As we know, the health crisis has favored products sold with packaging that is perceived as more hygienic. Results ? Non-tax sales of the bulk sector stagnated at €1.3 billion in 2021 by merging sales of specialist and general supermarkets building bulk departments. This stop comes after five years of strong growth: 60% of bulk goods companies were created after 2018 and France has around 900 stores specializing in this niche, compared to around twenty in 2015*. Despite this air bubble, professionals continue to believe in it for a number of reasons.
First, Bulk responds to the urgent need to reduce the consumption of packaging that is all too often useless, expensive and disposable. In France, each inhabitant generates 568 kilos of household waste per year, of which almost 30% by weight and 50% by volume consists of packaging, especially plastic, with very limited recycling possibilities. And although the material, like glass, can be endlessly recycled, the process that gives it a second life requires an energy-intensive logistical and productive cycle. “The throwaway era is over; The only viable long-term solution is to return to packaging deposits and develop bulk salessays Laura Frouin, project manager at Zero Waste France.
Just as the cleanest energy is conserved, the packaging that has the least impact on the environment is the one that has never been produced. Hence the mass interest in consumers concerned about reducing their environmental impact. This enthusiasm for shoppers is accompanied by favorable regulations: the Anti-Waste Act for a Circular Economy (AGEC) stipulates that by 2030 grocery stores with more than 400 square meters should devote 20% of their sales area to bulk consumption of high-quality products.
As a result, newcomers to the landscape operating as independent retailers or franchisees, such as Day by Day or Mamie Mesure, must now contend with generalist supermarkets developing bulk departments as they did for organic. To find a place in the sun, these specialists are already setting out to conquer consumers. “In 2022, our network of eleven stores aims to open four more by the end of the year.“, explains Elina Leroi, CSR Manager at Mamie Mesure.
Operation “Mass Month”.
For consistency, these fledgling companies try to mix bulk, local and organic as much as possible to meet all responsible consumption criteria. And they are constantly expanding their range to include new departments: yesterday limited to dry foods (cereals, dried fruit, almonds, etc.), bulk is expanding its range to include hygiene, cosmetics and household care products. However, their rather high-end positioning limits their accessibility. “Ideally, you’ll find top-notch pasta in the bulk department“, we argue at Zero Waste France.
Meanwhile, the sector’s ecosystem continues to be enriched by the arrival of companies offering reusable containers. Cristel, a renowned specialist in stainless steel cooking products made in France, has just launched an ergonomic and lightweight meal box, 100% waterproof and healthy, “to avoid waste generation in nomadic meals‘ says the company. The start-up Barnabé has set up a glass deposit system for take-away dishes in Caen in Normandy and wants to expand it elsewhere.
In March, to support the sector, the Bulk Network mobilized around 1,150 professionals around the “Moist of bulk” operation, under the auspices of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, to communicate in all directions about this form of consumption and support the launch of the Consommevrac.fr -site. It remains to be seen whether all these initiatives will be enough to revitalize the sector: in an inflationary context, bulk is not necessarily cheaper than prepackaged because it requires more handling and dedicated logistics. And when organic is doing well, conventionally farmed products are often more expensive than their pre-packaged counterparts, we learn in a study of 60 million consumers.
* Source: Vrac network.