How Coles and Woolworths gave Flora & Fauna its best month ever

Julie Mathers, founder and CEO of Flora & Fauna

The removal of free single-use plastic bags at checkout has come at a cost to Coles and Woolworths, with both supermarkets admitting the decision had a negative impact on sales. But the national chains’ loss has become some other retailers’ gain, as growing consumer awareness around plastic pollution creates boom times for eco-friendly businesses.

Online retailer Flora & Fauna, which offers a diverse range of sustainable and cruelty-free homewares, apparel and beauty products, including reusable bags, posted its best month “by quite a factor” in July, according to the company’s founder and CEO Julie Mathers.

“Sales of reusable shopping bags went through the roof,” she said.

Mathers noted that Flora & Fauna regularly participates in the Australia-founded initiative Plastic Free July, which often leads to a boost in sales.

She described the event as “a little bit like our Christmas”, but said the fact that the plastic bag ban occurred in the same month this year likely contributed to even higher sales. Sales in July were 20 per cent up on June, according to Mathers.

“Customers are just more conscious. We see it largely via social media. They will question packaging more on everything,” she said.

“We recently launched a lip balm in a cardboard tube, and people immediately started asking whether they could get deodorant in cardboard and other products like that.”

A can of worms

Indeed, while customers are largely in favour of the removal of free, single-use plastic bags at supermarket checkouts, they have been quick to spot the hypocrisy of retailers requiring customers to bring reusable bags, but then selling plastic-wrapped produce or giving away plastic collectibles as a promotion.

Coles and Woolworths have found themselves needing to account for the use of plastic throughout their business.

Flora & Fauna has experienced this phenomenon too. Mathers said she stopped including free beauty product samples in customer orders – dutifully sent in FSC-certified cardboard boxes, rather than plastic satchels – since customers saw them as wasteful.

“Customers are just becoming more expectant,” she said.

Last year, the retailer partnered with TerraCycle, a US-based recycling company that specialises in handling hard-to-recycle materials like mascara tubes and other beauty product containers. Customers send their empty containers to Flora & Fauna, which forwards items to TerraCycle for reuse.

The retailer has benefitted from this comprehensive approach to sustainability. Next month, it will move into a larger warehouse in Paramatta, Sydney, which includes a small storefront, giving Flora & Fauna its first official bricks-and-mortar presence since launching four years ago.

Mathers said the store will give customers an opportunity to try on certain products – like makeup and apparel – before buying. It will also be used as an events space, where Flora & Fauna can hold sessions on topics like creating a plastic-free home.

“You don’t need to have a lot of stores, but you need to have some,” Mathers said.

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