The Future Is Refillable – Next Gen Smart Dispensers

Cleantech and Greentech are steeply rising investment areas globally. According to John Doerr, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital company Kleiner Perkins, “Green technologies – going green – is bigger than the internet. It could be the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century.”

Global retail specialist Smollan is focusing on the potential around the future of Greentech as it impacts retail and FMCG. Alongside the recent investment in Mr Green Africa in Kenya, Smollan has developed Smartfill – next-gen smart dispensers created in partnership with dY/dX, a leading digital transformation consultancy.

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The concept not only addresses the issue of creating less packaging but allows consumers to purchase as much or as little of a product as they desire, increasing affordability for basic food and hygiene items. Building on the success of its early market tests and Gcwalisa prototypes, which won multiple awards both in South Africa and globally, the Smollan and dY/dX venture to commercialise, holds massive opportunities for this market.

“Our innovation strategy is a combination of build and acquire, and by spinning out Smartfill as its own start-up with focus and capital, we will accelerate momentum and growth. The Smartfill dispenser focuses on the $400-billion FMCG packaging challenge by providing a data platform with hardware and software layers to enable packageless logistics and retail. It’s incredibly exciting as this will enable connected, eco-friendly stores of the future,” said Rudi Nienaber, Head of Innovation at Smollan.

The patent-pending technology behind this dispenser solves key retail challenges such as providing consumers with an enhanced packageless experience, reduced retailer cost of management, improved logistics and access to valuable shopper data in real time – all in a secure loT environment. Consumers are able to purchase the quantity they need and take their purchases away in their own container; the option to use low-cost biodegradable paper bags or purchase a reusable container. The dispenser shows customers their purchase amount on a screen with the same sensors providing real time stock levels to both the store and the manufacturer, simplifying restocking and distribution.

The start-up, led in its initial stages by Marc Wetselaar, a seasoned entrepreneur with a long history in the technology and start-up industry, is aiming to scale up quickly with a focus on Europe as its key market. “Changing European legislation is placing greater pressure on retailers and brands in Europe where French legislation for example, forces retailers to dedicate up to 20% of their floorspace to packageless retail by 2030,” said Wetselaar.

“Our partnership with Smollan is a great example of the work our teams achieve,” said Nevo Hadas from dY/dX. “More than 20 global specialists from the UK to India have been involved in bringing this project to life. From research to business models, prototyping, design, software, and the ever-critical venture builders that make things happen. Innovation is never a smooth journey, so working with an entrepreneurial partner like Smollan that understands the successes and setbacks of building something new, is a key ingredient to making this sustainable. We have a long roadmap of additional products and innovations for Smartfill as we focus on scalability and building out the operations as it moves from prototypes to testing to market.”

“Trends suggest that packaging-free retail is set to grow rapidly to meet demand around affordability and a consumer preference for brands with circular characteristics. We are investing heavily in this growing sector to create influential opportunities for brands and profitability for retail outlets. Being able to offer an affordable, personalised shopping experience that in turn contributes to making a positive social impact to reduce environmental packaging in the mainstream market, is an area of the new economy that makes sense for us. Collaborating with our partners in FMCG and retail supply chains we are confident that the Smartfill dispenser will grow rapidly,” said Michael Smollan, Chief Growth and Innovation Officer at Smollan.