Bringing Back the Milkman

JIT Systems Are DOA but It Isn't All Bad

Photo: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald

Responsible consumption is an allusive buzz phrase that many corporations have been chasing in order to capture a larger share of a more environmentally-conscious market and please organizations that are pressuring big companies to use less plastics and reduce waste. Problem is, there’s been no practical model to eliminate all of the plastics we are purchasing and tossing into landfills. Except when there is.

In a classic case of what’s old is new again, one international recycling company, TerraCycle, has teamed up with some of the largest consumer corporations to launch a new shopping system called Loop, which is essentially a remake of the old-fashioned milkman model that delivered fresh milk to your grandmother’s doorstep eras ago. All you had to do was leave the empty container for collection.

I have an innate distaste for corporate advocacy of any type, particularly anything that purports to be “global,” but sometimes even the enemy has an idea with merit. The idea for Loop was founded at the World Economic Forum by TerraCycle with industry giants Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Petcare, and many other global corporations.  Additional partners include Carrefour, with leading British retailer Tesco to pilot the program later in the year.

TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky said in a press release by Nestlé, “Loop will not just eliminate the idea of packaging waste, but greatly improve the product experience and the convenience in how we shop. Through Loop, consumers can now responsibly consume products in specially-designed durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials like alloys, glass and engineered plastics. When a consumer returns the packaging, it is refilled, or the content is reused or recycled through groundbreaking technology.”

Häagen-Dazs Non-Dairy Mocha Chocolate Cookie

Nestlé will use Loop to enable consumers to responsibly enjoy Häagen-Dazs ice cream and other  products in customized, durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and re-used—all from your front door step.

Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery systems, have been used since at least the 1980s to control costly storage expenses. In reality, large grocery stores are JIT expenses for big corporations like Procter & Gamble. Grocery retailers are little more than storage points for products waiting for a buyer. By selling directly to the consumer, companies will be able to eliminate the middleman. Loop is entering the market for door-based deliveries at a good time. Consumers are already hooked on the convenience of Amazon shopping, but the added bonus of not having to dispose of the packaging while feeling good about reducing your own personal waste is a plus.

Entire industries are jumping on board direct-to-buyer systems. Think of the many consumer clubs, such as Blue Apron, that have been rolled out over the last several years. Small producers and entrepreneurs are already bringing recurring purchases like wine and shave products and pet treats and toys straight to the consumer’s door, allowing them to bypass Bezos’ Amazon.

Loop is exactly the same concept. It will still rely on consumers to actually sign up, but what makes it different is that consumers will be able to feel good about helping the environment and there will be multiple companies and products to sign up for using just one system rather than the hassle of signing up for multiple clubs. Shoppers can go to the Loop website or partnering retailer website and shop for brands they use in redesigned, waste-free packaging. Loop will replenish products as needed and return the refilled shipping totes to the consumer. If there is recoverable used product such as diapers, pads, razors or brush parts, they will be recovered to be reused or recycled.

Aviation history was made when convenience store 7-Eleven and Flirtey teamed up to make the first-ever, federally-approved autonomous drone delivery trial.

I don’t particularly like big international corporations and my skeptical side reminds me that these companies are not teaming up for completely altruistic reasons, such as their desire to eliminate the middleman, but I can at least get behind protecting the environment for future generations. It also helps the delivery industry and employs people—at least for now. I’m sure drones will one day replace the old-fashioned Loop milkman as well. According to businessinsider.com, “Drone delivery services show enough potential that Amazon, Alphabet, and other tech giants are hailing it as the future of e-commerce fulfillment. Many major retail and logistics companies around the world are testing drone delivery services and systems to solve the sticky problem of ‘last mile’ deliveries.”

But drone delivery services are not without problems. One such problem is what I like to think of as the “creep” factor of drones outfitted with GPS and cameras finding homes and delivering packages. It’s invasive and my privacy warning bell is loudly ringing. However, most consumers appear willing to ignore privacy issues over convenience and habit, using social media platforms that they know track their every move in real time and collect and sell their data. Consumers also seen nonplussed using home monitoring security systems and even creepier products like Alexa, which is always listening to household conversations.  Arguably, there is also the creep factor of actual real people you don’t know coming to your doorstep (other than Amazon). The milkman today may be a lot more dangerous than the one who delivered your grandmother’s milk in the 1950s and 1960s.

Self-checkout machines are here to stay. The next revolution will be eliminating the store entirely.

But people have become completely desensitized to giving away their personal information. Netflix and other entertainment streamers like Hula, know what you watch and for how long. Amazon keeps a record of everything you purchase, as do credit card companies and banks who track our purchases via debit card. The electronic gods already know who your friends are, what you celebrate, your likes and dislikes, and what you watch on YouTube, so Loop, though environmentally friendly, is just another way for corporations to get a little closer to your doorstep and save themselves money. But does it matter since you’ve already left the front door unlocked?

The shopping experience for major outlets trading in consumer goods is already changing. Walmart has depersonalized their big-box stores with multiple self-checkout lines and remodeled most stores for customer pick-up.  The retail industry understands that the shopper experience is going to change, even if we do not. While we may complain that we can’t find a cashier on a busy Saturday shopping day, it isn’t going to bring back one single cashier with a name tag. The corporate gods have spoken. #Reignwell

1 Comment on Bringing Back the Milkman

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