Working as a marine biologist opened Brianne Miller’s eyes to the link between our food system and the health of the ocean. Now Brianne is the Founder and CEO of Nada, a package-free grocery store in Vancouver, BC that is reducing food and packaging waste, while also creating a just, sustainable food system.
“We were able to learn what containers are people bringing, where are they coming from, what kind of products do they want to see, how price sensitive are they… We used all of that information to go directly into the design.”
In this episode:
- How Brianne’s work as a marine biologist led her to make a link between our food system and the health of the ocean
- Proving the Nada concept with pop-up shops and using that data to inform the design of the store
- Going beyond reducing consumer package waste and building a package-free supply chain
- Why Nada’s business model is based around reducing and reusing, and not recycling
- The importance of education and community-building
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- SheEO Venture: Nada Grocery
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- Omnivore’s Dilemma
- Skipper Otto
Brianne: My name is Brianne Miller and I am the founder and CEO of Nada, which is a package free grocery store based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Vicki: So did you always grow up thinking you wanted to do a package free grocery store?
Brianne: I can’t say I ever thought I would open a grocery store. Yeah, it’s definitely been quite the journey to get here. And my background is actually in marine biology. So I spent about a decade studying everything from coral reefs and tropical fish to marine mammals. I spent some time overseas in the UK studying marine mammals for my master’s degree. And then that ultimately led me to doing quite a few jobs in some really fantastic and remote places around the world. So that’s kind of the nature of marine biology is that you do a lot of full-time contract jobs on different projects in different places. And so those jobs in those experiences brought me to these places that really became eye-opening for me in terms of the plastic pollution problem. So there were a lot of field sites and beaches and you know, we’d just be out on the open water, like five hours away from land and the amount of plastic that you could see, it was really eye-opening and it just got to the point where it was really hard to turn a blind eye to it. And that was kind of the, I guess the first kind of inkling of trying to jump into something to tackle the problem. And I ultimately started to make the connection between the health and food systems and our oceans. So I had a really amazing job in northern Quebec working for Fisheries and Oceans Canada essentially had a ton of time to myself sitting on this dock up north and just started to realize that every single problem that I was seeing with all these species that I was studying was somehow either directly or indirectly linked to food. Things like agricultural runoff, um, you know, comes from industrial agriculture. We get lots of pesticides and fertilizers that flow into the ocean that create these dead zones where plankton and session and animals can’t live. Catching and over-fishing was a big part of that. Um, ocean noise is another one that we don’t really think about too often and then plastic pollution fit into that as well. So kind of making those linkages between the ocean and the food system was the impetus for jumping into trying to solve these issues through food.
Vicki: Ocean noise?
Brianne: Ocean noise. Yeah. Yeah. So that was actually, um, I was doing a project on ocean noise. That was the job that brought me to the west coast of Vancouver where I ended up getting this project off the ground. So I was looking at the impacts of ocean noise on the endangered southern resident killer whale population. As a society we consume and we, you know, we buy things that are shipped from all over the world and all of these goods, the vast majority of the time are shipped by boat. And so as our population increases and as consumption increases, the amount of ship traffic increases, the noise from ships actually impacts everything from plankton to fish and marine mammals. And it’s just something that we don’t often think about. So it’s very similar to being in a loud room in a party. It’s a really loud environment. You have to talk a lot louder, you use a lot more energy. It might be harder to communicate. And in the case of animals that often work cooperatively to forage feeding and eating and communicating actually becomes quite a bit harder. So that was a big project that I was looking at on the west coast was actually mapping out what an increase in tanker traffic and shipping traffic would look like at an individual level for those whales. And then trying to map it out to a population level to see what those consequences would look like.
Vicki: Wow. It’s just so incredible how the growth of the human population just messes up literally everything.
Brianne: Yup. It’s, yeah, it’s definitely, definitely something that we need to think about and that’s like a big part of what is tied into our business model, the education piece around consumption. Really encouraging people to think about products that they’re purchasing. And first off, is it a product that you actually need or is it just something you want? Like do you really need it and if so, is there, is there a better way that you can do it? You know, is there something that you can borrow or can you buy a second hand? Is there a way that you can trade for it? Because when you really start to look a lot of the resources and things and stuff that we actually need or want already exist and there’s, you just have to get a little bit, you know, a little creative with where do you get them from?
Vicki: Have you dramatically reduced your consumption?
Brianne: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been, I guess a little bit more aware of these issues. I’d say definitely once I moved to the west coast. You’ve been to Vancouver yourself, you know, it’s a really progressive city. People really enjoy spending time outside. And I think because we live in such a spectacular area where you have access to the ocean and the mountains, a lot of people here really do appreciate the national environment and have a love for it. And when you love something, you want to protect it. So I think we’re in a very special place with a lot of people that really care. So when I first moved here, definitely started thinking about my consumption and my waste. And it’s been a really, really gradual process. It’s kind of a big misconception around the zero waste movement itself is that, you know, people try to jump in and they go, you know, all in or nothing. But I would say for the vast majority of people, it’s a work in progress over many, many years. It’s really hard to reduce, you know, all the waste that you’re producing in one go. But if you try to tackle things one thing at a time becomes a little bit more manageable. And My, just, my entire frame of mind around consumption has really shifted. So it started really small. Toiletries were something that I wanted to tackle first. So just doing it one thing at a time. So as I ran of shampoo, I was like, okay, I need shampoo. Uh, what is, what is a better option for shampoo? You know, can I make my own? Can I use up stuff that’s been sitting in my parents’ house for many years, which I literally did my, you know, parents have so many like toiletries and stuff in the cabinets from when my sister and I were still living there. That’s a big part of it is like actually using what we already have. So a lot of times you don’t actually need something, you already have it, you’re just choosing not to use it. Making my own was kind of a good step in that process. And then yeah, just finding simple solutions. So a shampoo bar is a really easy one. So I now have one bar that I use for soap and shampoo, conditioner made by really awesome local company. It’s actually one of the products that we sell in the store and it even doubles for camping. I can chop off a piece and bring it out into the mountains. It’s completely biodegradable. It’s good for, you know, it’s okay to go into the water. You can use it to wash your dishes. So thinking about how things can be simple and multipurpose, those really played into the decrease in the products and actually buy.
Vicki: As you said, you did not always dream of opening a grocery store, So let’s just talk about like how you came to that solution for moving into more awareness around consumption and also zero waste. Just take us on a bit of journey through the thinking around that.
Brianne: When I was working in northern Quebec and, and really started to make the link between the health of our oceans and the food system, that was kind of like the first, the first journey into thinking about doing something through food that summer. It was really, really neat. Actually. I am, I read Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma, um, which I would definitely recommend anyone pick up and read. It’s got some really interesting thought processes on local food systems, especially a lot of his thinking has played into how we decided to source products and you know, the types of farms and agriculture and things that we support. And so that summer where I was, it was a tiny, tiny little town about an hour and a half from the Labrador border. So it was quite far up. I think it was about a 14-hour drive from Montreal. There’s really nothing there, like the closest proper grocery store. It was about a three-hour drive away. And, uh, that was the summer where I decided, um, I was only going to try and eat meat that I knew where it came from. And so it turned out that in that, that place that was moose and they hunted Moose and every summer they had moose, Moose hunts and we had Moose burgers. And that was essentially the only meat that ate all summer because that was the only one that I, the only product that I could really figure out where it came from. And it was actually a lot easier than I thought. I definitely grew up in big meeting family. My sister had been vegetarian before that for a while, but that was my first kind of foray into thinking about the impacts of my food and wanting to know where it came from. So that was the start of it. And then, so that summer I definitely had the idea, um, it didn’t even really start with the zero waste or package free concept. It was more of a store that would support a just food system. So one that supported things like urban farms or local farms, um, organic and regenerative growing practices, one that’s like really had a transparent supply chain and just starting to think about that whole concept of connecting people to their food. That was about three years before I even started. So it was a long time ago, kind of mulled on the idea for a while as I was doing some other marine biology work. And then over time as I learned more about the waste issue and really continued to see it in the fields, I realized that they really went hand in hand and there wasn’t a solution that existed where you could be purchasing food that supported a just food system while also trying to reduce your waste. And that’s both packaging waste and food waste. And I can explain a little bit more about how, how we tackle both of those, but those concepts kind of morphed together over time and then, yeah, ultimately decided to make the jump from a full time job about, it was about, I guess about nine months after I really kind of started to decide that this was something I wanted to do. So it was working on the side, so working full time in biology and then you know, spending 20 and then 30 and then 40 and then 50 hours a week doing this stuff on the side and it got a little bit and it got to be too much and we kind of jumped into the store side of things full time and decided we really wanted to go for it, that we were doing a lot of pop up shops on the side and came up with some ideas to really test the concept before completely diving into it. And we knew really early on that a store was what we wanted to do, but took some time to prove it out before really delving into it.
Vicki: Well let’s talk a little bit about that because I think this concept of sort of bootstrapping your way through and testing stuff out early, testing your assumptions, testing things with customers and what’s really going to work, what’s not, as opposed to like the old way of doing things, which is I’m going to do this completely top-down, raise $10 million and go launch a whole bunch of zero waste food stores. Is that a natural thing that came for you to just start testing it out?
Brianne: Yeah, we definitely had, um, we took a business accelerator program in Vancouver and had a really amazing advisor that we brought on who’s still on our advisory board and learned a lot about testing ideas like that. So he was definitely the instigation to really kind of test before dumping money into it. And it was just the reality for us, like I have retail store does cost, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and we definitely didn’t want to invest time and money into it if we didn’t think it was possible. So it did, it did kind of lend naturally to that as well. But in hindsight, the way that we did things was, was such a blessing in disguise because the popup shops in the markets and stuff that we participated in beforehand actually allowed us to really build our community before we opened our doors. And that’s a model that as we think to expand and open future stores, um, we’re already starting to act on. So, you know, thinking ahead to story number two and that community and how do we start, you know, having a presence in that community like a year before we even open and trying to get our name in front of people and you know, do a lot of the workshops and education pieces that we’ve done in the past. They definitely go really hand in hand. And from those really, really early days, like people are just so keen to work with, you know, start-ups that have an exciting idea that they’re gravitating towards. We were really lucky to work with Patagonia right off the bat. So that was actually a cold call. It just so happened that Patagonia store in Vancouver was about 10 blocks away from my house and I just really admired what they did as a business and they had a very values aligned target demographic to what we did and I just called them up, we and I was like, Hey, I have this like, you know, kind of crazy idea for a store, can I do a pop up shop in your store? And their manager at the time and their community person was like, yeah, I love that. I’ve been wanting to see something like that. Like it’s been a really frustrating thing for me as well. Like of course you can come pop up in her store and the first day that we did that, we had a lot of media attention. We had CBC show up. We had more than a hundred shoppers and it was just myself and a couple of volunteers and 10 jars. I think it costs us maybe $75 worth of products to be there, but it was such a good way to do it. Like it was definitely a big vote of confidence that people would actually show up and bring containers and try and make a difference in in terms of how they shop and it just turned into this really wonderful long term relationship. We still work closely with them, we do a lot of joint events with their team and we continue to learn a lot from their business model and their culture and how they interact with employees and customers and things like that. So it’s been really fun.
Vicki: It really is, really marketing and understanding your business that came naturally to you, but that ability to, where else are the kind of people who will like this idea already shopping you like that out there and how do urge their existing network that creates goodness both ways like that when thinking is exactly what creates the sort of ripple that helps you grow.
Brianne: You wouldn’t believe the amount of data and information that you can get from such a small and inexpensive thing. And like honestly for these pop up shops we were doing them with friends, like some of my good friends and volunteers for a good six to nine months before we were able to even hire hiring an intern or for staff and the budget was the shoestring budget. We were just buying inventory and that was about it and you know we were able to learn like what containers are people bringing, where they coming from, what sorts of products do they want to see, how price sensitive are they? We use all of that information to go directly into the design for example. So you know where people coming to us by bike, do we need bike racks? Are they bringing jars? Are they bringing containers? Do they need spaces to put things down? How much space do they need to move around? Like do they need workstations to like put stuff down? There were just so many design pieces that came directly from our interactions with customers and seeing what they were bringing in and what that process looked like. That was super helpful. I couldn’t have imagined just trying to do it blindly.
Vicki: Well, not design thinking clearly. You did an unbelievable job at that because last time I was in your store IDEO, which is like I’m thinking gods of the planet, we’re doing a walkthrough, right? Yeah. You’re an amazing case study of how to actually bootstrap your way through this in a designed way, right.
Brianne: It’s been really fun. And a big part of that has been surrounding myself that are with people that are a lot smarter than us. So really early on we tapped into the really amazing network of social entrepreneurs in Vancouver and brought on advisers very early in the beginning and kind of inserted ourselves into that network of people and, and just got connected really early on to a lot of really smart brains that were able to, to help us out. And so grocery itself is such a complicated industry. Like I, I mean, I know why no one else has really done this in the past. It’s, it’s because it’s so logistically complicated. It takes a lot of time and effort to really sort out all the kinks of what needs to be done when you’re handling, you know, hundreds if not thousands of products, especially when they’re fresh. And just the supply chain conversations that go with that are often really complicated, especially when you’re trying to do it package free. But we really tapped into an amazing network of mentors and advisors early on that were able to help us with some tried and tested grocery knowledge. So things like mapping cashflows, helping us figure out things like seasonality and what we could expect in terms of sales and customer traffic and cart sizes and how to build our inventory based on a set margins that are kind of expected across the industry and things like that and had a lot of help with like the finer pieces of that. So it all came together quite nicely. I think in the end.
Vicki: You literally are full of like all this grocery jargon.
Brianne: I don’t even realize anymore.
Vicki: You just dove right in. So let’s go back. You said a little bit earlier. This sort of break down between packaging waste versus food waste, different things. And then this concept of like finding new suppliers, because I know that, I think last time we talked you had 300 independent suppliers or something and how you manage all of that in the local sort of craziness of all of that. So wherever you want to start first is it, you know, find suppliers, packaging waste, food waste.
Brianne: So maybe I’ll start with the conversation around both packaging waste and food waste and how we accomplish that in our store. So the packaging side of things is a little bit more obvious. So we’re encouraging customers to bring in their own containers to refill with food. The way that we go about that is very accessible. We try to make our type of shopping accessible to most people. So the first step that we do in that process is really just to encourage people to use whatever they already have. So, you know, be that as a ziplock bag or Tupperware or something that might go in the recycling, like a yogurt container or a spaghetti sauce jar. Those all work really great. Um, anything that can be reused again and again is a win in our mind. So we encourage people to bring their own containers to refill with food. And we have a digital system that we’ve developed to make that process really easy so people can tag their containers so that they’re not paying for the weight of them. And so essentially every container or package or cloth bag that someone is bringing in and using to fill with food is one container or package or glass jar that is essentially being diverted from landfill. So on the customer side of things, that’s a little more logical and really easy to keep track of. We’re on track to divert more than 250,000 containers from our first year of operations, which is amazing. So a quarter-million containers out of landfill from one relatively small 2100 square foot space, which is really impressive. And really, yeah, I think that’s the coolest thing for our team to see is just how large that impact can be when you have thousands of people doing that. And then the packaging waste on the supplier side of things is actually, I would say a much bigger part of what we do. And it’s a really tricky thing to measure. And so that’s something that we’re working on in the coming months. In terms of tracking our diversion of waste on the consumer side. Cause that’s actually the vast majority of the work that we do. So a lot of the packages are, a lot of the products come to us without packaging. So products actually come to us in reusable containers. So we have a really large container swapping program. Working with the hundreds of local suppliers really facilitates that as well. Like having a shorter supply chain allows us to do these things that are really different compared to your average grocery store. So we’re not only reducing waste on the customer side, but we’re actually reducing a vast amount of waste, much more on the supplier side of things. So that’s been really exciting. We’re really looking forward to kind of flushing out what that looks like in terms of numbers and greenhouse gases and you know, our total carbon footprint and, and trying to compare that to the average grocery store. But then I think the day is the most exciting piece for us. Um, which we’re also planning on working on in terms of like communicating the impact is food waste. Food waste essentially is one of the largest drivers of climate change. So when food itself ends up in the landfill, the way that it breaks down and decomposes in landfill in an anaerobic environment is that it generates methane gas, which is actually a very potent greenhouse gas. It’s actually 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If food waste itself, we’re a country, it’d be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. So it’s, this is a huge, huge, huge problem. Not a lot of people realize, uh, what happens to their food if it does end up in the garbage. There are lots of ways that people can tackle this in their own households. And the first thing that they can do is to actually purchase only the amount that they need as opposed to a pre-determined package size. So we see that a lot with fresh vegetables as well. So things like spinach and kale and herbs especially, I swear Cilantro was one of the reasons we opened this store and the amount of times that I was forced to buy a bunch of Cilantro and I literally only needed a sprig or two drove me up the wall. You wouldn’t believe how happy customers are to buy just a few sprigs of Cilantro and it cost them 20 cents instead of $5 and then they’re not throwing 90% of it into the garbage. So being able to facilitate things like that is really important to us. And the average family in Canada ends up wasting about $1,500 of food every year. It’s quite a lot. And so if we’re able to encourage people to only buy what they need by bringing their own containers and filling only what they need instead of purchasing predetermined packaged sizes, especially when it comes to fresh food, that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do and just to, yeah, we want to keep having this conversation around food waste and you know, educating people about the impacts of it and really empowering them to decrease their food waste by buying only what they need.
Vicki: Amazing. I can just imagine sourcing all of these products and people that aren’t, don’t have all this packaging must be like ongoing relationship-building challenge.
Brianne: Yeah, it’s, it’s quite the feat and I’m really lucky to have Alison as a co-founder, so we’re definitely very complimentary in skillsets. I’m the very rational like math, science brain and she’s very much the people relationship builders, so it’s something that she gravitated towards naturally. She’s always had a love for food and local food systems. The way that we grew up in terms of food and what we ate as a family was very different and she grew up in a little bit more of a, you know, a west coast family that was like really into healthy eating and you know, gardening and things like that. And so she’s always really loved food and loved interacting with, you know, I think her first job when she was 14 was working on an organic farm and she’s just always gravitated towards those types of people. And so she’s our COO and a big part of her job though the vast majority of it is finding new suppliers, screening them for different qualities, and then I’m bringing new products into the store. It’s definitely a complicated process. It’s one that we’re really working on trying to streamline as we grow because as we open multiple stores, it’s kind of get a little bit more complicated. I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest thing. It’s actually been really, really refreshing and eye opening. We’re really lucky in Vancouver that there are so many people that are plugged into this whole concept of a more sustainable, more just food system. So we have a ton of urban farms, we have a lot of really amazing local and organic and grown farms that are just outside the city, a really great ecosystem for food start-ups as well. So we have lots of commercial kitchens, does lots of businesses that are really trying to do things differently. And so when we really started to look, there are hundreds of suppliers that are local to us. So location definitely plays into that. And we’re really lucky to live in an ecosystem that supports that. But the way that we source has attracted people and other food companies that are really thinking about these things already. So we’re all values aligned and on the same page. And so the concept of supplying products and reusable packaging is almost, it’s not even a question. It’s like, yeah, of course we’re going to do that. Yeah, it’s logistically complicated to manage. But in terms of like finding and figuring out how to do that, it’s not so bad. It becomes a little bit trickier with the larger brands that we work with. So as a company grows, they inherently have processes that they need to adhere to, especially for health and safety reasons. But you know, as they move from like small commercial kitchens or home kitchens to co-packing facilities and then larger product and assembly lines and things like that and becomes harder to make exceptions and, and do things a little bit differently. So that’s an ongoing process. We actually have quite a few larger brands that are coming to us now and, and trying to get our advice and talking to us about how they can do these things. So that’s really exciting. We do have a couple of larger brands in the store already and a few more coming on later in the summer, which is really exciting. I think it’s most exciting for us though, to work with a lot of these smaller suppliers because we’re one, we’re often the first touch point in retail for them getting into retail as a small food brand is really, really hard. And so if we can expose them to a really values aligned demographic right off the bat, that’s super valuable and something that we want to support. And then beyond that we were also able to, you know, kind of have these conversations with them really early on when we’re able to influence things like packaging decision and ingredient sourcing and things like that. So we can start having these conversations really early on these companies. We have seen it time and time again where they start to bake these principles into their own supply chains and their own sourcing and things like that. So that’s where we’re having a really, really large impact. There’s some really great examples. I’m like really amazing plant-based ice cream company based in Vancouver called Nora’s and they’re good friends of ours and they have actually adapted their packaging to do returnable glass containers for us. So they’re, you know, they’re making waves in Whole Foods across the country now that we’re able to have these conversations really early on that’s affecting how they’re actually packaging things for other people. We have a toothbrush company that’s adapted their packaging for us too. Remove all of the plastic and only have a piece of compostable paper for the packaging and we’re actually seeing some of our larger distributors as well and changing the way that they package and that trickling out to other clients. So that impact has been really, really, really cool to see. Again, really hard to quantify and we, yeah, we’re getting some help to figure out what is the best way to track that impact. But I would say there’s, there’s a huge amount of waste being diverted that we can’t even keep track of right now.
Vicki: I was thinking about the “Nada Effect” which is like powerful, where even just bringing up the conversation and saying, here’s what you need to do to get into our store must really start to impact conversations that they’re having this presumably is the future.
Brianne: There’s no other way. It will be in the future, I think out of necessity. Right?
Vicki: Yeah. Ironically, this was the past full circle, hopefully. Yeah, I hope so. Where it is the circular economy waste is designed out of our design. We find a way to do that. You said actually finding brands for your story is not the hardest part. What is the hardest part of what you’re doing?
Brianne: It’s just fitting all the pieces together. So there’s a lot of moving parts. There were a lot of challenges that we thought we would have right off the bat. Dealing with health and safety regulations was a big one because obviously the safety of our customers and our team is, is our highest priority. And so we did a lot of groundwork in the beginning and in terms of liaising with Vancouver Coastal Health, which is our managing health authority to develop policies and protocols that were in line with what they were working on, but also pushing, pushing those agendas and policies to be favorable to companies that are trying to reduce their waste. So that’s a big component of what we do. Yeah, there’s just, just a lot of moving parts in terms of team and operations and logistics and kind of fitting it all together. We’re figuring it out over time. Like we’re coming into an industry that neither of us really knew much about and it’s a really, it’s a low profit margin industry. It has to be careful with how you’re managing things like supplier payments and product purchases and payroll and things like that, but it’s been really great because it forces us to be really meticulous with things like that, so as we grow, I think those are skills that are really important, but it’s definitely the time that goes into that to, to figure it out has been the hardest part. It’s been a lot of, lot of time and energy, but we’re getting better now that the store is open. We’re getting a lot of balance back in. That’s been really nice because it’s something that we’re really trying to foster in our team is, is balance between life and work and all of those things.
Vicki: Often times people think you have to deeply understand an industry to up-end it and tweak it, right. You sort of came into this from a different perspective, without deeply understanding the grocery industry and you’ve learned what you need to know about it over time, but having that fresh eyes helps you to do things differently.
Brianne: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely don’t think we would be doing all the little things that we are if we had come at it from this background. So a fresh set of eyes is pretty key.
Vicki: For those who have never been to zero waste grocery store paint a picture for us. And like you’re walking into your store and what is different? How can everything have no packaging or is there some packaging like how do we think about that?
Brianne: You walk in the door and the first part that we wanted to do was really create like a nice and inviting space. So there are a lot of aspects that went into the design to create an inviting space. We really wanted for this to work, we essentially need it to be a space that people want to come and spend time and then they enjoy it. A lot of people don’t necessarily love grocery shopping, so we tried to tweak things in our favour and make it a bright and inviting space. So our space itself is, you know, we’re really lucky with have lots of like big south-facing windows. It’s so nice and bright and light. And when you walk in and it’s a big open space, you can kind of see when you walk in the front door, you can see the entire space, which really helps to just for people to kind of plan out their shop and navigate like what parts of the store they want to go to. But when you walk in, we have a check-in station our tare station at the front. So we have a digital system that we’ve developed that allows people to tag and track the weight of their containers so that they’re not paying for them. So we, our staff, um, are getting really good at figuring out who’s been into this store and who’s not. We tried to do a really good job of catching people that are coming in for the first time and we, you know, give them a little bit of a tour and walk them through what it, what it looks like and how that system works. Once your containers are tagged, you essentially can meander through the store and fill Phillip as you need, right when you walk in, we have a, a produce section. It’s on the smaller side, but it’s quite fully stocked. I think we have, we usually have about 80 or 85 different produce items. The vast majority of them are local when we can, and we work with a lot of really amazing, uh, local and urban farms. Um, so really looking forward, we’re just coming into the summer, so we’re getting a lot more fresh produce in which everyone’s really excited about. We have a bread wall that we’re really proud of. It’s kind of these wooden pegs with bread just mounted on them. You can just kind of see everything and grab it as you need. Definitely a very traditional way of displaying bread. So it’s just out on its own. We get it delivered in reusable containers to us every morning and those containers go back to the supplier and they’re just swapped again and again. The vast of the store itself are dry goods, so things like your staples, like rice and beans and legumes and baking goods and dried fruit and some snacks and stuff like that that are in containers that you can just skip as much as you need. We have a home care and toiletry section as well, which is another area that we’re really excited to bring on more products for throughout the summer, so we have things like soap and shampoo and laundry detergent and conditioner that you can pump into your own containers, so we have shampoo bars, but you can also bring your own containers and pump actual shampoo and conditioner into your own containers. That’s always really fun. That’s actually been, in terms of challenges, that is surprisingly been one of the bigger ones, so every single product that we carry has a different viscosity. When you’re designing the store and you’re like, oh, I want all the same containers so that they look nice and they’re visually feeling but it does not work. Yeah. We’re in a process of trying to revamp that because it’s just really tricky to dispense those products. People thankfully are a little bit patient and we have the staff to help with things like that. Another really cool section are edible liquids, so we have things like olive oil, honey molasses, vinegar, almond oil, extract, vanilla, things like that that come in. We have them in stainless steel fustis that you can just turn a spigot on and fill your own containers. And then the most exciting piece for us is in October. So, but six months after we opened, we opened the city’s only zero-waste cafe within our store. And that was designed into this space from the beginning. But just thinking about this conversation around food waste, a large proportion of food that’s lost in the supply chain does happen at the retail level. And so that was something that we wanted to design into our business models. So essentially the cafe itself, um, captures nearly all of the surplus food from the grocery side. So as things about are really ripe and about to go bad or they might’ve ended up with a bruise or something during transport, we kind of sift through them and then the first point and that they go to as a perfectly imperfect produce section. So we, uh, encourage our customers to, to grab those products at the ripest and then if they make it to the end of the day, then they go to our, we have a really fantastic head chef and she is just an absolute whiz when it comes to whipping up the most delicious things out of, of vast variety of products that she doesn’t know she’s getting them. Yeah. And so she makes every day, we have a daily harvest menu in addition to our regular menu. So the daily harvest every day is a different soup, smoothie and salad that is based on the products that she’s getting every morning. And they’re the freshest ones. They’re the ripest ones. They usually taste the best and they’re really, really good. And it’s really great for us as well. There’s a rotating menu, different food every day, which is always really nice. But we, through that process of designing the Zero waste cafe into the grocery store, we’ve actually been able to reduce the waste on the grocery side from fresh produce to essentially next to nothing. Like our compost that is leaving the store every day is essentially just pits and peels and things like that. She really is able to recover almost everything. Like she’s grating every orange and grapefruit that’s, you know, about to go. Every single thing is captured and frozen and used. So it’s really smart from a business perspective as well. It saves us a ton of money because not only are we paying for the actual product itself that you’re losing the loss of the value of that, but in commercial retail you’re having to pay for your garbage and compost as well. So we’re saving on those fees. And then on top of it you’re actually able to turn a lower margin produce item into a higher margin food item. So it’s really, really smart and yeah, we’re really excited to see how, how much waste we decrease on that side of things.
Vicki: That’s just incredible. What is the waste percentage across regular grocery? Is that studied?
Brianne: Yes. So the, in terms of like produce itself, the average grocery store has between eight to 10% waste. When we first opened our doors it was at about three to 4% and now it’s less than one, so that’s pretty, pretty minuscule.
Vicki: That’s quite the metric test.
Brianne: Yeah, it’s been great.
Vicki: That’s really nice. And so what’s, what’s next for you? You launched just a year ago.
Brianne: Yeah, we’re just coming up on our one year anniversary, which is really exciting. Yeah, our team is really excited. It’s, yeah, it’s been quite the whirlwind of the year and we’re just so excited to see how fast things are growing. Just every weekend in the last few months has been our busiest weekend and then our busiest weekend and our busiest weekend. So we’re really excited to see a lot of our, our customers. It is that ripple effect of, of talking about package-free shopping and it’s just something that we see every day, which is really exciting for us. We’re, we’re definitely looking at expanding and in the lower mainland with retail stores to start with. So we’re slowly starting to scope out our second location towards the end of this year. And then starting to think beyond that where number three and four could be. Um, our business model definitely relies on our local food system. So that’s why we’re trying to expand locally to start with before moving further field. But yeah, feature store is definitely on the horizon. Um, and then beyond that, we’re actually, a big part of what we do is working with other grocery stores to help them get started and open. We’ve definitely learned a lot in the past few years. So we have a ton of people that are really interested in starting projects like this all around the world that comes to us for advice. So we, we help them when we can, and a big project that we’re actually working on now is commercializing the technology piece so that we can help other stores have our system to track containers in their own stores.
Vicki: And it’s that plus just the whole process. Are you going into sidebar consulting around this or not yet?
Brianne: I’m not going so much into consulting right now. I wish we had the capacity to do that, but something that’s on our radar for sure in the future we do. It’s not so much consulting as opposed to the odd phone call and tour of the store and kind of helping people where we can, but definitely, in the future, that’s something we’d really like to do. And I think it’d be really valuable because the more stores that we have like this, um, the better off we’ll all be. And I think just the model of having, you know, it is the idea of going back to the way our grandparents used to shop. And you know, people would go to their small grocery store, they would go to the butcher, they’d go to the baker. And not only does it foster a sense of community, but it really does encourage people to think about where their food is coming from. And so we’re just trying to, yeah, we’re just trying to close that whole loop and encourage people to use what they have and connect with people that are selling and growing their food and tying it altogether in one whole just food system.
Vicki: That’s amazing. When I came into the store the first time was you had other SheEO products in there.
Brianne: Yeah, we love working with other SheEO companies. It’s been really fun to um, like especially with working with Skipper Otto, it’s really sparked some fun and interesting conversations. So for those who don’t know, Skipper Otto is a community-supported fishery. They have docks that are a couple of kilometres from our store and we’ve been selling their, their seafood. So we’ve been selling some of their fish and then we’re looking at getting some more molluscs and more shrimp and stuff from them. But that’s been really fun because how do you do fish package free? It’s really complicated. Ah, right now. So we sell their whole fish. So they’re actually been, the first time we showed up we just had a good laugh because they were way bigger than what we thought they were fish that were about two feet long. So yeah, we had people, we encourage them to like essentially bring anything that they have. Like coolers work really well. If you have a big colour can just like put a whole fish in it. That best solution we’ve come up with right now, these are the types of conversations that we have with our suppliers every day is like, you know, this is a thing that people don’t do. Like how do we do this? How do we make it fun and funny and exciting and yeah, I dunno. It’s those conversations that are a lot of fun and we’ve been able to have a lot of those with our fellow SheEO ventures. We’re actually in talks with a few more of them right now cause we have a lot more SheEO companies in the network now. So starting to have those conversations with them and figuring out how we can get some, some of their products in the store and because they’re all really amazing female-led companies that we really love working with. And Yeah, it’s really fun having this conversation and figuring out the quirks of a package-free supply chain.
Vicki: This is rethinking how we’re consuming things. I mean I thank you very much for the education piece of what you’re doing too. I think it’s almost is so wrong, everything’s broken. Yeah. When we redesign things and there’s just a really great opportunity to create more connections and to think more about this stuff.
Brianne: Yeah, for sure. And just on the education side of things, that’s something that not only Alison and I but our whole team has really been immersed in his in terms of learning about the recycling industry for example and how it is broken and that’s why our whole model is not based around recycling. It’s actually based around reducing and reusing what we already have. Yeah, just a lot of issues with the recycling supply chain that you know is not really mainstream and those are those conversations that we really liked to have and encourage people to think about because there are a lot of issues with it and not as many products are getting recycled as we actually think. And that it ultimately comes down to how recycling is treated as a commodity. It’s just like you would trade any sort of mineral or gold or wheat or oil if there is no market for product and no one to buy it. It’s essentially sits and sits and sits, and then these warehouses of the recycling companies ultimately fill up. And so if there’s no buyer for that end product and ultimately it goes to landfill and that’s it. That conversation changes every day. And things like the price of oil, for example, drive how much plastic is actually being recycled. So if the price of oil is really low, it actually makes more sense for companies to make or purchase virgin plastic as opposed to recycling it. So when there’s no demand for recycled plastic, that’s when it actually ends up going into landfill. And it’s that side of the equation that’s really hidden from us in developed countries. You know, we’re really lucky to have the infrastructure to deal with our recycling and our garbage. But if you’re anywhere else in the world, you actually see it because you don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it. So we’re really lucky in that one sense, but because it’s hidden, it’s not a conversation that we often have.
Vicki: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. Well thank you very much for all you’re doing. I think we’ll just end on this. Is there something that you need from the community? Is there an ask that you have for request?
Brianne: My ask would be to just think about the next product that you are going to purchase and definitely encourage you to think about how you might be able to go about that differently. You know, is it something that you can borrow or buy second-hand? Is it something you can borrow from a neighbor or you maybe you can purchase second-hand? Yeah, I encourage you to be a little bit creative with, with your next purchase, and if there’s a way you can do that differently.
Vicki: All right, well, I’ll be thinking about that.