Season 9 Episode 10

What are Refill Centres and are they as good as they sound?

Today we go trendy and chat about the next big step for the way we shop for food. Yep that’s right, we’re heading into refill centres! These are popping up all around the world to help you only buy the quantities of ingredients you need, and postively impact the environment by reducing the use of packaging. It’s a no brainer to adopt this method of shopping… isn’t it?! What’s your view on refill centres, have you ever used one and how did you find it? If you haven’t, then tell us why! Comment below to join the debate.

Best soundbite“You can pick up a teaspoon of a spice? That’s CRRRAAAZZZZAAAYYY…” – James Currie

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Something to make you think...

Lots of supermarkets are trialling refill centres as a method to shop already. Will this become more widely offered and what else can supermarkets do to make this at the forefront of how people shop? Will we ever see this as a way to get our shopping delivered to our door?

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  1. pavlina542125

    Something James would like to see in UK grocery deliveries is actually working (- ish) in Czech Republic.

    You can buy basic dry staples, dairy products, food for pets, shampoo or detergents in glass conteiners for deposit equivalent of.. idk.. 20 pennies? (diffrent currency problems) plus price of product, of course… By the time you run out, you’ll just order a new glass jar of product you need and hand the emty one over to delivery man. They’ll wash it in and use it again.

    Products are all BIO quality, hence bit more expensive, but nothing soul crushing.

    It is still quite new, so sortiment is limited, so I am buing sustainably what I can (and is at least bit reasonable) and normally what I cannot and it is all delivered in once.

  2. Sunanda_K

    As an Indian person, it feels so bizarre that hipster, high end shops are now “refill” stores in the USA (haven’t been to other countries yet). Here, traditional shops (which have the super-local, inexpensive stuff, included locally made soap sold in paper) have always been bulk stores. They weren’t of course, plastic-free : if you don’t bring your container, of course they’ll give you a new plastic bag. It is super encouraging to see many people showing up with reusable containers at such small neighborhood shops. Even diaries tend to sell milk products by weight and you can buy those directly.However, quality and standardization are issues here- some loose spices sometimes turn out to be adulterated.
    Also, I’m with the normals on buying small quantities of novelty spices – reduces waste a lot, because if you just want to try out a new recipe, you don’t want to end up with 50g of a spice that you may never use again. Although, like James, I do buy large quantities of spices that I know I’ll end up using anyway.
    In general, plastic waste reduction is HUGE and it will almost always come at the cost of some amount of convenience. So it’s up to us to get used to a mild bit of inconvenience because the trade off in environmental impact is great.

  3. pamdick58

    Anyone else old enough to remember when all you had to do was call your grocer or pharmacy and say, “charge and deliver?” Everything old is new again.

  4. pamdick58

    To be honest I am not too keen on people bringing their own containers from home into the bulk food/refill section of my supermarket. In fact I am pretty sure the health code prohibits it. I use the paper bags or plastic pots (they can be recycled where I live) provided by the store. Find it kind of funny that something that has traditionally been a standard, money saving way to shop in my store for more than 25 years is now a trendy, eco-friendly way of shopping.

  5. george.elis

    Used what you might call a ‘refill centre’ at my local grocers but I never would have called it that. They have walls of nuts, seeds, dried goods and occasionally select whole spices (that they’ll grind for you for a small charge) and you can use their containers or bring your own and get money off the bill. It’s arguably more expensive than the supermarket, but the quality is noticeable. As a student I don’t shop there often as it’s irresponsible on my wallet but for a treat it is superb!

  6. konulshirin

    It sounds so strange to me that Barry can’t use the pomegranate molasses, as in our cuisine in Azerbaijan we’d use it up in no time. I’d add it to fatty fish (we eat sturgeon a lot), or lamb meat, kebabs (meat and veggies), use it as salad dressing, you name it!

    I haven’t seen refill shops in my hometown in Baku, but then we have old school eastern markets we I could buy lots of dry produce in bulk by weight. But my main concern is hygiene. When I moved to Milan this February just weeks before the lockdown, I was happy to find a zero-waste shop with lots of dry goods, washing liquids, even beauty products to refill, as I’m trying to cut down on plastic. However, some dispenser containers didn’t appear particularly clean to me, maybe I am being picky here.

  7. ch88

    I’d love to try a refill centre but I haven’t found one locally yet, once the current situation calms down a bit I will probably start looking around for one. I do own a bunch of fabric fruit and veg bags and they are a great way to avoid plastic while I’m out shopping.
    When I’ve visited family in the Netherlands I’ve seen some refill facilities in supermarkets but they seem to be a bit of novelty, I know of one chain that offers refills on traditional sweet sandwich toppings (like chocolate sprinkles, or rather, ‘hagelslag’) but have never actually seen anyone use those.
    I like the idea of getting local meat and veg delivered to our home, however I just really enjoy the routine of going to the supermarket once a week with my grocery list and having a browse for interesting produce. If my local Tesco would offer refill facilities I would definitely use them and make it part of that routine, too, not for spices maybe but for things like rice and lentils.

    Also, living not far from London, listening to this episode is making me reflect on how much this corner of the world has changed in just the last few weeks, as I’m sure it has all over the world. Getting deliveries from a supermarket? Browsing farmers markets? Shopping at multiple stores for groceries? Seems like a lifetime ago already! Let’s hope things will go back to normal soon.

  8. elizabeth305796

    I love refill centers! I don’t mind the time I spend weighing and filling my own jars as I find it relaxing. I’ve been going for a couple of years now and I’m used to it, I rarely buy in supermarkets what I can buy zero waste. The prices vary depending on whether it’s organic or not but to me it’s all reasonably priced, except for the flour which I buy in 10kg bags at a super store for 1/4 of the price I would pay in refill centers. I am very willing to do my part for the environment and I think those places are great.

    Here in Québec we have them in most of the major cities and it’s catching on very well. During quarantine instead of closing,
    my local refill center offered to take orders online and the owner and single employee fill the paper bags themselves so we can only go and pick it up. It is not a perfect system as it still uses paper bags that have to be manufactured but it’s still better than full on plastic packaging.

    Not that many people here get their groceries delivered and the main reason I often hear is that people want to see what they’re buying. No doubt the trend will catch here soon enough though, as it is rather convenient!

  9. danielahitstheroad

    A suggestion for Barry: use the pomegranate molasses in green salad dressings; basically everything you’d use balsamic vinegar cream for. Grilled veggies, vanilla ice cream (weirdly), salads etc.
    As for refill shops: I have used them, but have to agree with James that I cook so much that I normally use a lot of everything. A teaspoon of spice doesn’t last a single cooking session, I shop pepper by the pound and go for gastro sizes of everything else. I pick up 25kg of flour at my local mill.
    I’ve never had food delivered though; why, as a Chef, would you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be inspired by what is available at the shops? I often pick dinner by what looks appetizing while shopping and I don’t have a lot of time to spare, so this is not to while away the day; it’s fun rummaging around the veg+fruit island, have a peek at the butchers, discover new cheeses.
    Concerning packages: we as customers got our local supermarket to reduce plastic packaging drastically (cucumbers no longer wrapped in shrink foil for example, much more loose stuff) and they provided washable nets to transport loose food in. I have four in the car so I always have them at hand. We have a lot more power as customers to vote with our feet than we are giving ourselves credit for, I think.

  10. ashtxnalexander

    I’m from the Brisbane part of Australia and I know of one refill centre near me (though a large part of it is lollies) but all Coles’ (an Aus supermarket) that I know of have a pick & mix of nuts and assorted dried fruit. I’d love to have more refill centres nearby, especially since my dad and i are trying to be as sustainable as possible

  11. Annie1962

    Being from the area of Fremantle West Aussie , I’ve known of these type of shops for a while – you can bring your own container and store all the flours, herbs spices etc in them and they are weighed for you.. the shop also has all meats and cheeses too. It’s great savings for flours etc.
    The aroma of these shops are amazing. I remember these places from the late 70s and being Italian – they made a wicked coffee.
    Kakulis is the name..
    I haven’t been to one in ages.. tempting to go once more now you’ve talked about it.


    I love the idea of refill centers and actually made my own bags to get dried supplies in, but they’re so few and far between in my area that it’s terribly inconvenient to be the primary method of shopping.

  13. cncdickson

    The main reason I use the refill center at my grocery store is for specialty items that I don’t use very often and if I purchased a whole bag, it would go to waste or, like Mike said, to try an item I am not sure I will like.

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