More and more French retailers are expanding their offer of ‘le vrac’ or packaging-free produce as consumers are increasingly demanding ways of shopping that minimise their impact on the environment.

For more information, see Mintel’s report Supermarkets - France - November 2018 and its forthcoming update for 2019

What we’ve seen

  • Many established French grocers are selling more products packaging free in their supermarkets and hypermarkets and we are now seeing dedicated packaging free stores opening

  • Day by Day is a French retail chain selling only packaging-free products. It now has over 55 stores, with sales of €15 million in 2018.

  • Consumer research for Mintel’s Supermarkets - France - November 2018 report found that 50% of French grocery shoppers agreed that shopping in supermarkets encourages buying more food than is needed.

  • The research also showed that 66% of grocery shoppers believed grocery retailers use too much plastic in their packaging, whilst 62% agreed that shopping with a grocery retailer which has pledged to cut out plastic waste is appealing.

Le vrac

There are several reasons why this type of shopping is becoming more popular. Shoppers can buy only the quantity they need, with less packaging. They can choose more varieties of a product in small quantities, and many products can be more healthy and cheaper. The environmental benefits are also numerous and are increasingly relevant to how people think, consume and shop.

The products sold this way tend to be easy to store and transport: dried fruits, nuts, beans and pulses grains, rice, pasta and cereals. Increasingly, wet products, such as oils, vinegar and wine, as well as non-foods, such as laundry liquids, are also being made available. Equipment to grind coffee or nuts for nut butter is also present in some stores.

Why is it growing ?

In recent years plastic has become a focal point of consumer concerns about sustainability. Attention-grabbing media about the damaging effect single-use plastic is having on the environment has made consumers more aware of how retailers are using plastic. Mintel Trend Hungry Planet highlights how there has been growing awareness in recent years around how our consumption habits are harming global resources and the environment.

Day by Day - a fully packaging free chain

In addition to a plethora of independent single stores, we are now seeing some more organised retailing develop in this area. The largest chain is Day by Day, a franchised business with stores selling over 700 loose wet and dry products, including beauty products and pet food. Day by Day supports French businesses where possible and generated sales in 2018 of €15 million (up from €8 million in 2017 and €4 million in 2016). It has ambitions to have over 100 stores in France and abroad by 2022.

Recently Day by Day ran a mobile event visiting major French cities to spread awareness. Five ‘eco chalets’ were open for five days, selling Day by Day products, accompanied by other associations dedicated to spreading awareness; Le lab Mobile , Zero Waste France , Reseau Vrac, La Fresque du Climat and Edeni. Mintel Trend Popscape explores how such temporary installations can serve both retailers and consumers well.

Other packaging free initiatives

There is also an online, packaging-free specialist in France – JusteBio, selling unpackaged organic products. Shoppers can choose from over 130 organic food products, which are delivered in fully biodegradable and compostable bags.

Other interesting initiatives include The Naked Shop, on rue Oberkampf in Paris, selling only liquids packaging free, including beauty products and household cleaning products. In May 2019, Biocoop, the largest specialist organic chain opened Biocoop ADN (anti-déchet), selling almost 1,000 lines packaging free, including organic, local and seasonal products on the rue des Grands Champs in Paris.

In Rennes Biocoop has also been using a mobile store, ‘Vrac’Mobile, a van with 70 lines that can travel around markets. Other similar businesses include Tootopoids in Alsace and la Vrac Mobile in Biarritz. 

We’ve seen similar initiatives in some other European countries, including a trial from Waitrose in the UK with Waitrose Unpacked. Outside grocery, Lush has opened three packaging-free stores, Lush Naked in Europe.

What it means

  • We think that the ‘le vrac’ market will continue to grow. As technology advances, more products will be available to sell in this way – beer perhaps, or conserves, or even dairy. Some items can have a short shelf life or spoil easily, and solutions to improve this will develop.

  • As consumer awareness grows about the consequences of the overuse of plastic, retailers can gain positive PR and attract new customers by expanding the amount of products that they sell packaging free.

  • They could also help to make refill stations more accessible to lower-income consumers, helping them to reach more sustainable lifestyles, perhaps by offering incentives or discounts on refills. 

  • This sector has the potential to become as important an issue as organics, an area which is now pretty much a must have for all grocery retailers in France. 

  • French retailers could also look for other ideas from other countries, such as Waitrose's reusable containers under the ‘borrow-a-box’ scheme or its frozen pick and mix offer.

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