Pick n Pay. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Pick n Pay. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Pick n Pay says it has introduced plastic- and packaging-free fruit and vegetable sections in 13 stores to see if shoppers in SA are ready to switch from pre-packaged food to loose products.

Retailers globally face mounting pressure to reduce the environmental damage caused by plastic. In SA, a number of independent, plastic-free grocery stores have cropped up in recent years, including Cape Town’s Nude Foods and Shop Zero.

High-end retailer Woolworths said in 2018 it planned to phase out nonrecyclable plastic packaging for its own products — as well as plastic shopping bags, straws and earbuds — by 2022.

"Plastic waste remains a concern for many customers, and this trial will give them the choice to shop for more everyday fruit and vegetables free from plastic packaging," Pick n Pay said on Monday.

The retailer said it will introduce "nude wall" sections at its Pick n Pay On Nicol and Constantia shops, and 11 others. Paper bags will be available to customers at these sections, it said.

Paula Disberry, commercial retail executive at Pick n Pay, said the sale of loose products currently accounts for just 10% of all fruit and vegetables sales at the retailer.

“There is scope to grow our nude wall offering, but it needs to be sustainable and without unintended consequences. Reducing plastic waste has obvious benefits, but we need to be careful not to increase food waste levels during the process," Disberry said.

Packaging extends the shelf life of fresh produce, preventing "unnecessary food waste".

Disberry said while loose produce was previously less popular than pre-packaged products, this was changing.

"We will closely monitor shopping behaviour and if this trial is successful, we can expand the initiative to more stores.”

Pick n Pay chair Gareth Ackerman said in April 2018 the retailer had "made good progress" in shifting customers away from single-use plastic bags, having sold more than 1-million reusable bags in 2017.

But reversing "the tide of plastic damage" was a complex issue given the industry’s reliance on plastic to protect products, to aid food safety, for convenience and to make products affordable, he said at the time.