Southern Co-op scraps plastic carriers and bags for life

‘We have a duty to act against climate change and to give our customers a way to be more environmentally responsible’

Souther Co-operative is removing all single-use carrier bags and plastic bags for life from sale, and is urging shoppers to switch to reusable bags to help tackle climate change.

The independent retail society, which has just over 200 convenience stores across the south of England, is hoping to deter customers from treating bags for life as if they were single-use.

Alternatives on offer include 10p compostable carrier bags, developed by the Co-op Group, which have a secondary use as a food waste caddy liner in the home.

The bags are certified compostable and can be collected as part of local authority household food waste collections or used in home compost bins.

Gemma Lacey, director for sustainability and communications, said: “For years we have been asking our customers and members to bring bags with them so this is naturally the next step – removing the option of buying single use plastic bags or using a plastic bag for life as the next cheapest alternative.

“We have a duty to act against climate change and to give our customers a way to be more environmentally responsible. However, as our stores are based on convenience, we understand that people might not be carrying a bag with them, so the compostable bag is a more responsible alternative to plastic.”

Plastic bags for life are being replaced by durable fold away bags and large shoppers with a current price of £1 to encourage customers to reuse them instead of treating them as single-use.

The switch has already taken place in many stores with other changeovers taking place over the next month or so as stores work through the remaining stock of existing bags.

It is hoped that the change to compostable bags will tie in with work being carried out by Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) to enable local authorities in England to prepare to introduce separate food waste collections for all households.

Southern is also working towards its ambitious science-based targets to cut direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from its business by 2030, supported by a climate action pathway of planned activity and an initial investment of £5.8m.

The society has also improved its performance food waste, while optimising sell-through and margins, by implementing WasteInsight, a markdown solution from data company Retail Insight.

Food waste is a key challenge for grocers, and Southern Co-op has been working to reduce it through markdowns on fresh and ambient goods. Until now, this has been based on time of day – making now allowance for factors such as volume, weather, or intra-day sales profiles. This resulted in imbalances of sell-through of short life, reduced-price items. 

To address this, the society has adopted WasteInsight, which uses cognitive-driven tech to analyse a wide range of data points – from product type to seasonality – enabling the retailer to calculate a product’s optimal discount price and timing of the markdown to reduce waste while maximising sell-through and minimising loss. 

After a successful pilot, WasteInsight was rolled out to Southern Co-op’s entire store estate in January.

Charles Duthie, head of commercial operations at Southern, said: “The new markdown process is far more transparent and proactive than it was before. Retail Insight’s solution enables us to steer our markdown strategy toward a more optimised way of working, with clear goals and improved visibility into outcomes.

“In-store teams have found WasteInsight easy and efficient to use, and it reduces a great deal of the manual work we struggled with previously.  It’s great that we now have much better visibility of how our store teams are complying with the markdown values and timings, which is insight that we did not previously have.”

Paul Boyle, CEO of Retail Insight, added: “Southern Co-op’s commitment to sustainable retailing that supports the community is almost a century and a half old, and reducing food waste through dynamic markdowns is just another step on its green retailing journey. By the intelligent use of data, it now can waste less and reduce its carbon footprint, all while selling more and offering consumers the best prices.”