to their shopping process. This, he feels, reflects the impact of legislative risk in Europe relative to the U.S., while sending encouraging signals about the forthcoming stateside launch.

“The other interesting thing we’ve found is that what motivates people is not what I thought. I thought it was reuse, right? Some are motivated by that, but many are motivated because the packaging is more beautiful, more higher quality materials, and another bunch are motivated because they believe products are better for them when they are not in plastic packages,” he says.

“Those are bigger motivators than the sustainability bit. It’s interesting how those are selfish points of feedback, vs. benevolent points of feedback. But it’s like the organic food movement. People buy organic food because of personal health, not because of the butterflies and the bees, which is why they should be buying them.”

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