There will be no brightly coloured packaging on the shelves of Valérie Leloup’s Nu Grocery store when it opens in July, no cardboard boxes touting “new and improved” product formulations, and certainly no plastic.
Instead, the products in Ottawa’s first zero-waste grocery store will be sold in bulk, with shoppers encouraged to bring their own containers or borrow or buy them inside the store.
Leloup was inspired to open the store after her mother gave her a copy of Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home two years ago. Johnson, who has been dubbed “the priestess of waste-free living,” says eliminating waste is one of they keys to simplifying your life.
The book inspired Leloup to adopt her own zero-waste lifestyle, and groceries were one of the first areas she focused on. However, she quickly discovered she needed to visit multiple stores to get all the items on her list. “It was a little bit challenging from a logistics point of view – not having one place where I could find everything I needed,” says Leloup, who spent nearly 10 years as a purchasing manager with Danone in both Europe and Quebec.
The 1,770 sq. ft. store, set to open in the city’s Hintonburg neighbourhood, will carry up to 350 products from categories including bakery, produce and dairy, as well as beauty and hygiene and cleaning products. “We’ve tried to cover every daily need,” says Leloup.
Leloup says she is in the process of finalizing agreements with between 50 and 60 suppliers, about 30% of which are from the Ottawa area and another 30% from Ontario and Quebec (the remainder are distributors of products that are not native to Canada, such as almonds).
Nu Grocery will not carry meat or fish, and is also steering away from certain items like potato chips, which Leloup says are too fragile to sell in bulk format (Nu Grocery is offering sturdier plantain chips as an alternative, however).
Leloup says bulk products can be as much as 20% cheaper than their packaged equivalents. And, she says, consumers who have adopted a zero-waste lifestyle tend to spend less on groceries because they are buying the quantity they need.
Zero-waste markets are popping up with increasing frequency, with stores already operating in both Vancouver and Montreal. “I think we’re completely on-trend, says Leloup. “I think there’s a realization that if we want to tackle the environmental challenges that are upon us, we need to change the way we consume. We need to move away from this reckless mass consumerism and become more responsible.”
Leloup expects millennials to be Nu Grocery’s key market. “We know they care about sustainability and are ready to change their ways,” she says.
However, the concept has also proven popular with seniors in Europe, which boasts several chains including Negozio Leggero, Day by Day, Granel and Effecorta that operate multiple in countries including Italy, France Spain and Switzerland.