Nearly 30% of UK shoppers say they feel less comfortable buying loose produce since the start of the pandemic, a new study from Harris Interactive for The Grocer has found.

In a poll of 1,000 consumers, 36% said they feel that sustainable packaging had become more important since the beginning of the outbreak. Meanwhile, just 11% thought of it as less important. 

However, 29% of respondents feel less comfortable buying loose groceries than they did before the pandemic, compared to 11% who said they are actually less concerned.

Paper packaging was considered the safest option, cited by 28%, while no packaging (12%) wasn’t thought to be much safer than plastic wrapping (11%). This is despite research published in the New England Journal of Medicine proving that the virus can live on plastic surfaces for up to three days. 

When asked what it was that changed their opinions about packaging, the majority cited safety (46%). A similar percentage (45%) said their values had changed since the start of the virus, while 25% cited concerns over budget. 

Figures from Kantar revealed that loose food sales dipped 6% during lockdown in the four weeks leading to 14 June, while plastic packaging skyrocketed. As a result, many retailers rushed to place typically loose items in single-use plastic – though, many supermarkets stopped doing this when the UK came out of lockdown in July.

Package-free retailer Thornton’s Budgens in Belsize Park resorted to wrapping its bread rolls and pastries in plastic following a 35% nosedive in bakery sales in April. 

Yet, zero-waste consultant Catherine Conway, who supported Waitrose in creating its ‘Unpacked’ initiative in-store, was adamant that she was “busier than ever” and was “pleasantly surprised” at retailers’ approach to refilling during the pandemic. 

“All the retailers we have supported – Waitrose, M&S, Planet Organic, none have shut these initiatives down, none have stopped shoppers from bringing their own containers to refill in their bulk sections.

“And we are engaging with all the major retailers who all say they are still going ahead with various refill/reuse trials”.

Conway explained that while some trials have been put on hold, she’s still predicting activity in the lead up to Christmas. 

“We’re turning discussions into actions and innovation. I’ve not stopped working since Covid hit, which is a great sign that environmental issues and solving the packaging crisis is still on their radar. Retailers realise that recycling alone won’t fix the problem. The message I’m getting is that they’re up for the challenge.”

Many supermarkets suspended bagless deliveries during lockdown. Even though they are now reintroducing them, 64% consumers want paper bags rather than bagless (42%), and 39% said they want plastic bags to be collected.

In the survey, shoppers were more concerned about not being able to recycle packaging (41%) than excessive product packaging (39%). Also, 47% believed that packaging recyclability was more important than packaging reduction (33%) or compostability (16%).

Here at The Delta Group, our Covid signage and protective screens/coverings solutions can help call-out, promote safe shopping and put your customers’ minds at ease. We also offer a range of packaging solutions from our UK-based factories and have some excellent sustainable solutions, so please email to find out more.