U.K.'s Somerfield imports reverse vending machines

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LONDON -- U.K. supermarket chain Somerfield is importing a Norwegian "reverse vending" machine to promote the firm's environmentally conscious image and encourage consumption of its own brand.

The machine works by "paying" people to recycle their used drinks containers and giving them higher rewards for returning the store's own brand packs. Bar code readers will identify the make of product.

Rewards will come in the form of money-off vouchers to start with, but the longer term plan is for free points on Somerfield's Premier Points loyalty card. The points can be exchanged for goods from the Argos catalogue shops. If a rival branded product's pack is put in the machine, a message promoting the Somerfield label will be produced.

"These machines are extremely clever both for promoting the concept of recycling by enabling us to reward shoppers who bring us their empty cans, plastic and glass bottles, but also as a very smart marketing tool enabling us to encourage brand switching," says Somerfield project director Mark Thurgood.

The five foot tall machines, produced by the Norwegian Tomra, are widely used in Europe where directives on waste packaging are already enforced. U.K. regulations are still in draft form, and will not become law for another year. The European Union aims for 25% of all packaging waste to be recycled by 2001 and for at least 50% to be usefully recovered by either recycling or burning to generate electricity.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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