Last Straw: Disposing of Disposables

Progressive c-stores keep up with sustainability demand
Photograph courtesy of Whirley-DrinkWorks!

An estimated 8.3 billion straws pollute the world’s beaches, and straws are just the tip of the plastic iceberg threatening sea life. But they have become emblematic of the problem presented by disposables and are the subject of bans worldwide, including the UK, Taiwan, Australia, Seattle and California, with legislation pending elsewhere in the U.S.

Concerned foodservice companies, including Walt Disney, Starbucks, Bon Appetit Management, Aramark and McDonald’s, have responded with programs that work toward zero-waste goals and are offering eco-friendly options to disposables. It’s only a matter of time before convenience-store retailers come under pressure to do the same.

C-store challenge

It’s time for convenience-store retailers to get proactive about disposables for the sake of their customers and the health of the planet, as well as for the sake of their business. Customers care about the environment, and they want the businesses they patronize to care about it too.

According to Technomic’s recent Generational report, 27% of consumers say they are more likely to visit restaurants that make an effort to be sustainable. This number is higher among younger generations—31% of Gen Z and 32% of millennials say so. And that concern about sustainability undoubtedly encompasses convenience stores, too.

Speaking of millennials and Gen Z, they’re a demographic that retailers should want to keep satisfied; 26% of millennials and 23% of Gen Z visit c-stores once a day or more, and at visits, 56% of consumers get foodservice beverages, according to Technomic’s Q12019 Convenience-Store MarketBrief. With numbers like these, it’s essential to make sure that the beverage selection is on lock and that sustainability measures are in place as well.

Being preemptive and proactive when it comes to reducing waste can not only help in compliance with new regulations, it can also win new customers as well.

Eco-friendly alternatives

What’s a c-store retailer to do? From offering straws only by request to switching to paper straws to dropping straws all together, there are an array of options, but no one solution is perfect. Instead, offer customers reusable straws, cups and mugs for their beverages. The advantages are many, for both consumers and c-store retailers. Reusables cups offer greater variety than plain-white disposables, from whimsical custom straws to mugs outfitted with straw-less drink-thru lids. Cup variants range from clear tumblers to vacuum-insulated travel mugs and are even available in novelty shapes, such as tiki-style goblets. With the store’s logo on the cups, in the hands of satisfied customers, this option offers great marketing opportunity and free advertising by spreading the word about the brand’s dedication to reducing waste.

Spell it out

Communicate the details of the refill mug loyalty program clearly to customers. Set up POS materials and displays by the drink stations that spell out information on pricing, refill discounts and other incentives, as well as the eco-friendly agenda.

Selling reusable straws and cups, rather than giving away costly disposables, is not only an additional revenue stream for c-store retailers, but it will also reduce the store’s trash removal and haulage costs. And, it will decrease unsightly litter in front of the store and on the street. 

A refill program increases customer loyalty and enhances the store’s reputation, as well as boosts overall sales. Because refill mug users visit more frequently, they are more valuable than everyday discounts on disposable cup users, according to the NACS Shopper Panel. Plus, these consumers might even be more likely to purchase additional items while in the store.

Team up

For optimum leverage, c-stores should partner with companies and vendors that are committed to these environmentally friendly strategies and products.  For example, Whirley-DrinkWorks! has set a goal to be a zero-waste facility by 2020. And since 2011, the company has reduced total waste to landfill by 96% and has reground and reused over 6.2 million pounds of plastic.

So, switch to reusables and rethink the refill—it’s better for store, customers and the planet.

This post is sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!


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