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Steve Lister
Steve Lister 28 September 2018

Is Pick’n’Mix ready for a comeback?

Bulk packaging systems are springing up in most major food stores across the country. This blog post explores the opportunity to use these systems to appeal today’s shoppers.

Steve Lister
Steve Lister 28 September 2018

Bulk packaging systems are springing up in most major food stores across the country. This blog post explores the opportunity to use these systems to appeal today’s shoppers.


Technology has transformed shopping in recent years, with more people shopping more often and more easily without even going near a real shop. IKEA’s Place app uses AR to show you how a chair, or bed, or shelving unit looks inside your home before you decide to buy.

Alongside this, brands and retailers are increasingly producing greater ‘theatre’ and interactivity throughout the instore experience, including real-time AR tech to guide shoppers around a complicated store.

But what works in one market or category won’t always work in another. This post explores an opportunity to use techniques from a different era to appeal to today’s shoppers.

The archetypal grocer’s shop from the earlier part of the 20th century was dominated by the counter, behind which the owner and their staff served customers individually. People bought what they needed in more precise quantities that were measured and portioned out by staff from larger containers.

All this has been largely left behind in modern supermarkets, as advances in packaging, refrigeration and ‘finished’ products like bread, sauces and ready meals reduce the time and effort of preparing meals.

Many categories still use these bulk packaging and storage systems today. Imagine the experience of buying petrol in ‘handy’ 5 litre cartons, or the logistical nightmare of pubs having to rely on portion-controlled 5cl miniatures of spirits without optics. But two current consumer and societal trends are coming together in ways that mean there’s still life in these old techniques for grocery retail.


The Green Society

Even if some households remain unconvinced, national and international politicians are determined to elevate environmental concerns into new normal business practices. Floating islands of plastic packaging, especially single-use bottles, cups and wraps, have shocked people around the world.

Retailers are scrambling to reduce the amount of plastic they use and sell before new penalties and charges are introduced. Self-serving non-perishable goods like pasta, rice, or pulses into reusable containers from home could be a long-term solution. At the same time, they could help to reduce food waste from supermarkets through better stock management and easier sell-through in fixture.



A decade since the financial crisis and subsequent belt-tightening, consumers are more aware than ever of getting value for money, and spending their money only on what they need. The pack sizes that suit a large family are simply not relevant to nearly 30% of UK households – a single person living alone. Bulk systems can cater to both families and single shoppers.

At the same time, they have potential to reduce costs across the supply chain, with a reduction in daily labour dedicated to re-merchandising and product displays, cheaper bulk packaging in manufacturing and reduced packaging waste.


The changing face of retail

As more people shop online, retail is under continued and increasing pressure. Supermarkets have often responded by offering more products for sale, from clothing and household goods to takeaway and freshly-prepared food franchises. But the way they sell most grocery products has barely changed.

Customers want to shop in environments they find enjoyable and engaging. Breaking up long aisles of tins and packets would improve the experience at the same time as delivering against environmental and economic concerns. Perhaps retailers should look to the past to help bring life to the future.

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