Re-use, Re-fill, Re-imagine – Innovative solutions for online consumer products within South-Africa

This Global Alliance Innovation Exchange challenge competition, delivered by KTN Global Alliance Africa, is supporting Unilever to identify innovative approaches towards new circular business models for reuse and refill models within South Africa. In this challenge, Unilever is looking to identify innovative approaches towards new circular business models for reuse and refill for online customers. The most promising solution provider will be selected by Unilever and may be given a commercial opportunity to deliver their solution in partnership, with additional support from Innovate UK KTN.


Challenge opens


Challenge closes



GBP 25,000 seed funding to work on the specific challenge. Support from Unilever and Innovate UK KTN, including support in the development of a prototype or pilot.


Plastic is very valuable. It helps Unilever to get its products to consumers safely and efficiently. It’s often the lowest carbon footprint option compared to other materials, yet far too much plastic ends up in our environment. Global research has shown the flow of plastic into the ocean each year could triple by 2040. This must stop.

By 2025 Unilever will:
Halve the amount of virgin plastic used in packaging and achieve an absolute reduction of more than 100,000 tonnes in plastic use
Help collect and process more plastic packaging than sold
Ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable
Increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic material in packaging to at least 25%.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution and to bring about change different solutions need to be considered. This requires out of the box innovative thinking and new business models, especially for online retails. This is where Unilever want your help. How can re-fill and re-use be applied for online consumer products? Unilever is looking for innovative solutions to this challenge, from a business model to an idea for a specific product, using the refill and re-use approach.

How do we develop new circular business models for reuse and refill and encourage sustainable consumption?
How do we rethink the product as well as the packaging – for example, a big challenge was what to do with unrecyclable toothpaste tubes - by redesigning the product (toothpaste) from a paste to a solid tablet – the packaging could be completely changed!
Think about the product. How it is consumed, when it is consumed, how often and for what purpose?

Think about the packaging and think about ways to redesign the entire consumer experience that supports refill and reuse. Key to this would be figuring out how to change consumers’ behaviours from a convenience culture (single-use items, pre-packaged foods, convenience meals, etc.) to a culture of responsible consumption and make the refill and reuse behaviour a desirable status symbol rather than a niche activity that only 'eco-warriors' would engage in.

Rewards & Benefits

Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to Unilever.

The package may also include:
Support from Unilever
Support from Innovate UK KTN (e.g. pitch training and mentoring)
Support in the development of a prototype or pilot
Technical support
Invitation to attend or present at Innovate UK KTN events
A potential business collaboration
Investor introductions (if investment is required)
Support if any innovation or similar competitions are relevant

The selected solution provider(s) will:
Work with Unilever who will facilitate and support solution testing
Receive GBP 25,000 seed funding to work on the specific challenge. Funding will be received in instalments, subject to specific Milestones (eg. project plan, mid-project report and final report)

Functional Requirements

The solution needs to be suitable for South Africa environment and infrastructure. Solutions are expected to be deployed within the next 1-2 year, but innovative solutions which might need a longer development phase will be considered.

Operating Conditions

Solutions need to be usable within South Africa.

Deployment Timescale

• Launch of the Competition: 8th December 2021
• Deadline for applications: 28th January 2022
• Selection and notification of finalists: 14th February 2022
• Date of Pitch day: w/c 7th March 2022

Cost Requirement & Market Opportunity

Dependent on the solution and the business case, Unilever aims to partner with the solution provider on a pilot and then depending on the success of the pilot, seek to scale up and expand the model.

Out of Scope

Unilever is looking for practical solutions that deliver value to the consumer while decreasing the packaging requirements of its products. Solutions that are app-based will be considered but those must be part of a broader, practical solution. 

Eligibility & Assessment Criteria

Entrants to this competition must be:
Established businesses, start-ups, SMEs, individual entrepreneurs, or academics. • Collaborative solutions (Business to Business B2B and B2R&D) are valid applications. If collaborative solutions are being tabled a single lead organisation needs to register the application. This organisation can be either an industrial or academic partner.
Priority is given to solution providers based in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. However, innovative solutions from other countries will be considered.

Applications will be assessed on:
Relevance to the topic
Innovative nature of the subject
Coherence of the proposed business model
Feasibility/ economic viability
Development potential
Maturity of project/solution
Ability to launch project quickly/Ease of implementation
A working model/prototype
Price/quality ratio

IP & Potential Commercial Route

Existing background IP associated with a potential solution will remain with Solution Provider(s). Where any new IP generation is envisaged, it will be subject to the mutual IP agreement of the Solution Provider(s) and Unilever.
Any commercial deployment of a transferred solution or newly developed solution, through licensing, joint venture, partnership or direct investment, will be subject to the commercial agreement between the Solution Provider(s) and Unilever.
Where necessary, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) may be signed to uphold confidentiality in the engagement between the Solution Provider(s) and Unilever. (This would be expected to be after company selection, it is suggested that details of IP be not disclosed, Focus on the outcomes of the technology proposed).

Innovate UK and Innovate UK KTN do not take any share of IP ownership or enter into commercial ventures through the iX programme.