Supermarket chain withdraws 'eco-friendly' milk pouch and jug after poor sales led to high wastage
Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 April 2010 16.06 BST
The supermarket chain Waitrose has withdrawn an "eco-friendly" milk pouch and jug from all its stores after poor sales of the supposedly revolutionary product led to high wastage.
The retailer has phased out the pouches, claiming that initial strong sales had tailed off because shoppers preferred the convenience of conventional plastic bottles - even though they are marginally more expensive. A Waitrose spokeswoman said: "It was a hard decision to take, but we believe it's totally unacceptable for food to be wasted in this way. Instead we will continue our work to minimise packaging in other ways."
The new product was hailed as likely to revolutionise the sale of milk as a pouch typically contains 75% less plastic than the bottles in which at least two-thirds of the 180 million pints of milk consumed by Britons every week is sold. Less energy is used in making them and they take up far less space when disposed of. But many consumers have found them difficult to use, reporting leaks and spills.
Bottles have been the preferred milk container in Britain since 1880 when they were introduced - originally in glass - by the Express Dairy Company. Glass and later plastic bottles have been dominant ever since, only losing some market share in the 1970s to Tetra Pak cardboard containers. However, bagged milk has been much more successful in other countries, with the jug and pouch (designed to fit neatly in a fridge door) the overwhelming choice for shoppers in Canada.
Waitrose launched the new product after initial trials three years ago showed strong demand. Despite the idea failing to take off in the 1970s, the supermarket chain had hoped that the milk pouches would prove more of a hit now with today's more environmentally conscious consumers. It declined to reveal sales figures for the product.
Waitrose's experience is in contrast to that of Sainsbury's, which last month rolled out its milk bags nationwide following a successful trial in 50 stores. It said sales of the bags have climbed to around 110,000 per week and now account for one in every 10 two-pint containers of semi-skimmed sold, twice as many as the supermarket originally predicted.
The bags have been introduced as part of Sainsbury's drive to reduce packaging by one-third by 2015, the company said. Switching to bags could save up to 1.4m kg of packaging every year, as well as reducing the oil and energy required to make conventional milk packaging. Tesco, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op do not pouch milk.
Emma Metcalf-King, Sainsbury's senior dairy buyer, said educating consumers had been key to success: "Sales have far exceeded our expectations. Before launch, we gave free jugs to our store colleagues to make sure they understood how to use them. As a result, our colleagues have proven to be the best ambassadors for the product, as they are able to explain it to customers using their own personal experience."