Thursday, April 23, 2009

Strategy Session: The In-Store Reusable Bag-Sharing Program -- A Way For Grocers to Significantly Increase Reusable Bag Use Among Shoppers

Earth Week 2009: 'Green' Behavior Change Through Innovation & Effort

Yesterday was Earth Day 2009, the official day of celebration of the planet earth, its natural resources, conservation and related pro-environmental behaviors. But all this week is Earth Week, which is being observed by community groups, businesses, including grocery retailers, environmental groups and individuals.

Yesterday in this story [April 22, 2009: Earth Day 2009: California-Based Grocers Conducting A Myriad Of Reusable Bag Promotions Today; Other 'Green' Activities For Earth Day] we wrote about Earth Day 2009 "green" activities that a number of California-based grocers, including Tesco's Fresh & Easy, were conducting in their stores, including offering reusable shopping bags at reduced prices and in the case of a number of grocers for free.

In our piece yesterday we mentioned that Fresh & Easy Buzz would be offering a suggested reusable shopping bag program for food and grocery retailers, both in the United States and globally, that if implemented by a number of chains and independents, has the potential to significantly increase reusable bag use by consumers and thereby reduce the volume of single-use plastic carrier bags and paper grocery sacks distributed by retailers, and used by shoppers.

Our program is a simple one, based on various elements of behavior change and mere convenience. It requires retailers to initiate it, and consumers to participate in it.

We call the program "The In-Store Reusable Bag-Sharing & Exchange." Retailers that adopt it -- which we hope many will -- can call it what they choose.

The program is extremely low-cost for retailers, and requires devoting very little store space to it. How can they lose?

Below is the blueprint for "The In-Store Reusable Bag-Sharing & Exchange" program which we invite retailers in California, Nevada and Arizona, along with the rest of the U.S. and throughout the world, to implement in their stores.

The In-Store Reusable Bag-Sharing & Exchange Program

The reusable bag exchange program for food and grocery retailers (and for that matter all format retailers) is a simple and straighforward one.

Grocers will dedicate a small space in their stores (perhaps a kiosk-like set up), most logically in the front of the store near the checkout lanes, in which they place a table, counter or bin containing reusable shopping bags. Their is signage at the in-store reusable bag kiosk explaining what it is -- that it is a spot where shoppers are encouraged to take the number of reusable bags they need, take them with them to checkout, and have their groceries packed in the reusable bags rather than requesting single-use plastic or paper bags.

The signage at the reusable bag exchange kiosk also explains the premise of the program, which is "take-a-reusable-bag(s)-bring-back-a-reusable-bag(s)." In other words the program is based on the age-old behaviors of sharing and reciprocity. If a shopper takes two reusable bags from the in-store kiosk, she knows to bring at least two bags back with her on her next store visit.

We think the program also will encourage "bagless" shoppers who arrive at the store without their own reusable shopping bags to actually purchase reusable bags at the store, at times not wanting to take a bag or more unless they have a replacement at their ready. But it is fine if they do. The point of the program is to encourage reusable bag use over plastic or paper.

And we suspect that over time most shoppers will not only bring one bag to the store but many will bring back multiples, wanting to contribute to the kiosk's inventory because they know others who take bags might not bring back bags. They also will want to make up for the previous "bagless" deficit.

We also believe that many shoppers, especially "greenies" and serious proponents of reusable shopping bags, will see the in-store reusable bag kiosk and the sharing program and actually buy two or three or even more reusable bags in the store and add them to the kiosk's inventory. Retailers can include a sign at the kiosk encouraging this practice.

In this way it's similar to the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny containers at the counters in many convenience and other retail stores. The volume of pennies taken to pennies left by customers generally always balances out.

Once the in-store reusable bag sharing program is in place we also believe environmental and community groups will provide bags -- as will bag makers -- to the stores as a way to join in the program -- to become part of the solution.

We suggest retailers kick-off the reusable bag program by donating a number (25 -to- 50 canvas reusable bags per store that retail for $1.00 each is a good start) of their reusable bags, placing them at the in-store bag-sharing kiosk or space on opening day.

Additionally, nearly every grocery chain and independent's vendors would be more than happy to donate some reusable bags. We bet that without much effort a retailer could get 50 -to- 100 reusable bags donated for each store to start the program by having company category managers and buyers make just a few telephone calls to suppliers and brokers.

From there retailers might have to add a few bags to replenish the supply now and then. But the amount of money they will be saving from the reduction in shopper use of plastic and paper bags at checkout will more than make-up for that small cost. And supplier paticipation can be a regular practice.

Also, we suggest retailers get employees involved. A supermarket that employees 100 workers needs for only each of them to spend $1.00 in order to have an instant 100 reusable bags for the kisok, for example.

And once again, we suggest getting community groups and schools involved -- and they will want to be.

And we bet that when "green" shoppers see only three of four bags at the kiosk at any given time many of them will buy three or four to add to the supply. It's there program -- not just the store's.


We've provided the basic blueprint for the "In-Store Reusable Bag-Sharing Program." It's basic elements are:

>The premise: offer reusable bags for free in the stores, to be shared by shoppers. Shoppers follow a simple "take-a-bag-leave-a-bag" practice.

>Retailers dedicate a space in the store, preferably in the front-end near the checkout, for the reusable bag customer kiosk. Signage draws shoppers to the kiosk and explains what the bag sharing program is all about. We also suggest small paper handouts, including bag-stuffers, that communicate the bag program to customers.

Retailers should also promote the program in their weekly advertising circulars and via other media, such as on their Web sites. The program also should be promoted by sending news releases to media outlets, who we believe will jump on the chance to write about it.

Using this basic blueprint, retailers can customize the in-store reusable bag-sharing program as they see fit. It can be simple and minimal or more fancy and elaborate. A small kiosk in-store or a larger one.

We think that if enough retailers adopt this program, there eventually will be a dramatic reduction in plastic and paper bag use over time because of it. It's all about scale and changing shopper behavior. Grocers are in the unique position to do that in-store.

Food and grocery retailers are right square in the point-of-purchase line of fire when it comes to the super-hot single-use plastic bag and lesser but still heated paper grocery sack issue. Bag ban (particularly single-use plastic) and bag fee laws have been passed -- and more are being proposed -- including a statewide bag fee law in California, as we reported in this April 16, 2009 story: Two New Bills in California State Assembly Would Put 25-Cent Per Bag Fee on Both Single-Use Plastic and Paper Carrier Bags.

China has banned single-use plastic carrier bags, as has Taiwan. A number of countries in Africa have also banned the single-use plastic carrier bags.

Ireland has placed a fee on the plastic bags, which they say has caused a 94% reduction in their distribution and use since implementing the law a few years ago.

Britain is currently flirting with other a plastic bag ban or fee legislation, and has started a national PR campaign to encourage consumers to bring reusable bags with them when they go shopping.

Many cities in Canada (and the nation is considering a national plastic bag ban or fee law) and the U.S. have already banned single-use plastic carrier bags, including San Francisco and Palo Alto in Northern California and Manhattan Beach in Southern California, although its law is being challenged in court by a plastic bag industry trade group.

The County of Los Angeles is considering either banning the bags or adopting a fee law. It's waiting first to see if the statewide plastic and paper bag fee legislation currently working its way through the California Assembly passes first. If not, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors say they likely will pass their own legislation.

And Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire-Mayor of New York City, has announced that he plans to promote a single-use plastic carrier bag bill this year that if passed would levy a 15-cent -to- 35-cent consumer fee on all single-use plastic bags requested by shoppers at the city's retail stores.

Numerous other cities, counties and U.S. states are debating bag ban and bag fee laws in addition to those listed above, as are many others throughout the world.

Grocers are at the nexus of the issue because they are the retailers that distribute the most single-use plastic carrier bags and paper grocery sacks, due to the nature of the store format.

We believe the reusable bag sharing program outlined above offers the retail food and grocery industry in the U.S. and globally a way to demonstrate its commitment to reducing plastic and paper bag use and increasing consumer use of reusable bags. It's a win-win for retailers regardless of bag bans or bag fee laws. It also is a way to help them get out of the direct line of fire a bit in a positive and proactive rather than mere public relations-only way.

The bag-sharing program also is an economic win for grocers and other retailers. After all, single-use plastic carrier bags and paper grocery sacks cost grocers money. Imagine how much money a big retail chain like Wal-Mart, Kroger or Safeway could save if plastic and paper bag use was reduced in half in each chain's respective stores over the next two year, for example. We can tell you -- lots of money.

And even a small 30 or 50-store chain (and even smaller) stands to save money if a 50% or more (or even less) reduction in plastic and paper bag use occurs.

Food retailing is a penny profit business. Therefore every penny saved, including on things like carrier bags, adds up. After all, a penny here, a penny there, pretty soon you are talking real money in the retail grocery business.

But even more important than the important economic benefits mentioned above, instituting the in-store reusable bag sharing program demonstrates a retailer's "green" retailing commitment in the area of natural resource reduction and related environmental attributes involving the single-use bags.

The first movers (first retailers to start such a bag-sharing program) in adopting this program stand to gain the kind of positive public relations attention for their businesses that paid advertising, regardless of the amount spent, can't deliver.

So we offer up the program to America's and the world's food and grocery retailers. And of course to consumers, the key in making the program an ultimate success. And perhaps in getting grocers to start the program.

We also encourage the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the national trade association for the supermarket industry in the U.S., along with major state grocers' associations like the California Grocers Association (CGA), to look at the reusable bag sharing program and perhaps adopt it for its retailer members, acting as a coordinator and clearing house for such a program for the retailers. (It offers great PR and and advocacy elements as well as being a positive social and environmental program to do.)

We don't take a position on telling shoppers to bring their own bags to the store. That's up to them.

But we do know from experience and based on research that creating programs like the in-store reusable bag exchange will alter consumer behavior by in this case making it more convenient for shoppers to use reusable bags, along with putting the issue right in front of all of us right in the store.

Most consumers want to do the right thing -- and there is now a consensus among all parties, including grocers -- that using reusable bags is the right thing to do. Therefore making it easier for them to the right thing vis-a-vis carrier bags is a win-win for grocers and the retail food and grocery industry overall. We believe the in-store reusable bag-sharing program offers a major step for grocers in doing that.

[Readers: If you like the program feel free to share this post with others by clicking on the little file folder below, at the end of this post. When you do so it allows you to e-mail the post to whomever you desire.

If you are a reader who works in the food and grocery retailing industry, and you like the program, feel free to share it with your bosses and associates. Or if you work in the industry in a non-retail capacity, share it with your retailer customers and associates.

Lastly, if you are a reader who likes the program, feel free to post the story on whatever social media and news sights you use. Also feel free to e-mail it to your favorite (or even not so favorite) grocers, be they Wal-Mart, Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Kroger, Tesco's Fresh & Easy or the tens of thousands of others in the U.S. and throughout the world.]

[Follow Fresh & Easy Buzz around on at]


What are you thinking said...

This is one of the most disgusting concepts I’ve heard of in a while. The last thing I want to do is put my fresh product /groceries into someone else’s dirty used bag. It's bad enough the grocery carts / baskets aren't sanitized.

Can you say salmonella?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of disgusting, What are you thinking, don't you THINK that either people will wash the bags themselves if needed or if it becomes a problem grocers will figure out something like laundry service for the bags. But that likely won't even be needed. When the bags get worn out or look bad they can be recycled.

And shoppers put fresh produce, meats and other unpackaged items in paper or plastic bags in most cases even when they bring there own bags to the store.

Also, you can bring your own bag if you don't like it...LOL.

Salmonella isn't scientifically likely to be caused by a dirty reusable bag.

In terms of a "used bag," that's what a reusable bag is, it's used and reused. Silly argument.

I like to idea and gave a printed copy to my local IGA independent grocery store owner.

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

There is a very simple way to deal with any real or percieved cleanliness and sanitation issues at store-level regarding the reusable bags.

A store clerk periodically checks the bags at the kiosk. The clerk removes any soiled or dirty bags, placing them in the store's laundry hamper for pick-up by the store's commercial laundry service. (All supermarkets use a commercial laundry service for various items used in the store.)

The per bag cleaning cost is low. We doubt their will ever be many bags that are dirty. (See below.)

The clerk also removes any worn bags, which can be given to a cloth recycler.

Therefore, at all times only clean bags are in the in-store "bag sharing" kiosk.

It takes only a couple minutes a few times a day for a clerk to do this.

Also, human behavior is such -- consumers like to present themselves at their best generally -- that we seriously doubt many shoppers will bring soiled or dirty bags to the store and place them at the kiosk.

As with all things involving humans, an element of trust must be assumed.

One can only find out if it is a real issue when a retailer tries the program.

And as with all trial programs, as issues emerge, ways to solve them can be developed.

Logical Thinker said...

The guy who paraphrased this program as "disgusting" got it pretty nearly correct.

"Disgusting" may be a little overboard, but come on, do you REALLY think such a ridiculous idea is going to fly?

After reading several pages of verbage from the "cheerleaders" of the program I was surprised to see that comments were accepted. My first thought was that everyone would comment on the concept of "I am not putting my groceries into a bag that has been used by ??????? given the current Swine Flu concern, salmonella, people simply sneezing or coughing near the bag or using it after going to the bathroom, (ugh) etc., etc., etc.

So the first comment is a logical one from "What are you thinking". Then a couple of the cheerleaders have rebuttal comments.

Anonymous said: ".....don't you THINK that either people will wash the bags themselves......" the answer to that illogic is simply: NO!

Fresh & Easy Buzz merely continues with the perpetrator's cheerleading sales pitch.

Well, let’s see if MY comment gets posted. (I am NOT one of the cheerleaders.)

Anonymous said...

I notice the name of the uhh.. "person" who originated this hair-brained idea (strategy session????) is not disclosed.

My best guess is that he is "no longer affiliated with the company". (That phrase is very longhand for "fired".)

Anonymous said...

I notice no other comments have been posted since the first 3.

Oh! Now I get it!

The blogger who is also the perpetrator of this ridiculous, bone-headed "strategy" and is the subsequent cheerleader with the rebuttal comments posted one negative comment about this "disgusting" (which is what it is) concept just to continue with the cheerleading addressing the one logical comment that would be the comment of thousands of people if he actually posted real comments.

Blogger, you of course will not post this or any other comments since you have put your comments in and that is it. But I am on to you, you phony.

Ken In Sacramento said...

What's the big deal about using a bag others have used? Don't get it. Where I live both Whole Foods and Raley's gives you a nickle back for every paper sack you bring back. We bring the paper bags back all the time. So do many others. Both stores reuse them unless in bad shape. I could care less if the bag was used to hold anothers person's groceries before I got it as long as it isn't worn out. If you are a germ phobic or a a super clean freek just bring your own bag or ask for plastic or paper. No brainer.

Anonymous said...

Hi we have a program like this up and running in western Mass. check out
: )