Branding and design consultant PI Global has been working with partners such as ISDS specialist Eziserv for more than 10 years. But the supply chain strategy of on-demand dosing by consumers from back-of-store bulk containers is now attracting more attention. This is largely thanks to Asda's recent trial of a system for fabric softener in conjunction with a reusable pouch. The Waste & Resources Action Programme helped to finance the trial.
"We're seeing the emergence of a completely new paradigm," claimed Steve Kelsey (pictured), strategic innovations director at PI.
Initially, he said, retailers were interested because of the savings that dispensing from bulk could deliver. "But they've begun to realise that it's nothing to do with that."
Using the example of laundry products, he explained that you could fit between six and 12 individual units in an aisle, each dispensing a wide range of products. "It's a massive saving on shelf space at a time when you're trying to increase earnings per linear metre," he said.
Of future applications, md of Eziserv Richard Garnett said: "We're definitely looking at water, including flavoured waters, and milk. The obvious challenge is hygiene, but it's not insurmountable." He added: "We need to find the right location and the right partner."
Asda's system uses a block-bottom pouch supplied by Amcor Flexibles, which is introduced into the dosing system with the closure in place, avoiding overfilling. Said Garnett: "There's a very interesting opportunity for looking at flexible alternatives to rigid containers for beverages and other liquids."
While retailers and brand owners stand to make considerable savings on supply chain costs, packaging firms could lose out, of course unless they reposition themselves as system suppliers.
But Gerald Rebitzer, sustainability leader at Amcor Flexibles Europe & America, said: "In general, I see flexible markets growing a lot, especially in refills. But in-store dispensing would probably only be a very small part of that."
He added: "In-store dispensing is a brilliant concept, if you can keep hygiene issues under control." Nonetheless, he claimed it was more relevant to personal care and household products than to food and drink.
Meanwhile, Kelsey speculated that brand loyalty could be massively strengthened by consumers' newfound ability to tailor products to their needs.