Protecting our people and planet: How retailers can navigate safety and sustainability during a global pandemic

By Sunny Mirpuri, Commercial Director, Off-Trade at Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I

With safety and protection front of mind for retailers, businesses and individuals alike, the global market for packaging has been projected to grow by 5.5% during the pandemic – driven by an increased demand for PPE, single-use masks and protective food packaging.

A recent survey also revealed that 36% of Brits feel pushed into using more single-use plastic amidst the pandemic but concerns over plastic pollution remain widespread with 70% saying their feelings have not changed despite Covid-19 [Kantar Worldpanel].

The demand for conscious consumerism therefore still appears strong, with the pandemic giving us a unique opportunity to reset and reshape the world in a more sustainable way.

So how can retailers ensure they’re operating sustainably, while protecting the safety of its customers?

Supporting the circular economy

With plastic packaging on the rise to ensure the risk of contamination is minimised, it’s critical for retailers to look at how this packaging is disposed of and ways that we can work together as an industry to encourage shoppers to reuse and recycle. In light of ongoing conversations around Deposit Return Schemes, retailers and suppliers need to take greater ownership of the supply chain and initiate our own solutions to drive a circular economy.

While many retailers do already host recycling stations on premise, these could be transformed into higher functioning digital tools that both incentivise shoppers to recycle and collect useful insights on when, how and what consumers are recycling. Retailers could consider providing shoppers with a set discount on their next purchase, based on the weight of the materials they’re bringing to the station – or even a ‘green loyalty card’ where shoppers are able to earn points when they recycle.

Unlocking space in-store

As well as encouraging consumers to reuse and recycle, retailers should also think creatively about how they can make use of different formats and space in-store to operate more sustainably.

One way to do this could be through the introduction of digital elements such as screens to showcase promotions and up-to-date safety advice, rather than focusing solely on traditional point of sale displays.

Using digital screens to disseminate highly visible and simple messages in-store could also help to create a more efficient and stress-free shopper journey. This is crucial for retailers at the moment, with 40% of consumers finding shopping more stressful during social distancing and 44% feeling pressured for time while in-store.

Thinking about other ways to introduce different formats into store, retailers could look at options such as ‘refillable zones’ made up of dispensers for ambient items such as nuts, grains and dried fruit.

This is something that several supermarkets have already started trialling. As a next step, we should now work together as an industry to help scale this further and introduce these sorts of fixtures more permanently in-store – and across a broader range of items such as beer or wine.

Thinking about beer specifically, retailers could even incorporate reusable mini-kegs into their ranges as well as the traditional formats to offer consumers greater choice. Given the critical importance of health and safety amidst Covid-19, retailers and suppliers should work together to ensure touch-free solutions where possible – for example, using QR codes to activate dispense systems. This could also tap into the

current rise of the ‘hometainment’ occasion as consumers seek to recreate out-of-home experiences such as pub nights[1]. In the long term, this could also be an effective and engaging way for retailers to encourage trial of certain ranges or product launches.

Working with the right suppliers

While focusing on in-store processes is hugely important, retailers also need to look at the broader value chain and ensure they’re working with suppliers that are driving sustainable solutions. For example, stocking brands that are actively looking at renewable energy alternatives or reducing the amount of plastic used for packaging. At Budweiser Brewing Group, we have committed to brewing all our beers with 100% renewable energy and will be removing plastic rings across our full canned beer portfolio.

This is something that shoppers themselves want to see, with 58% of consumers saying they’re more likely to buy a company’s products when the organisation pays attention to its societal and environmental impact[2]. When bringing new products into store, it’s therefore vital that retailers stress test the credentials against their own sustainability agenda and make sure the range is a good fit for both the short and long term.

So while safety should remain our number one priority at the moment, this does not have to come at the cost of our commitments to sustainability. By working together across the entire supply chain we can drive solutions that both protect the immediate health of our people and the long-term health of our planet.