The Partners for Growth Team visit Thornton’s Budgens to find out more about their drive to cut out plastic.

Most of us have probably by now seen the news reports or documentaries showing the shocking images of the scale and impact of plastic on our planet. Whether it’s the images showing large areas of sea filled with plastic as far the eye can see, or mile upon mile of once beautiful sandy beaches, now swamped by plastic waste, and littered with dead sea birds.

According to A Plastic Planet, a lobbying group committed to getting people to stop using plastic, the scale of the problem is now truly staggering, and unless we fundamentally change how we package our food, they say the problem is only going to get worse.

  • Every piece of plastic ever made, unless it has been burned, still exists on our planet somewhere today – and will do for centuries to come.
  • Of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste produced since the 1950s and last year in the UK only 9% of our plastic was recycled.
  • In the year 2015, approximately 40% of the plastic produced globally was used for packaging. We focus on the dramatic reduction of plastic mis-used to package our food and drink; useful for moments, exists forever. 

So when Andrew Thornton announced he was launching a drive to cut plastic out at his Thornton’s Budgens store – the first supermarket in the UK to embark on such a journey - we were keen to find out more.  P4G-cut-plastic-signage.jpg

In early December the Partners for Growth Retail Advisory Panel visited Thornton’s Budgens in Belsize Park to hear first-hand about the journey they had embarked upon.

Our host for the day was Thornton’s Head Coach and Team Leader, Daniel Frohwein, who is responsible for the smooth running of the store without a Store Manager. Before heading to the store, he showed a short film, produced by A Plastic Planet, showing the gravity of the problem. As a result the panel were very clear that something needed to be done to address the situation, and arrived at the store keen to see how the first supermarket in the UK had set about approaching the challenge, and find out how they could play their part.

The team were immediately struck by the clear, impactful signage explaining the initiative to customers outside the store, a theme continued inside, and supported with category specific signage sited at each fixture.

Category ranging needed to be adapted to incorporate as many Plastic free products as possible, and merchandising of products was segmented by those that were Plastic Free and those that contained Plastic.

With an initial target of just 1,500 of the 14,000 product lines to be plastic free, the team focused their approach category by category. They firstly had to identify whether plastic was used in a product, which is easy to see when looking at salad bags, but less obvious when reviewing jars of jam and marmalade, as the inside of lids often contain a plastic coating!

By working with A Plastic Planet and liaising with suppliers to source products that were plastic free, they have been able to source alternative packaging materials across most categories. Some product groups have been harder to cut plastic from in the short term, however Thornton’s continue to work with suppliers to identify alternatives to plastic packaging.

Plastic Free Bag.jpgThe team have already exceeded their targeted number of products and are approaching 2000 plastic free product lines across the store within three months of launch. Packaging changes have included;

-          Beechwood nets replacing plastic nets for Fruit and Veg

-          Cheeses and fish wrapped in waxed paper or placed in wax paper bags

-          Some meat packaged in sugar cane compostable green meat trays instead of plastic

-          Brown paper bags with string handles provided in place of plastic bags, with a second provided free of charge should it be necessary.


Frohwein told us that there were several factors that have been key to the success of the implementation of the initiative;

  1. Partnering with A Plastic Planet – their dedication to the cause is outstanding.
  2. The adoption of a self- leadership approach with staff - it was in fact the staff who chose to support the initiative and have been responsible for its successful implementation in store. It was evident from the visit that they have a clear sense of ownership.
  3. Not be over-whelmed by the scale of the task in hand. Approach it category by category, and metre by metre! Having taken this approach, the goal of 1,500 plastic free lines in the first 6 weeks was quickly exceeded.

P4G-bottle-signage_small.jpgRetailer Advisory Panel member Mandeep Singh commented after the visit, “I really want to start this journey myself, because I feel it is such an important issue and I don’t want to leave it to our children to have to clear up our mess. I would like to explore how I can approach this initially at an entry level, with the easiest to implement categories first’ and then roll it out to other categories as the packaging and product availability grows and becomes more cost effective."

If you would like to find out more about why cutting plastic packaging is so important, take a few minutes to view the video at the A Plastic Planet website. If after this you too are inspired to cut plastic in your store, why not get in touch and we can put you in contact with a list of suppliers that produce plastic free packaging or products?