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Out of the loop; has refill already run out of steam?

Here at Vesta Smart Packaging, we pride ourselves in being at the forefront of an innovative approach to packaging that will help eliminate single-use plastics. Our model is centred on our smart packaging, which monitors its contents and automatically orders compostable or recyclable refill packs which are delivered directly to the customer just before they run out of a product. 

But we know there are other approaches to the plastic problem, and a big one is refill solutions or dedicated refill stores. We’ve written before on this [link], and while we want these to succeed – the world needs A LOT of successful solutions if the plastic problem is ever going to be tackled – but we are concerned. There probably isn’t anyone who wouldn’t rather we all threw less plastic packaging away, it’s the last non-contentious issue out there, but we also know that people feel they have less and less free time. Refill solutions ask consumers for more of their time and organisation to tackle the plastic problem. While we are happy to see so many trying refill, there are some disturbing signs that the novelty is already wearing off, and that people aren’t willing to invest the extra effort over the long haul.

The big name in refill is Loop, which has been trialled in my local Tesco store for several months. Tesco dedicated an entire aisle to Loop products, with a display at the end that explained the premise of Loop and an aisle full of Loop goods. The aisle had an array of Loop products, ready to buy in their reusable containers, pictured here. 

Loop aisle in Tesco
The Loop Aisle in Tesco

Near the entrance of the store was a Loop returns box, where Loop users could return their empty containers and receive their deposit back on a printed receipt with a QR code. The customer then buys the product again and uses the receipt to take the deposit off their shopping bill. This model means that the customer buys the Loop container and replaces it with a refilled container of the same kind when they return and re-buy their product. It’s simple to follow and clearly marked.

When I went to pay for my shopping, I chose a checkout where there were several staff members nearby. Having an interest in Loop, I asked them about their experience of customers using Loop and was told that there was a lot of interest initially, but it had faded after the first few weeks. One checkout staff member told me that they only get one or two people a week using Loop, while another, newer, member of staff said that they had never put a Loop product through the till. I asked them why they thought this was happening, when the store had dedicated so much space to promoting Loop and had a screen and clear instructions explaining how Loop worked.

One member of staff suggested that it was simply too much to ask that customers remember to pack their empty containers to come for a shopping trip, when many struggled to remember to bring their reusable shopping ‘Bags for Life’. Another guessed that customers didn’t necessarily run out of product in a way that coincided with their weekly shop and therefore did not bring the empty containers back and instead topped up their staples with the standard versions of the product, as they did not want multiple containers for the same product, with multiple deposits.

Whatever the reason for this decline in adoption and use, Tesco and Loop are not alone in experiencing this drop-off in customer engagement. Madeleine Cuff writes, in MSN Money, People aren’t coming anymore’: Refill stores face crisis as shoppers lose interest in zero-waste lifestyles which observes a very similar phenomenon that happened in with other refill solutions.

She observed that shoppers abandoned zero-waste shopping during the pandemic and named several UK-based refill stores that were forced to close due to a lack of interest, with one owner stating, “I went from delivering 30-40 orders a week to two or three … I actually went past two houses on my way to my shop on Saturday who I used to deliver to, and they both had supermarket delivery vans parked outside them … There’s a lot of people who talk about being more environmentally conscious, but don’t actually follow through with that”.

Another owner commented that, “it’s not that people are buying less. It’s that people aren’t coming anymore, Everyone is busier now. They don’t have time… it’s quicker just to run into Sainsbury’s”.

Both Tesco employees and the refill store owners mention convenience as their main problem with retaining customers. With the end of the pandemic, the return to normal working hours and the fast pace of life, standard refill models do not seem to be able compete with other demands on people’s time. 

However, Vesta has taken this into account. We have designed a recycling model that makes it easier for people to shop, easier to recycle and more convenient to use. 

Our Vesta Smart Packages are exactly that: smart. They are aware of the amount left in a container and connect to our online platform to tell the customer how much is left. If the customer doesn’t have time to check the online platform, they don’t need to worry! Our system will automatically order compostable or recyclable refill packs and send them directly to the customer, just before they run out. 

Unlike standard refill systems, our users don’t need to think about Vesta, they can simply forget and refill their smart containers when the refill packages arrive at their home or business. At Vesta, we believe that refill is the first step in the right direction, we do have to change behaviours if we’re to tackle the plastic problem. We also think that to solve the problem of single-use plastics, a solution must offer a real and sustained incentive to keep using it – not a cost.

Vesta technology has been designed with the customer’s needs in mind. Please get in touch if you’d like to understand how we can help your company create a more engaging approach to delivering your product to your customers and providing the vital path to eliminating single-use plastics.

One size fits… almost no-one

Connected smart packaging to track usage and automate refill. The infrastructure to improve
customer engagement, increase margins and provide a path to eliminating harmful single-use

‘Have your packages continually resupply your customers.’

A simple proposition that can be applied to all? Yes, but bespoke is key.

Over the last two years of working with clients at Vesta Smart Packaging, we’ve learned that every
auto-replenishment proposition comes with a range of specialist requirements.

Package-led auto replenishment makes a seller of product into a provider of that product-as-a-
service (yes, another XaaS). For our clients, it’s a fundamental transformation of their business and
how they compete to get their products into the hands of their customers. It’s not a surprise then
that our customers have come to care deeply about the specifics of tailoring their new services.

Our packages, platform and application combine to deliver a highly customisable auto-
replenishment product, and we’ve been both surprised and delighted by the range of customisation
requests from the projects we’ve completed over the last couple of years.

Some recent new developments include:

  1.  Automatic recognition of refills – our smart packages can use short range radio
    communications to check if the refill that has been used is legitimate. This provides both
    confidence in the proper running of the service and the potential to overcome the vast
    problem of counterfeiting.
  2. Session recording – by leaving our sensors active for longer, we can determine not only the
    amount of use, but the nature of use. This has already been adopted by some of our clients
    to enhance the service they offer to their customers via our packaging
  3. End user analytics – using the full range of package data to deliver insight to end users. How
    much do you use compared to last week, to others, to other times of day? How much are
    you spending? How can you use this product more effectively?

As we complete increasing numbers of projects to deploy smart packaging across all FMCG verticals (we have now completed trials in home care, food and beverage and personal care), we see how
vital it is to work with clients to provide bespoke solutions.

Get in touch with us if you think Vesta could help your company transform its business, engage your
customers in a range of ways you’d never thought possible and crucially provide a way drastically
reducing your reliance on single-use plastics.

Getting to know your customers part 2: There’s a whole ocean of data right under our feet.

Auto replenishment through connected packaging is here. More and more manufacturers and packaging companies are seeing the opportunity to change their business models, using connectivity
and powerful new platform services to make their products into a service. Auto-replenishment
carries many benefits, including the opportunity to increase direct sales, customer loyalty, and in the
case of Vesta Smart Packaging, a proved solution to help reduce the reliance on long life materials
(plastics!) in your packaging, delivering greater sustainability, increased environmental credentials,
enhancing brand value.

There is another benefit, and that’s data. Lots and lots of data.

It has been widely written that “data is the new oil”. It was a catchy expression, and did serve to
highlight the power and value of data in a global and increasingly digitised economy. Like most
catchy sayings though, it was superficial and falls apart quickly under scrutiny.
With reference to packaging , one critical way in which data is decidedly not the new oil is this : data
gets more valuable the more you use it.

There is no limit on how often you can use data or for how long. At the most basic level you can start
to ask questions not possible until now, and historical tracked data sets also have predictive power
that gets better and better the more data you have. Imagine how your business might be
transformed if you knew :

  • Who are my customers?
  • Which products do they have and how much?
  • When will they run out?

Yet we can move past the basics quickly. The more you use data, the more valuable it gets and even
at Vesta, and the data from Vesta packaging supports innovation in several key areas:

  • Personalisation – what do your customers like to use as individuals
  • Adherence – help your customers use your products well
  • Efficiency – how can your customers get the most from your products

Not all auto-replenishment will be created equal, so what should you look when looking for your
auto-replenishment partner? How their offering satisfies these questions could make the difference

  1. Who retains exclusive ownership of the data?
  2. Who has direct and ongoing access to the customer?

Vesta gives you both of these, as well being your partner for our primary objective. We work to
support your transition away from long life packaging by making your supply chain more efficient. If
you’d like to know more about how – get in touch at or message me directly
through LinkedIn.

Make it smart, not disposable

Lessons from big tech can help packaging and FMCG meet the demands of doing business in an environmentally conscious world

Last week, British MPs (politicians, for any non-UK reader) took the unusual step of rebuking Amazon and Apple for their part in the UK’s electronic waste problem, singling out the ‘built in obsolescence’ of products, encouraging regular upgrades. To put the problem into perspective, around 155,000 tonnes of phones, cameras, laptops and other similar items is thrown out each year. That’s about 1,500 average sized houses for those, like me, who have trouble imagining that much waste.

Given their position at the forefront of the never-ending revolution in technology, shouldn’t we find it remarkable that two of the world’s biggest and most successful technology companies’ business models are based on selling items that are viewed as consumables, when their components are anything but?

It’s not just famous technology companies which are going to need to handle this conundrum. How do you protect your business when your customers’ buying behaviour is starting to be affected by their views on environmental cost? FMCG and packaging companies are among the most vulnerable to this. A critical measure of their success is based on how many packages they put out into the world, a world which is becoming rapidly intolerant of more pollution.

Vesta Smart Packaging’s offering can help packaging companies and manufacturers transform their operations by decoupling revenue from the number of packages produced. Our proven smart packages and platform create an effective ‘just in time’ model that drives efficiency, helping to increase margins, whilst eliminating the need for harmful long-life plastics.  Furthermore, it provides a valuable data set showing product supply and usage that can be separately monetised. Potentially a game-changing position.

That the answer for packaging comes from technology might seem surprising. Adding more technology to packaging might seem like exactly the wrong thing to do in this situation, but we don’t have to follow the example of the tech giants in order to run a successful business that helps to minimize environmental impact. Vesta packages, unlike phones, have battery lives of up to 20 years, can be refilled hundreds of times and don’t require constant upgrades. At the end of their lives, we are 100% committed to recovering, refurbishing and recycling every single part of them.

A radical re-think is required in how products get to consumers, whilst retaining brand market share and tackling the waste problem. If you’re a packaging company or a manufacturer which is ready to think differently, get in touch on or via LinkedIn

A 2 year update

Having looked back at our blogs, I was startled to see we’ve published nothing since February. For Vesta, as for businesses everywhere, the pandemic has had a profound impact. Much of the focus on plastic pollution has been lost in an effort to maintain the global economy – a justifiable, if dreadful trade off. Some 194bn disposable masks and gloves were being made each month (based on an estimate from August). The environmental impact of this may take some years to fully comprehend.
It has now been almost exactly two years since we started Vesta in earnest. Winning a space on the 2019 IoT Startupbootcamp accelerator was the catalyst for moving the company from an interesting idea to something that Vesta’s founders (me, Elisabeth, Web Dave and Dr Dave) were ready to heavily invest our time, money and effort into establishing as a real company.
The great news is we’re in a stronger position than ever as we run into the end of what must have been one of the most challenging trading years in history. A few highlights:

  • Our client base has grown from one to four. We’ve focused on driving sales into large clients, and our client’s annual revenues exceed $100bn
  • Our revenue is on track to grow by a factor of more than ten in 2020 – achieving the fabled ‘10x’. This revenue growth helped us decide to pause our funding round in February, and pay ourselves for the first time this summer. We may well decide to try and raise again in the future, but we’re strong enough now to wait for the right partners in the right market conditions.
  • The technology in our solution is unrecognisable from what we were delivering at this time last year. Our packages now support short range communications technology (NFC/RFID) and we’re able to handle packages with weights anywhere between 50kg and 0.01g.
  • Our use cases are expanding. Vesta was designed for low interest home care products – dishwasher tablets, detergent etc. – but we’re now working in personal care, food & beverage, wholesale and are talking to pharmaceutical companies about using our technology for drug monitoring and adherence.
  • We’re developing partnerships with traditional packaging and logistics companies to bring a more comprehensive Vesta solution to our customers.
  • We have had a Vesta package in market for 12 months (as of October 30th). It has taken readings on more than 270 days, been refilled over half a dozen times and used just 3% of its battery. Considering how far our technology has come in those 12 months, I am really excited to see what the next generation Vestas can do.

Challenging conditions, such as those we’ve all experienced over the last eight months can often make it seem like investing in transformation and innovation is too much of a risk. The pandemic has changed the way business is done, perhaps forever. Yet consumers want convenience, they are ready to pay for sustainably delivered products and the market for direct-to-consumer has never been stronger. Do get in touch if you’d like to understand more about what Vesta can do to help your business.