REWE Group Sustainability Report 2018


Packaging is part of everyday life. It has many important functions: to keep food fresh, protect it and enable its transportation. It also creates a space for communicating key information. However, many negative ecological effects arise at different points along the packaging value chain. For example, the production of packaging requires the use of natural resources, consumes energy and creates emissions. If packaging waste is not recycled due to incorrect disposal, it ends up in an incinerator. However, if it is improperly disposed of, it ends up in the environment. The stakeholders of the REWE Group see packaging as a very important issue for the company (for more information see the section Materiality Analysis).

To permanently integrate sustainability into its company processes, REWE Group has developed an all-encompassing sustainability strategy that is made up of four main pillars: Green Products; Energy, Climate and the Environment; Employees; and Social Involvement. The Green Products Strategy 2030 was adopted in 2017 in a move to more strongly anchor sustainability within procurement processes. In the action areas of ethical business practices, conservation of resources and animal welfare, the trade and tourism company designs effective measures to reduce environmental and social impacts as part of the Green Products commitment. Within the area of action of conservation of resources, the focus issues of circular economy, water and biodiversity have been identified. Packaging has a special significance in the focus area of circular economy.

GRI 301: Materials

Management Approach

In its Guideline for Sustainable Business Practices, REWE Group has committed itself to the efficient use of the natural resources soil, air and water as well as of raw materials and fuels. As part of this effort, REWE Group optimises the use of relevant resources in its business processes and takes product- and raw-material-related steps aimed at both the upstream and downstream links in the value chain.

The circular economy is an important solution for the REWE Group for conserving resources and recycling raw materials. Packaging requires significant resource consumption, thus the trade company has developed a comprehensive approach to more environmentally friendly packaging. The REWE Group cooperates closely with key stakeholders, ranging from purchasing departments to select NGOs and packaging design experts. A data analysis was carried out to identify significant impacts and leverage points which formed the basis for development of this approach. Relying on a detailed analysis of all available packaging data, in 2018 REWE Group identified key suppliers and key packaging fractions. As a second step, the company initiated optimisation projects and supplier talks across all product areas aimed at the avoidance, reduction and improvement of packaging materials for the benefit of the environment. Specific targets and measures were then determined as part of this approach.

To make progress measurable, REWE Group defined the following key performance indicators (KPIs) for the area of packaging for gauging attainment of associated targets.

KPI Target Status1
Percentage of more environmentally friendly store brand packaging 100% by the end of 2030 ↗︎
↗︎On Track Target attainedTarget not attained
1 Detailed information on the current status of target attainment should be available from 2019 upon the introduction of system tracking.

By the year 2030, all packaging for REWE Group store brand products in Germany and Austria are to add more value to benefit the environment, This was, REWE Group reduces the environmental impact of its packaging and furthers circular economy. “More environmentally friendly packaging” is defined as packaging that reduces negative impact on the environment, either by avoiding packaging, reducing its volume or improving its design or make-up.

In this approach, REWE Group differentiates between reusable and disposable packaging.

  • Reusable packaging is “more environmentally friendly” in that it promotes packaging avoidance.
  • Disposable packaging is “more environmentally friendly” in that it adds value for benefiting the environment in one or more of the following ways:
    • Reduced material mass
    • Recyclable
    • Use of secondary raw materials
    • Use of alternative materials
    • Use of certified raw materials
  • Optimisation of packaging or a packaging element means reducing its negative impact on the environment, helping reach the goal of “100 per cent more environmentally friendly packaging”.

Guideline Provides Framework

To make product packaging more environmentally friendly, REWE Group has worked with stakeholders and held internal workshops to identify improvement ideas and potential, which have provided the impetus for preparing a Guideline for More Environmentally Friendly Packaging. Published in January 2019, this policy document represents a binding framework of action for REWE Group and business relationships with the Group’s contract partners. The policy outlines what factors are fundamentally positive (“dos”) and which have negative effects (“don’ts”) with regards to the environmental friendliness of packaging.

Sustainability is systematically integrated into purchasing processes. REWE Group has defined three procedures for use based on the degree of complexity and characteristics of packaging:

  • The trade company has anchored defined requirements for more environmentally friendly packaging within its purchasing processes.
  • REWE Group has developed instruments for evaluating packaging and packaging alternatives that allow classification of packaging based on the degree to which they meet requirements for environmental friendliness.
  • In parallel, talks with suppliers form a basis for cooperation to realise improvement potential in making packaging more environmentally friendly.
  • Innovation projects are also conducted for the development of new packaging concepts.

Measures for More Environmentally Friendly Packaging

To help reduce plastic rubbish, REWE Group has stopped selling plastic shopping bags. In Germany, this step was initiated by the sales lines REWE in 2016, PENNY in 2017, DER Touristik travel agencies in 2017, and toom Baumarkt DIY stores in 2018; and in Austria by BILLA, MERKUR, PENNY, BIPA and ADEG in 2017.

“Away From Plastic”

REWE International AG is working to reduce plastic on the shelves of BILLA, MERKUR, PENNY and ADEG through the “Away From Plastic” initiative. For example, Echt B!O has sold blood oranges in cotton netting since 2018. Pumpkins and courgettes are sold without packaging. The company is implementing two future-focused initiatives to reduce the negative impact of plastics on the environment:

  1. By the end of 2019, the entire organic fruit and vegetable assortment of the organic brands Ja! Natürlich and Echt B!O are to be sold in bulk without packaging or in environmentally friendly packaging.
  2. In a broad idea-generating contest, customers and innovative start-ups were invited to develop alternative ideas for more environmentally friendly packaging and present proposals for reducing plastic. By 28 February 2019, more than 10,000 proposals had been submitted.

In addition, REWE Group has implemented a variety of other measures to make packaging more environmentally friendly and to optimise the use of resources. Thus far, more than 1,000 packaging types have been re-designed for greater environmental friendliness (as of May 2019). The resulting packaging changes implemented have cut use of plastics by REWE and PENNY by 7,650 tonnes annually.

As the first step, REWE Group is working intensively on packaging avoidance (1):

Reusable Nets for Fruits and Vegetables

REWE Group initially started looking at ways to reduce the amount of plastic bags used for fruit shopping (knot or roll bags) in late 2017. Customers were able to purchase reusable mesh bags for fresh goods at REWE stores participating in the trial and bring them back for transporting fruit time and time again. It was also pointed out that fruit and vegetables with a natural protective skin can also be transported without packaging. In October 2018, REWE became the first major grocery retailer in Germany to introduce these reusable mesh bags for fresh produce. REWE Group was also the first retailer to offer reusable mesh bags for fresh produce in Austria (2018), affording more resource-efficient carrying of unpackaged fruit and vegetables.

Natural Branding to Reduce Packaging

REWE has utilised “natural branding” since March 2017, which means that logos and information are applied directly to the skin of sweet potatoes by laser. The laser simply removes pigments from the exterior of the skin. Labelling only takes place on the surface, is completely contactless and has no influence on taste, quality or shelf life. This makes printed packaging for labelling organic products superfluous, meaning that plastic, paper and metal can be saved. During future seasonal planning, fruit and vegetable products will be regularly checked to see if they are suitable for natural branding and, where appropriate, tested and changed over to this method. Additionally, in a pilot at all BILLA stores throughout Austria, organic kiwis are being lasered with the “Ja! Natürlich” logo.

Unpackaged Organic Fruits and Vegetables

Since early 2019, REWE and PENNY have been offering organic cucumbers year-round bearing nothing but an adhesive label, dispensing entirely with the protective film. This is projected to save 80 tonnes of plastic annually. The complex transport processes for organic cucumbers have been modified through coordination with the relevant trading partners so that encasing them in film is no longer required to maintain their freshness and quality. Echt B!O – the PENNY organic brand in Austria – has offered pumpkins and courgettes free of packaging since 2018. In addition, some 630 REWE and nahkauf stores in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland will be carrying out a pilot from April 2019 for largely eliminating plastic packaging and using more environmentally friendly packaging for organic fruit and vegetables. These measures will mean a 90,000 kilograms reduction in packaging material used per year, including 55,000 kilograms of plastic.

DER Touristik Avoiding Non-recyclable Plastic Bottles

Each holiday maker uses at least 20 plastic bottles during a tour of Asia. In order reduce the amount of plastic waste in holiday regions, since winter 2017/18, Go Vacation, the destination agency of DER Touristik, has been handing out refillable water bottles to tour guests of DER Touristik tour operators Dertour, Jahn Reisen, ITS, Meiers Weltreisen, ADAC Reisen, Travelix and Kuoni at the start of their trip that they can also take home with them. There will be opportunities to fill up the bottles at water dispensers in all hotels included in the tour, and also during stops at restaurants. Single-use plastic bottles will no longer be used, at all. In Bali, guests also receive cloth bags so that plastic bags are unnecessary. The water bottles and also the cloth bags were produced locally.

An expansion of this campaign to other Asian countries, such as Vietnam or Sri Lanka, is in the planning stage.

Packaging-free Products at Meat and Cheese Counters

At select BILLA and MERKUR stores, REWE International in Austria is conducting a pilot in which sausage and cheese purchases are placed in containers brought along by customers: The customer brings along an empty, clean reusable container, staff fill the container and put a label on it. This reduces packaging usage. From June 2019 it will be possible for customers to bring along their own containers at nearly all REWE stores in Germany which have a meat and cheese counter.

REWE Group is working on a range of measures to reduce (2) materials usage where complete packaging avoidance is not possible:

Banderoles for Fruits and Vegetables to Reduce Plastic

A comprehensive overview of packaging used for fruit and vegetables was conducted and ideas to make packaging more environmentally friendly were generated. Initial implementations have already taken place. An example of the reduction of packaging material is the changeover from film packaging to adhesive tape or adhesive labels in the case of bananas. Having replaced the foil packaging used previously for bananas with banderole tape or stickers, REWE and PENNY now use 205 tonnes less plastic. The amount saved is enough to cover some 2,200 football fields. Banderoles are useful for reducing packaging with other products as well, like organic courgettes, fennel, cauliflower and leek.

Reusable Bags at toom Baumarkt DIY Stores

In April 2018, toom Baumarkt announced the complete discontinuation of use of non-reusable shopping bags. All toom Baumarkt DIY stores will now exclusively offer reusable bags in various designs and sizes. The reason for this: The more often a bag is used, the better its ecobalance value. Alongside cotton shopping bags, permanent bags made of recycled material and cardboard boxes are also available for use. Since the roll-out year, toom Baumarkt DIY stores have eliminated 470,000 disposable bags annually.

Reduced Film Thickness

Reducing film usage with select REWE and PENNY store brand products, such as sandwich/lunch bags, garbage bags as well as kitchen towel and toilet paper packaging has yielded total savings of 300 tonnes of plastic since 2016.

Where packaging reduction is not possible, improvements (3) in environmental friendliness are sought:

Circular Economy for Materials

The concept of the circular economy plays an important role for REWE Group when it comes improving unavoidable packaging. For example, REWE Group is a member of the Recyclat Initiative, an alliance of partners from a range of different industries that promotes effective recycling and practises the principle of a circular economy. Their shared goal is to develop sustainable closed loops and to use materials produced by Germany’s “Gelber Sack” (Yellow Bag) programme in which plastic rubbish is collected from private households in the country. Packaging for a portion of store-brand products in the product groups “washing, cleaning, scrubbing” at REWE and PENNY is being gradually switched to materials made entirely of recycled material. Twenty per cent of this material will come from “Gelber Sack” collections. The use of the “Gelber Sack” material is made possible by sorting technology based on laser optics. The next milestones are further increasing the percentage of “Gelber Sack” recyclable materials and converting other packaging over to recyclate.

Recycled water bottles have been sold at REWE and PENNY stores since the spring of 2019. For example, the store brands PENNY Ready and REWE Beste Wahl offer mineral water (still) in a 0.75-litre water bottle with sportscap made of 100 per cent recyclate.

Recycled Plastic for Paint Buckets

Working with its suppliers and other partners, toom Baumarkt DIY stores have developed packaging made of nearly 100 per cent recycled plastic. Since 2011, the DIY stores have been selling their store-brand paint in containers made from recycled plastic. In 2018, the assortment of paint buckets made of recycled plastic (Procyclen®) comprised 66 items. The carbon dioxide emissions from recyclate containers are up to 50 per cent less than for packaging made of primary, unrecycled material. In January 2015, toom Baumarkt DIY stores added paint trays, buckets and storage boxes made of recycled plastic to the assortment, and are continuously expanding their range of products made with recycled materials.

bi good: Packaging With the Highest Possible Percentage of Recycled Materials

In Austria, the BIPA sales line introduced a new line of household and care products in 2014 under the name bi good. The packaging consists exclusively of recyclable materials and has the current maximum possible proportion of recycled content. For example, bottles (HDPE or PET) and folding boxes (paper) are made of 100 per cent recycled material. Tubes (PE) consist of 60 per cent recycled material.

Testing of Alternative Packaging

Another approach for improving packaging is the use of grass paper. The new packaging material consists of 40 per cent sun-dried grass and only 60 per cent wood. Grass is a raw material that grows back quickly and requires less water and energy to process into grass pellets than it does to produce virgin fibre or recycled paper. No chemicals at all are used in the production of grass pellets. In addition, the production of grass paper causes less greenhouse gases than the manufacture of conventional paper from virgin fibre or recycled paper. The raw material for grass pellets comes from unused compensation areas near the paper mill. This means that grass packaging has a comparatively good ecobalance.

REWE Group is currently using grass paper packaging at its roughly 5,500 REWE and PENNY stores for PENNY Naturgut national organic apples, PENNY Naturgut national organic vine tomatoes and REWE organic pears regional.

Optimising Paper Packaging

The primary paper packaging of store-brand products at REWE and PENNY will gradually be completely switched over to more environmentally friendly alternatives. By the end of 2020, the plan is for all paper packaging to be produced only from recycled or certified paper. Using recycled paper is better for the environment because it requires less virgin fibre. If recycled paper is not suitable for a particular packaging, REWE Group uses virgin fibre paper originating from certified forests.

Overview of Some Further Packaging Optimisation Possibilities for the REWE Group

Product Measure
Organic vine tomatoes and apples (PENNY) Switching from the cardboard shells previously in use to grass paper shells
Organic canola (rapeseed) oil and sunflower oil (REWE) Reduction in materials through the use of lightweight glass
Mushrooms (REWE) Use of transparent trays instead of blue plastic trays to improve recyclability
Ice cream (REWE and PENNY) Elimination of the sealing foil between container and lid, switching to tamper-evident container closures
Various meats (REWE) Packaging reduction in plastic trays
Raspberries, blueberries, light and dark grapes (REWE) Switching from trays with lids to trays with thin foil for closure
Peaches, nectarines, apricots (REWE) Switching from plastic trays with lids to plastic trays with mesh
Salad containers (REWE To Go) Switching from trays with lids to trays with thin foil for closure
Wet wipes (REWE and PENNY) Foil made of 50% recycled material
Insulated frozen food bags (REWE and PENNY) Made of minimum 80% recycled plastic, meeting requirements for the Blue Angel ecolabel
Detergents and household cleaning products (REWE and PENNY) Packaging made of up to 100% recyclate
Toothbrushes (REWE and PENNY) Increased use of recycled material in plastic packaging up to 90%

Further topics in this area:

Product-related Risk Analyses

GRI 102-11

Regional Products

GRI 204-1

Raw Materials in Focus – Food


Raw Materials in Focus – Non-food







GRI 304

Ecological Impacts
Within the Supply Chain

GRI 308

Social Issues
in the Supply Chain

GRI 412, 414

Customer Health
and Product Safety

GRI 416

Promoting Sustainable Consumption

GRI 417

Animal Welfare


Child Labour
and Forced Labour

GRI 408, 409

Livestock Farming Conditions