Reusable innovation

Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, chats about his company’s Loop platform and the future of sustainable grocery shopping

With its innovative system designed to reduce packaging waste, TerraCycle’s Loop has officially launched in Canada following successful launches in the United Kingdom, France and the United States (with Japan and Australia up next). Loop is a system where manufacturers make products available in a reusable package— Heinz ketchup, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Chipits chocolate chips, and Nature’s Path oats are just a few of the nearly 100 items currently on offer in Canada—and instead of tossing it into the recycling bin when it’s empty, the package gets picked up and returned to Loop to be sanitized and reused. Loop launched in Canada on Feb. 1 via a retail partnership with Loblaw. Canadian Grocer spoke with Tom Szaky, CEO of Terra Cycle, to get the scoop on Loop, consumer attitudes and the future of sustainability in grocery.

How does Loop work in Canada today?

Loop allows brands to create reusable versions of their products, and then allows retailers to sell those. This is a very important part of the platform: Loop is not about online or in-store, it’s about however our retail partners want to deploy it, which tends to begin online and then go in-store. Loblaw was the one who brought us up to Canada; they launched with the online platform [on Feb. 1] and, so far, the results have been beyond our expectations.

Has the pandemic had an impact on Loop?

Yes, in both expected and unexpected ways. From a negative perspective, the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on suppliers and retailers, especially grocery stores, which affected launch dates. Canada was originally supposed to launch late last year, and instead it just launched [in February]. And that’s entirely because of the extra work the partners have had just in dealing with COVID. On the positive side, we’ve seen no health and safety issues, vis-a-vis the cleaning and so on ... because we were already cleaning to such a high standard, protecting against [things] like E. coli, salmonella and other things, so our protocols were already well attuned to deal with COVID and consumers were very comfortable with that. COVID has also, I think, created a heightened concern for the environment. It made humanity’s impact on the planet become more in focus, in the sense that emission levels were down in 2020 [due to people staying home]; we were even seeing animals showing up where they haven’t shown up before. So we’re seeing a big tailwind for the environmental movement.

Do you think concern for sustainability will continue to grow?

Absolutely, but perhaps not necessarily for the “good” reasons. I think it’s going to keep growing because of things like the fires in British Columbia, and people actually seeing negative [impacts on the environment]. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all wake up a bit more on our own accord? But I think we know it’s going to have to be the Earth reinforcing it in various negative ways.

How does Loop fit in with other consumer priorities, like convenience and affordability?

I would argue that what’s important for consumers is convenience first, then features and benefits come second, and then third would be the delivery of that convenience with the features and benefits at a reasonable price. I’d put it in that order. So on convenience, what we’re really focused on is how do we make reuse feel [as easy as] disposability? And I think reuse really has to hit that hard, because if not, we’re only going to speak to just 1% or 2% of people who really care about sustainability and are willing to sacrifice convenience. On features and benefits, I think reuse wins because the packaging can become much more exciting, more beautiful, higher luxury material, and so on. There’s a cost to that, and that’s manifested by the consumer having to pay a deposit; but the really good news is we are seeing very low sensitivity to price. Some deposits are up at $5 and consumers are not fazed by that; I think partly because they know they get it back.

How do you see grocery shopping evolving?

I do expect in the “new normal” we’ll see more online options and innovative forms of delivery. Pertaining to sustainability, almost every major grocer we interact with around the world says they must have a major play on reuse—and they really used the word must— whether that’s refill stations or systems like Loop.

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