Unilever has launched refill trials across seven of its most well-known brands at Asda’s Middleton store in the UK, representing its biggest refill and reuse trial in Europe.

Unilever is a lead partner in the trial, and has provided seven of its household-name brands including Persil, PG Tips, Radox, Cif, Simple, Pukka, and Alberto Balsam. Trialling three different refill formats, this is the largest of its kind for Unilever in Europe, and the company hopes that the project will help it to understand what works best for consumers in a retail environment. 

Radox shower gel, Simple liquid handwash and Alberto Balsam shampoo and conditioner, along with Persil laundry liquid are dispensed in reusable aluminium or stainless-steel bottles via three machines using the “Return, Refill, Repeat” premise. 

First-time shoppers are provided with a bottle, while returning shoppers can reuse their existing bottle. Once filled, shoppers add a printed label to the bottle and take it to checkout as usual. 

Each bottle has a unique QR code, a feature which enables traceability, allowing Unilever to track the full buy, use, and refill process and gain better insight into the model. Together, Unilever predicts that its three new refill stations could save the equivalent of 30,000 plastic water bottles per year in just one store.

Elsewhere in the trial store, shoppers have access to an entire bay dedicated to concentrated refill for sprays, which reportedly enable them to use a single Cif spray bottle for life. According to Unilever, an entire fixture of concentrated spray cleaners across all Asda stores could save the equivalent of 990 tonnes of plastic every year.

Unilever tea brands PG Tips and Pukka are also available through self-serve containers or hoppers for loose tea and tongs to self-dispense “fully biodegradable” teabags. Shoppers have the option of taking their own reusable container into the store or buying one there. Once their container is full, they take it to the weighing station where a label is printed ready for payment at the checkout.

Sebastian Munden, executive vice president of Unilever UK & Ireland, comments: “I am very excited by the potential to test and learn from this fantastic partnership with Asda. It's a great opportunity for us to find out, across seven of our leading brands, just how shoppers respond to using refillable and reusable packaging in-store.

“We are all committed to driving lasting change when it comes to plastic, but to do so we must create scalable solutions and make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices. On our journey to halving our use of virgin plastic by 2025, we will have to be bold and totally rethink products and packaging, and we will only do that by testing a range of solutions with shoppers in real-life conditions."