Interview with MIWA, Green Alley Award Finalist 2018
The Czech startup MIWA has invented a unique technology that could revolutionize the supermarkets and retailers of the future: Their retail solution works completely without packaging along the whole supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer. The system is based on reusable capsules and in-store modular units that can be easily integrated into the supply chain: Producers can fill the reusable capsules directly with their products and transport them to the store. In store, customers then fill their own or returnable boxes with the unpackaged goods of their choice. For this easy way to combat the worldwide plastic pollution problem and reduce the amount of packaging waste, MIWA was nominated as one of the six finalists of the Green Alley Award 2018, Europe’s first startup prize for the circular economy. Founder and CEO Petr Baca tells us what motivated him to create a packaging-free shopping experience for everyone.
# With Miwa you developed a retail system for distribution and sales of packaging-free goods. How did you come up with your business idea? What motivated you?
In the very beginning of the idea, there were two experiences. Firstly, my children made me much more sensitive to sustainability issues. The second was my professional background in the packaging design industry that helped me realize how big amounts of waste are generated as a result of single use packaging.
Having learned about the precycling concept which prevents creation of waste, I thought that with the help of today’s technology, it must be possible to produce, transport, sell and buy goods without the need for single use packaging for each part of the supply chain.
The transformation of the idea into a viable business model has been subsequently worked out by an expert team with members specialized in a number of fields. The team significantly helped to turn the idea into the current business model so that the project is attractive for all stakeholders from producers and retailers to shoppers.
Apart from being designed as a business solution, MIWA is an innovative project with large ambitions when it comes to environmental impact. This is both challenging and motivating for me as well as for the whole team. We are building a better future.
# In Germany we see zero-waste supermarkets popping up on every street corner, using a similar bulk system like Miwa. Except, you catapulted the idea to a higher level. Why did no one else before you invent this kind of retail solution?
Yes, packaging-free trades are growing throughout Europe, modern trades experiment with implementation of bulk sale sections with all the limitations these systems have.
The growth is partially due to the increased awareness of the impacts of existing distribution systems, partially to the fact that the packaging waste issue has become far too visible.
In contrast to existing zero-waste supermarkets, which are rather small traditional trade formats, MIWA proposes a solution that is easily implementable for large modern trades and renowned producers. Quality assurance of the goods which are sold, is only one of many requirements the big players in the FMCG have. And MIWA is dealing with all of them.
So far, I am not aware of any comparable solution on the market. There might be several reasons. MIWA is dealing with the whole supply chain and to design and implement such solution is challenging in the first place. Also, I think that such a solution targeting the modern trade market together with renowned producers is very difficult to design from inside the retail eco system. On the other hand, if you are not part of it, you might be lacking that much needed industrial insight. So, it is a little bit of a vicious circle. I was nevertheless lucky to build up very a strong team with necessary expertise that was able to design such a solution.
# Your system could revolutionize the way we shop our groceries. But how long do you think will it take until consumers and retailers have adopted and accepted the new system?
Besides the environmental impact, MIWA is designed as economically viable solution for everyone involved. Further our waste eliminating technology gives both producers and retailers a means to address responsible shoppers, whose numbers are growing steeply. Last but not least, MIWA is surprisingly easy to implement in the existing logistics system.
This gives us confidence that MIWA will be accepted by the market. Our initial discussions both with FMCG corporates and shoppers confirm our assumptions. Retailers are already looking for solutions of this kind while shoppers keep asking when they will be able to shop via MIWA.
We believe that we can scale up the project geographically within two years after initial pilot, which will be run at the beginning of next year. We are nevertheless aware that we will have to keep pace and that innovation has to stay in the core of MIWA business in order to continually improve and to gain even larger reach.
# What kind of stakeholders could you involve and how was your customer feedback so far?
The primary stakeholders of the MIWA’s ecosystem are producers and retailers. Subsequently, opportunities for other stakeholders (logistics, wholesale, e-tail etc) are opening up.
During the development of the MIWA system, we have intensively consulted both producers and retailers from the traditional and modern trade. As strategic partners, they provide MIWA with valuable insights and feedback.
In general, producers understand very well the benefits of MIWA. For them the implementation of the system simply means replacing the disposable packaging with standardized reusable packaging. All this together with gaining much better control over the flow of goods.
As for retailers, the situation is a little more complicated. The implementation involves an adjustment of the existing trade layout, the introduction of a new sales technology and processes as well as running new marketing campaigns towards shoppers. However, MIWA has prepared a number of supporting tools to simplify the implementation and the feedback from retailers is positive.
# In one sentence: What does circular economy mean to you?
It means the right direction we should take. And it also means return to the rational use of available resources, which has been a bit lost in our activities over the past decades.
Find the interviews with the other finalists of the Green Alley Award 2018 here: