The bulk: success story of a new era of sustainable consumption


Back on a round table dedicated to the theme of zero packaging. The bulk market, guarantor of tomorrow’s new consumption habits, was a subject addressed by the various experts of the ALL4PACK Emballage Paris 2022 conference area: Célia Rennesson, co-founder of Réseau Vrac, accompanied by Didier Onraita-Bruneau, President and co-founder of My Retail Box, and Wenaël Regnier, founder and CEO of Sempaack & Semco.


Bulk was quickly seen as a boon to address the packaging issue, reducing it to nothing from a distribution perspective. A market that promotes an eco-design approach reduced to a minimum, by putting the consumers in charge of packaging.

Thus, to the question “Which packaging seems the most respectful of the environment?”, the bulk proposes a categorical answer: none!

Which packaging material, which packaging for tomorrow? For bulk enthusiasts, the packaging of the future will simply not be.

Or rather, it will be up to consumers, who are responsible for their own packaging and anticipate their purchases in order to provide themselves with suitable containers.

Inspired by the trend of reusable packaging, such as supermarket shopping bags, bulk packaging is at the heart of a transition between eco-design and eco-responsibility, in which the consumer is the main actor alongside the distributors.

Overview of the market in France

According to Célia Rennesson, once the level of commitment of the bulk market in France was measured, it was finally shown to be much higher than in other European Union countries.

A more extensive presence than in Germany or in the Nordic countries. Nations still anchored in a traditional distribution culture of “everything packaged”, in opposition to the qualitative and quantitative approach of bulk – an alternative market that personalizes and makes each purchase responsible.

In other words, two very distinct schools of consumption between ready-to-eat products in defined quantities and bulk products, “available in chosen quantities”, as the association’s representative puts it.

Evolution of Réseau Vrac

2015-2016: Establishment of the association, driven by the rise of zero waste, and awareness of food waste. As its founder points out, it was necessary to “create a corresponding market, a framework of trust for consumers”.

The initial budget of Réseau Vrac: 150 million euros for the market, multiplied by 10 in 5 years with the rise of the phenomenon and its permanent inclusion in the legislative framework.
As a proof, the new Climate and Resilience Law which is in line with the same pro-environmental approach as bulk.

Results: Creation of 1000 dedicated stores, with 90% of the organic stores and 70% of the big brands equipped with bulk. A movement whose legitimacy has been directly confirmed by the interest of the French in bulk, 37% of whom claim to consume products regularly.

2020: the bulk market extends from food to beverages, liquids, hygiene products, and the global non-food market.

A coherence in the distribution circuit of bulk in France that many European countries envy us, according to the experts of the ALL4PACK Emballage Paris exhibition.

2021: 341 new dedicated stores have been opened in France. A success story that has not finished to make people talk, nor to make them think about new sustainable consumption habits, in a logic of eco-responsibility shared between distributors and consumers.

Bulk, a fervent fighter against food waste

Didier Onraita-Bruneau, expert of My Retail Box, drew up a complete assessment of the main enemy that the bulk market fights daily: food waste. A rather dismal assessment in terms of waste, but essential to get a panoramic view of the role and long-range impact of the bulk market.

Some key figures:

  • Waste alone accounts for 30-40% of global production in terms of quantities.
  • The agri-food market encourages waste, particularly because of commodity speculation. Between speculation and natural disasters that destroy crops and rice fields, 30% of the land dedicated to rice cultivation is cultivated for nothing, as an example.
  • We are talking about foodstuffs that will never reach the point of feeding a stomach, while at the same time the rate of famine is increasing, reaching 10% of the world’s population in 2022 (according to the UN report).

In short, the question of bulk has become a Western issue that also aims to limit the food waste of Eastern cultures, and to rebalance the specificities and disparities of so-called rich and poor countries.

Didier Onraita-Bruneau also recalled that the role of bulk is to limit losses due to open packaging. Especially for foodstuffs which, after having remained in the cupboards, end up in the garbage can.

In the same vein, Wenaël Regnier from Sempaack & Semco insisted on the idea of adapting the logic of bulk to all types of consumption, food and non-food. This is to avoid the daily waste that we experience once we reach the end of a food product, such as a jar of applesauce, or at the end of life of a beauty or hygiene product, such as a tube of toothpaste.

After developing sugarcane-based PE in response to plastic waste, the CEO hopes to extend the vision of bulk to all forms of consumption in order to raise awareness about buying a controlled amount of product.

Bulk, the consumption habit of tomorrow

For the success story to be sustainable, a few essential conditions must be met:

  • Hygiene: irreproachable, this is the watchword, whatever the point of sale of the bulk. The trust towards the brand is a fundamental notion to create consumer loyalty – who does not have in his hands the information written on the packaging to put him in confidence, or to answer his questions.
  • Practicality: the bulk market confirms its constant evolution with the appearance of an innovation per month for 6 years already, in order to facilitate the access and the consumption for all.
  • Traceability: information that is present, clear and legible throughout the product chain is a sine qua non condition for guaranteeing the objective of traceability, which is essential to the consumer.

In conclusion, it seems obvious that the bulk market is booming, with many initiatives and innovations that are constantly emerging to perpetuate this consumption habit and expand its audience.

More aware of the right use of foodstuffs, consumers have a role to play in the transition towards eco-responsible consumption reflexes, necessary from a pro-environmental point of view.

Watch the replay of the conference below :

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