The future of retail is here – and it’s more cost-effective, sustainable and proudly South Africa


A recent Deloitte report from April 2019, entitled ‘Consumer Sentiment in Retail’ found that consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally aware. The study revealed that 78% more consumers engaged in conversations about the environment on social media in H1 2019 compared to H1 2018.

One of the results of this increase is a rise in criticism of retailers’ implementation of environmentally sustainable solutions. The study showed that, while 16% of consumers praised retailers for their environmentally responsible actions in H1 2018, a year later 48% of consumers were criticising retailers for their lack of sustainable action. This indicates a marked increase in consumer awareness of the importance of eco-friendly retail solutions and their expectation that retailers behave responsibly in terms of their environmental footprint.

The importance of going circular

The importance of environmentally sustainable solutions in retail is evident when we consider that the global greenhouse gas emissions curve is not yet bending. Our ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy is heavily extractive, resource-intensive, and produces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are causing the climate crisis.

Transitioning from the current linear economy to a circular economy can transform the way in which goods and materials are produced and can offer significant reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. For example, a circular economy approach could reduce global CO2 emissions from key industry materials by 40% or by 3.7 Gt by 2050. Currently, the world is only 8.6% circular.

Key in achieving this circular economy are business models that keep assets, products, and components in use while making productive and efficient use of resources. Both of these are underpinned by two core circular economy principles: designing out waste and keeping products and materials in use.

The world’s first circular retail display

One of these products, designed specifically for the retail space, is the recently launched PolyAl display from Barrows Global, a leading retail design and manufacturing business. The PolyAl unit is the very first promotional display fit for a circular economy. Barrows’ challenge was to design a temporary display that could meet the requirements of the dynamic and ever-changing in-store environment, while using resources efficiently and eliminating waste.

Unlike most temporary displays, which are made of corrugated board and plastic with a lifespan of 4-6 weeks, the Barrows’ PolyAl unit addresses wastage by using a permanent upcycled core structure that is regularly recladded with a new brand campaign. The result? A reusable unit that requires up to 90% less corrugated board than traditional temporary displays. PolyAl units are revolutionising physical retail as brands that rent these displays enjoy a 37% carbon saving and up to a 20% cost saving.

Watch the video below to find out more about the product:

The upcycled core

Barrows was approached to find a second life for the material ‘PolyAl’, made from the plastic (polyethylene) and aluminium layers of post-consumer long-life liquid cartons that Tetra Pak and Gayatri Paper Mills are diverting from landfill. After a year of R&D, in partnership with Perspex SA, Barrows was able to manufacture a PolyAl core upcycled from 3500 long-life cartons, hence the name the PolyAl display. This reusable core is customisable with adjustable shelving, allowing for varied product heights and sizes. It is shipped flat-packed to retailers and is designed to be easily assembled and disassembled for end-of-life recycling.

‘PolyAl’, made from the plastic (polyethylene) and aluminium layers of post-consumer long-life liquid cartons.

How it all works

Barrows designs, manufactures and install the PolyAl displays at zero-cost to the retailer. The core units are asset tracked and Barrows takes responsibility for the maintenance of the units, which are uplifted and recycled into new displays at the end of 24 months.

Brands book space in-store with the retailer and rent the displays from Barrows on a monthly basis. The rental includes cladding design, distribution and installation, and all previous campaign cladding is recycled. Due to a closed-loop supply chain, Barrows ensures a hassle-free, fast and high quality brand activation with zero waste to landfill – leaving brands the time to do what they do best.

A Red Bull display unit made from Barrows PolyAl.

PolyAl launched in Dis-Chem

“Retailers own the space that the displays occupy and their buy-in for this concept is critical,” says Joss Myers, MD Barrows Africa. Dis-Chem, a leading South African drug retailer, has been the first to adopt the programme. The first 505 PolyAl displays have just been installed in Dis-Chem stores nationwide. These units have diverted 1.8 million long-life cartons from landfill and by the end of the year this number is expected to reach 3.5 million as the programme grows with Dis-Chem. “The response from our store managers and customers has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Mark Norton, Group Marketing Manager at Dis-Chem. “Freestanding display units are vital to our business, as they are designed to attract consumers and move stock quickly. Not only are the PolyAl displays made from recycled materials, but they are fully recyclable, which aligns with Dis-Chem’s commitment to be more environmentally responsible.” The first brands supporting the programme include the Dis-Chem housebrand Greener Living, Unilever’s multibrand Spring Clean, as well as Red Bull and Celltone Skin Care.

Get involved!

“In light of our current environmental crisis, many brands and retailers are becoming increasingly committed to reducing their environmental impact,” explains Jenna Bleloch, Head of Sustainability at Barrows Global. “The PolyAl units are an in-store solution that is consistent with these goals.”

The Barrows’ vision is to divert 35 million long-life cartons from landfill in PolyAl units. This fleet of 10 000 reusable displays is estimated to save 360 thousand kilograms of carbon.

Join Barrows to be a part of this responsible retail revolution by visiting for more information.



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