A couple of Vancouver entrepreneurs are working on a supermarket where customers bring their reusable totes and reusable containers.
Marine biologist, Brianne Miller, observed the impact pollution had on the species she was studying and decided that she wanted to do her part to help fix the problem. Along with co-founder Paula Amiama, who has a background in business and marketing, they came up with a practical solution that people could incorporate into their everyday lives.
Zero Waste Market is a pop-up shop that displays food in bulk, with the goal of being packaging-free. Launched last October in the front of a Patagonia store on West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, the pop-up opens one day a month. The ladies are experimenting with the store idea and gathering information about their potential demographic in hopes of turning the pop-up into a permanent store.
“Our potential customer is a much broader scope of people than we had originally thought,” says Miller. “Vancouver is a very progressive, environmentally-friendly city and so a lot of people are the types of people who care about the environment.”
The pair are working one-on-one with small-scale suppliers, and they say that makes it easier to reach their goals. “Many smaller businesses are willing to go out of their way to reduce waste for us,” says Miller. “We recognize that there are so many small suppliers that don’t have organic certification for one reason or another.”
Right now they have products that aren’t grown in Canada such as dried fruit including pineapple and mango. They are sourcing products like these through a distributor who audits all suppliers, so their clients know the imported products they are getting are sustainable and ethical.
“It is great because they are doing a lot of the work that we are also doing in conjunction with our suppliers,” says Miller. “It is a trade-off to having a larger product selection while keeping our principles in mind.”
Zero Waste Market is dealing with waste from a couple of different angles. The first is dealing with the suppliers and developing those one-on-one relationships.
“We are getting our products sent to us in reusable containers, and then we swap back,” says Miller. “So all of the products that we are selling will be in bulk.”
The pair are opening the conversation with suppliers to address how they can tackle waste reduction in their supply chains. But they are also trying to address food waste. “We are working with our suppliers to get ugly fruit and veggies into our store,” she says. “We are able to pay our suppliers for produce that would normally be wasted and then pass on those cost savings on to our customers.”
They plan to educate their customers about buying only what they need and encouraging people not to waste. “We plan on having space for community workshops as well,” she adds, where they will teach people sustainable life skills such as how to cook with leftovers or how to compost or how to turn ugly fruits and veggies into applesauce, soup or stew.
Hoping to open by the end of the year, the ladies are currently scouting out locations that are roughly 1500 -sq.-ft. They have a couple of Vancouver neighbourhoods in mind.
“We are working on the store design right now,” says Miller. “Things aren’t finalized.”
Though they do have a system in mind, where people will bring their containers into the store.
The containers will be weighted, and a barcode that coincides with each desired product will be attached to each container. Customers will go to the bin to fill their container. Then when they go to checkout, the food will be weighed, and the cost of the container weight will be deducted from the price.
Regarding store design, they are looking at layouts that can incorporate shelves where people can rest their food as they continue to shop. “We find that with our pop-up shops there isn’t a lot of space. People are juggling a lot of jars and trying to figure out where to put them. We are learning a lot from the pop-up shop, which is great.”
They say their concept of zero waste isn’t there yet, but it is something that they will continue to work towards indefinitely.