Wal-Mart said that consumer goods manufacturers should follow the lead of Unilever and make smaller products to reduce transport and storage costs as it preached the virtues of sustainable business practices at the food business forum in Paris on Friday.
John Menzer, vice-chairman of Wal-Mart, said that Unilever’s new “small and mighty” laundry detergent, which consists of concentrated liquid in a little bottle, allowed the retailer to keep more of the product in stock, and distribute it more quickly to customers.
“We are encouraging the entire industry to go in this direction,” he said. Unilever approached Wal-Mart with the detergent, which it launched late last year.
Wal-Mart is also starting to cut down on packaging, reducing the size of cardboard boxes for its own-label toys. It says this will allow it to save $3.5m in transportation and 5,000 trees every year.
Mr Menzer said that reducing waste and developing sustainable business practices (which include using energy efficiently) is “the next logical step for business.”
The retailer introduced a “no idle” policy for its trucks this year to stop drivers using fuel when trucks are stationary. It has provided small generators in truck cabins to provide air conditioning.
It claims this will help it save $25m on fuel and 10m gallons of diesel fuel.
It has introduced solar power into its stores, and says it is recycling the grease from rotisserie chickens to heat stores in Texas. Like some UK retailers, it is also moving to biodegradable packaging for fruit, which is derived from corn.
To meet rising consumer demand for organic products, it has developed organic clothes for babies made from cotton.
Meanwhile, L’Oreal said that it was starting to think about creating “totally natural” products, such as lipsticks derived from plants. L’Oreal recently acquired the UK’s Body Shop chain, but has not outlined what it plans to do with the retailer.
Jean-Paul Agon, L’Oreal’s chief executive officer, tried to dazzle his audience with ideas of products the cosmetics company could possibly make: pink and purple hair dyes that would allow people to change their hair colour every week, and lipstick that would change colour to reflect changes in peoples’ emotions.
“Will it be exactly that? Probably not,” he admitted, but he stressed that the ideas reflected the direction of L’Oreal’s thinking. “We encourage risk-taking and audacity,” he said.
His ideas seemed to win over A.G. Lafley, the chief executive of Procter & Gamble. “It was an outstanding presentation,” Mr Lafley told Mr Agon, as the two men huddled together in a coffee break.
Thursday’s food forum news: