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'Milkman model' grocery service delivers brand-name goods in reusable containers


TORONTO — Canada's first modern-day milkman service that delivers brand-name groceries and household goods to doorsteps in reusable packaging is set to launch in the Toronto region on Monday.

Loop, an online shopping platform started by U.S.-based recycling company TerraCycle, has teamed up with grocery giant Loblaw Companies Ltd. and leading consumer goods companies like Kraft Heinz Canada to roll out the service in the city.

Everyday essentials like Heinz ketchup, Nature’s Path cereal or Haagen-Dazs ice cream — usually purchased in single-use containers — will be available in refillable containers, usually glass or metal, and delivered in reusable totes.

The delivery service, already available through Carrefour in France, Kroger and Walgreens in the U.S. and Tesco in the U.K., aims to reduce single-use plastics and waste from household goods.

"The milkman model has faded from most people's mindset, but this is a great example where you look to the past and see a great opportunity to solve a problem," said Ian Gordon, Loblaw's senior vice-president of plastic waste reduction. 

Much like how milk was delivered door-to-door before the rise of disposable cartons, refrigerators and the automobile, products ordered online through Loop are delivered to customer doorsteps. 

When the item is finished, empty containers are placed back in a Loop tote, where they are picked up, sanitized, refilled and shipped out to customers again. 

"Loop is a platform for reuse where consumer product companies can create reusable versions of their products, and then retailers can then make those available to their consumers," Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle and Loop.

While the service is starting exclusively online in the Toronto area, the goal is to eventually expand across the country and make the reusable containers available in grocery stores.

"That's when the volume really goes nuts," he said. "Reuse can work at scale. We've just got to make it as easy and convenient as throwing something in the garbage."

While package-free stores already exist in Canada, Szaky said Loop is trying to make it easier to shop sustainably on a bigger scale. 

"We're focused very much on the masses and creating system change," he said. "You can buy off the shelf and return whenever you want and we get the dirty containers and worry about sorting and cleaning."

A new survey commissioned by Kraft Heinz Canada found 83 per cent of Canadians want to less packaging on groceries, with 78 per cent wanting grocery products with zero-waste packaging.

Sustainability also appears to impact grocery choices, with 65 per cent of people surveyed saying they make an effort to choose brands with reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging, the online poll by Fuse Insights found. 

"The Heinz ketchup bottle was already recyclable but now we’re moving one step forward to make it reusable," said Bruno Keller, president of Kraft Heinz Canada. 

"I’m a big believer that industry has the responsibility and the accountability to make the world better."

The ketchup sold in refillable containers through Loop will cost the same as in stores, he added. 

"The company is absorbing the cost because the aim is really to make it available to consumers," Keller said. 

Indeed, the Loop delivery service is losing about a million dollars a month globally, Szaky said.

But it's an investment in helping address the world's waste crisis, from ocean plastics to overflowing landfills, he said. 

"We expect Loop to continue at that loss for at least another two years before it gets to break even," he said. "I am certain the brands that are putting in their products are doing it at a loss."

Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw, said in a statement that there is too much plastic waste in the environment and that the company is "part of the problem and must be part of the solution."

Loblaw is rolling out some of its bestselling President's Choice products with Loop, including pasta sauces, salsas and different types of oils, Gordon said. 

The grocer is also developing a reusable cookie tin for its PC Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies to introduce in the coming months, he said. 

"It's a limited selection as we move through this to see how the consumer response is and we get the system up and running," Gordon said. "The consumer response is going to dictate the speed with which we move forward and add incremental products to the portfolio."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2021.

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