How green is your store?

plastic waste

With the recent COP26 in Glasgow attracting the world’s attention, there is no better time to think about the environmental impact of your store and assess whether your customers feel you are doing enough on sustainability.

The average convenience store is not normally considered to be a centre of excellence for sustainability and environmental good practice. But with Scottish consumers potentially more aware than ever before about global warming due to the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow it is surely just a matter of time before shoppers start to wonder if their local store shares the same values when it comes to the environment and climate change.

In a special report, SLR looks at ways that convenience are impacting the environment and the steps they can take to reduce the more negative effects whilst still maintaining high levels of sales and customer service. In many cases, you might already be helping far more than you think.

Energy saving

Globally, electricity generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming, but if that doesn’t motivate you to minimise your energy usage then one look at your utilities bills should do the trick.

Energy costs are rising and are set to rise still further in the months to come, so keeping a close eye on your electricity usage will save not just the planet but your profits, too. However, the key challenge is to strike the right balance for your customers – changing shopper preferences towards fresh food and food-to-go have meant increasing investment by the industry in refrigeration and other energy-hungry equipment.

Improvements in technology have brought about a reduced environmental impact due to refrigeration in retail outlets, however. Modern cabinets are substantially more energy-efficient than older models, and many retailers have already noticed the savings that result from having doors on chillers. For those who dislike doors on cabinets, air curtains or aerofoils are also available to prevent the cold air from escaping from the chiller space and into the store, while some larger stores have invested in heat exchange technology to repurpose the excess heat generated by refrigerators.

A variety of simple sensors are also available to tell you where energy is being used in the business, and whether a saving can be made by switching off lights or other devices in areas where they are not currently needed. LED lighting is another simple but effective form of technology to improve the in–store environment for shoppers without increasing your electricity bills.

Many organisations have already pledged to use energy from renewable sources only. Switching to these sources is unlikely to result in any cost reduction, but it would give you a good message to convey to your customers if they are concerned about the carbon footprint of your store.

Reducing food miles

The transport sector is the number one emitter of greenhouse gases in the UK, bigger even than the domestic power station network, so reducing food miles is a key part of the sustainability agenda for the future. Stocking locally-sourced items and focusing on produce when it is in season is a much more planet-friendly alternative to goods that have been airfreighted from overseas or travelled many miles through internal distribution systems. Convenience stores are already leaders in the field of selling local produce, with many retailers benefiting from the strong sales and points of difference generated by lines with a strong connection to the local area.

Sustainability concerns affect food choices

Nearly one-fifth (16%) of consumers now list the environment as their main motivator for healthy and sustainable eating, according to new research from IGD.

The latest data shows UK consumers are increasingly looking to adopt more healthy and sustainable diets, with 58% open to changing their eating habits. The research, drawn from 1,368 UK consumers during July 2021, also found there has been a rise in people eating meat only twice a week or less – 39% compared to 34% in 2020 – showing that consumers are becoming more aware of the sustainable issues surrounding food production and diets.

Mark Little, Director of Health and Sustainability at IGD, says: “Not only are consumers increasingly willing to change their eating habits for health reasons, but they are also starting to better understand the connection between their diets, the environment and how changing what they eat could impact their own health, as well as the planet’s health.”

IGD has identified a series of practical actions that businesses can take to help drive behaviour change and encourage consumers to change their behaviour for good. These include:

  • Offer easy solutions to help with the trend for healthy, scratch cooking
  • Influence shoppers with recipe cards, on-pack cues and sampling
  • Use signage and promotions to show that healthy eating can be both tasty and budget friendly
  • Help healthy options such as fruit, veg, grains and pulses stand out in-store and online to enable quick purchasing decisions.

Going meat-free

The global meat industry has been highlighted as one of the contributors to the warming of the planet, and consumers have noticed. While many shoppers have been reducing their meat consumption for health or animal welfare reasons for some time, there is now a new generation of consumers that is also cutting back because of its concerns about the impact on the environment. Families are increasingly opting to have ‘meat free’ days during the week, and so shoppers will be looking for tasty alternatives and mealtime inspiration on a more regular basis.

The opportunity for local retailers is to show that you have the solution to their need states by providing a good range of meat-free options, and by ensuring that your fresh produce offer is in tip-top shape.

Cutting food waste

No retailer wants to have waste, but the dumping of unsold food hurts more than just retailers’ bottom lines. Food waste in landfill releases greenhouse gases as it breaks down, so is an environmental no-no, not to mention being an unfortunate outcome when there are hungry people in the community. Local food banks will accept ambient goods that are nearing their best before dates to redistribute them to needy families, while there are a number of waste-cutting apps available that will alert their users when a store nearby has fresh food reduced in price because it is going out of date. Check out the Too Good To Go app as a starting point.

Reducing packaging

The public is increasingly becoming motivated to avoid single-use plastics and reject what is seen as unnecessary packaging waste.

Legislation on plastic carrier bags and plastic straws has driven change and awareness here, and there is more to follow – although the full details of the Deposit Return Scheme for packaging in Scotland are still yet to be revealed, there is strong consumer support for such a programme and an ongoing concern about plastic bottles in particular ending up in the oceans.

Plastic has become a dirty word for many shoppers, so there is an opportunity to turn the negative into a positive by offering paper bags, packaging-free products and food-to-go consumables made from more renewable sources.

Brands play their part

Big brand manufacturers are increasingly setting themselves ambitious sustainability targets to demonstrate to consumers that they are on board with tackling climate change.

Soft drinks manufacturer AG Barr recently confirmed it plans to be carbon net zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of the UK’s proposed 2050 deadline. It also announced that Irn-Bru and Rubicon will be in 100% recycled plastic (rPET) bottles by spring 2022, rolling out across all the company’s other brands by 2023.

Under the company’s No Time To Waste initiative it will also:

  • Significantly reduce the use of virgin plastic through 100% recycled film on all consumer multipacks
  • Introduce paper straws on small juice packs
  • Be among the first in the UK to introduce only plant-based plastics in its 1ltr cartons.

Roger White, AG Barr Chief Executive, says: “As a responsible business this is a hugely important programme for us. Under our No Time To Waste programme we are openly committing to be carbon net zero by 2040, if not sooner, and plan to involve all our staff, suppliers and customers in achieving our long-term vision.”

Home delivery

Delivery services peaked during the height of the pandemic, but demand hasn’t abated since and many retailers are looking at home delivery as a way of increasing their store’s catchment area and basket spend.

In environmental terms, however, it will need to be carefully managed, as an active delivery service has the potential to increase a store’s carbon footprint. Some retailers are in the process of switching from fossil fuel-powered vehicles to electric ones to make home deliveries, although environmental sticklers will point out that even electric vehicles rely on power sourced through the national grid, which in turn creates greenhouse gases.

Cycles and scooters are the most sustainable options possible, although possibly not always the most practical.

Shout about local

Finally, it is worth mentioning that consumers can cut their own carbon footprint by visiting the local shop on foot instead of driving to a large supermarket several miles away. This is a major sustainability selling point for many convenience stores and can be turned into a positive by reminding customers to shop local with signage, and on social media.

This is just one of many ways that local shopping and local shops can be seen as being better for the planet than the available alternatives, putting the industry in a good place for a successful, and sustainable, future.

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