Saving our planet; one bag at a time

November 17, 2008

Add an element of fun or style to your reusable bags

I’ve been convinced of this for a while now. Even as more people begin to switch to reusable bags instead of plastic or paper bags, they’re not really satisfied with just plain jane cloth bags. That’s why we offer so many customization options to our customers.

This story from the Bristol Press highlights the point.

Customers were bringing reusable bags from other stores into Stew Leonard stores, asking for something similar in a shopping bag in place of the canvas bags the store had been offering.

Stew Leonard’s youngest daughter, 13-year-old Madison Leonard, picked up on the idea. She surveyed more than 600 customers about what they wanted in a reusable shopping bag, including which materials and designs appealed to them.

“Overall, customers told us they wanted a fun design,” Madison Leonard said.

Here’s the whole story.

By SCOTT WHIPPLE

Herald Press staff

NEWINGTON - It took a 13-year-old girl to discover what customers wanted in a reusable shopping bag.

Bob Warren, Stew Leonard’s director of operations at its Newington store, said customers were bringing reusable bags from other stores into Stew Leonard stores, asking for something similar in a shopping bag in place of the canvas bags the store had been offering.

Stew Leonard’s youngest daughter, 13-year-old Madison Leonard, picked up on the idea. She surveyed more than 600 customers about what they wanted in a reusable shopping bag, including which materials and designs appealed to them.

“Overall, customers told us they wanted a fun design,” Madison Leonard said. “Their favorite was actually the cow-print bag, which is ironic, because it was the one design my grandfather [who founded Stew Leonard's] originally told me to take out of the survey. Good thing we listen to our customers.”

Madison Leonard said another winner was the “Eat Right, Eat Healthy” design; it was a favorite among both kids, who liked the design, and their parents, who liked the nutritional message.

Since Stew Leonard’s began offering reusable canvas bags last year, and since then the stores’ overall plastic bag use is down 15 percent. To date, more than 80,000 reusable bags have been sold in Stew Leonard’s four stores, with sales up 300 percent over last year. In Newington, Stew Leonard’s sold 12,237 bags and has given away 4,629 since Jan. 1.

Last week, Stew Leonard’s introduced a new type of reusable bags in its Newington store, replacing the canvas bags. The new version is made from more than 50 percent recyclable materials; the inside core is a material made from recycled plastic bottles, while the outside film is a polypropylene material that makes it water repellent and

easily wiped clean. The bags, the size of a standard paper bag, are much more durable than plastic or paper and can hold up to 40 pounds and be reused numerous times.

The three distinct designs include:

The popular cow motif. Madison Leonard says the animals “are all the rage, and this black and white cow-print bag is ‘moovelous.’”

The Healthy Way. Remind yourself to “Eat Right, Eat Healthy,” with a bag that features an illustration from Stew Leonard’s nutrition storybook for kids, “The Healthy Way.” The design is on a white background with lime green trim.

And the easily recognizable Stew Leonard’s logo. Customers show their love of farm-fresh foods by sporting a golden yellow bag imprinted with a subtle Stew Leonard’s script logo as a background pattern, with a prominent “kid and cow” logo in the center.

“We want to encourage customers to be green as much as possible,” explained Meghan Flynn, vice president of public relations for Stew Leonard’s. “The best way to do that is to offer these reusable bags. Paper isn’t any better than plastic.”

The new reusable bags are sold for $1.29 each. In addition, customers who spend $200 get a free bag with their purchase. As an incentive, customers who use reusable bags in place of plastic or paper are entered into a monthly drawing to win a $50 Stew Leonard’s gift card. The bags are available in the store and can be ordered online at stewleonardsgifts.com.

Stew Leonard’s is also launching a promotion that builds off the company’s famous “Bags Around the World” wall. Previously, customers received a $3 gift card for sending in creative photos of themselves holding their Stew Leonard’s bag. Now customers who send in a photo of themselves holding one of Stew Leonard’s reusable bags receive a $5 gift certificate.

The average American household uses about 900 plastic bags a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Between all four Stew Leonard’s stores, the company uses 18 million plastic bags a year. Since January, Stew Leonard’s has recycled close to 50,000 pounds of plastic, which translates to about 2.6 million plastic bags. “While it is a great start, the solution is to encourage customers to use reusable shopping bags,” says Bob warren, director of operations.

Warren says paper bags aren’t the answer, either, since it takes more than four times the energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to make a plastic bag. Because they are bulkier, it takes 64 truckloads to deliver all the paper bags Stew Leonard’s needs versus 12 trailer loads for plastic bags. It also takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.

“At Stew Leonard’s, we pride ourselves on listening to our customers,” said Stew Leonard Jr. “We hope that by providing functional reusable bags in a choice of fun, colorful designs, customers will be more likely to use them in place of plastic and remember to bring them in every time they shop. We can all make a difference by reducing our use of plastic, one bag at a time.”

Stew Leonard’s, a family-owned and operated fresh-food store, was founded in 1969. It operates stores in Norwalk, Danbury, Newington and Yonkers, N.Y.

Scott Whipple can be reached at swhipple@newbritainherald.com or by calling (860) 225-4601, ext. 319.

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