How much waste do you generate each time you cook?
A number that is often floated around at restaurants is that the wastage is an average of thirty-five percent. That is a lot of wasted food.
Nada Grocery is a solution to the problem of generating unnecessary waste in our day-to-day. Here, you can buy one strand of chives, if that is all you need. You can buy beeswax paper with pretty floral patterns, which you can use in place of saran-wrap; you can even wash these wrappers to use them again(!)
The idea is to bring your own containers and shopping bags (again to promote no waste and minimize the use of plastic) to the store and get just the right amount you need. Whether it's rice, pasta, or any type of grain, you simply need to fill the jars you bring, weigh it on the digital smart scales and then checkout. The smart scales automatically deduct the weight of your containers, so you don't pay for those precious grams.
Just by making slight changes to the shopping process, Nada Grocery helps to reduce the amount of waste we generate through our daily shopping - less plastic, more recycled containers, and you buy just what you need and not more.
Throughout the shop you will see numerous waste reduction efforts, such as selling soap ends (which definitely still smell just as good!) and dryer balls to replace dryer sheets. Large tubs of golden and white honey sit by the kitchen area, and again, you can fill the containers with the amount you need. We were so intrigued that we ended up leaving with a bottle of shampoo we filled ourselves.
After exploring every corner of the shop to see how we could reduce waste in our daily lives, we sat down for a conversation with COO Alison Jane Carr for the story behind Nada Grocery.
P: Pendulum Magazine
A: Alison Jane Carr
P: How did you meet Brianne?
A: While studying waste in my final semester of university, I became increasingly involved in the Vancouver’s waste world. I had heard rumours of someone starting to work on a package-free grocery store, and then had a friend pass on an early market research survey Brianne had put together. I then spent the coming weeks researching to figure out who was behind the idea and eventually discovered it was Brianne! I contacted her on Facebook (I was very tech-inept at the time & didn’t have LinkedIn) and told her she had to take me on as an intern. We’ve now been working alongside each other for nearly 3 years as Nada’s CEO and COO!
P: Where did the idea for Nada Grocery come from?
A: Brianne was studying killer whales off the coast of Quebec and spending plenty of time listening to podcasts about all things related to our environment, specifically waste, food system, and plastic pollution topics. One thing led to another and she realized that if she wanted to make a difference, she’d have to come up with solutions upstream to help the plastic pollution problem as the two are inextricably linked. She eventually left her consulting job for a business accelerator program out of SFU to get things rolling with Nada!
P: What’s the story behind the name “Nada”?
A: The Nada brand was created by one of our advisors, Jane Cox, who owns a a strategic brand consultancy in Vancouver. Nada means “nothing” in Spanish which speaks for itself- no packaging, no plastic, no mystery ingredients we cannot pronounce. Just food.
P: Take us from the concept of the business to the official beginning of the company.
A: Brianne started with the Radius SFU program with the intention of testing the idea via pop-up shops. She contacted the Patagonia Vancouver store about popping up in-store after learning a great deal about their business ethos and seeing a values-alignment. There were about ten products which then grew into several volunteers, several product offerings, several staff, several locations, etc. After two years of pop-up shops, we moved into our first store and have been in operation for just over two months now.
P: What were some of the key lessons you learned as you worked to build a business off of your concept?
A: It’s very difficult to choose just one! Given that neither of us came from a business background, we’ve had to be incredibly adaptable, resourceful, and inquisitive. One that never ceases to fail us is to never be afraid to ask for help around you. Surrounding ourselves with incredible people who are happy to share knowledge is certainly another one (and makes the first lesson a lot easier, too!)
P: Zero-waste stores are slowly gaining momentum across Canada. What was the market response in the beginning stages of the business? Did you face difficulty getting the business off the ground? If yes, how did you overcome it and what advice would you give others in your situation?
A: The response has been incredibly positive since day one, but we knew there was a demand going into this venture from the amount of research we did in the early days. One of the coolest things that has happened since we started operating our pop-up shops has been the overwhelming amount of emails we receive every week from other folks passionate about opening their own store like ours! The few tips we share are 1) make sure to do your market research to see if there’s demand in your area, 2) get very familiar with the health and safety regulations in your area to figure out what is possible or not, and 3) find ways to build a community early on!
P: What are the various methods you use to ensure zero-waste? How can regular consumers use some of these tips to reduce waste in their own homes?
A: We’re all about meeting people where they’re at and encouraging folks at every step of the way! It doesn’t matter how “eco” or “zero waste” you are at present- there’s space for waste-reduction in everyone’s lives if you’re open to finding what works for you! There’s a great group on Facebook of people passionate about zero waste living called “Zero Waste Vancouver” which has personally been a fabulous resource over the years. Anyone can join it whether or not you live in the city!
P: The grocery business is a low-margin industry, do you guys seek alternative revenue sources?
A: We’re lucky to live in a place that is focusing so closely on city-wide waste reduction as we carry many of the items that would be considered alternatives to single-use disposables (reusable straws, stainless steel containers, beeswax wraps, etc.). These items are high in demand and are a great way of offsetting some of the low margins felt in other departments in our store.
P: What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
A: You’ll have to ask us that in five years or so! We’re far from mastering our business just yet, but look forward to continuing to improve our systems to propel us to the next phase (whatever that is!) Again, we’re very good at surrounding ourselves with people who are smarter than us- that helps a lot!
P: What has been the most rewarding part of starting Nada?
A: For me, it’s the blossoming community (within and outside of the store) around us! We feel so fortunate to be surrounded by supportive & encouraging friends, family members, and complete strangers. These people are the fuel to our waste-reduction fire!
We want to give kudos to the Founders of Nada Grocery, Allison and Brianne, for realizing this great concept to promote zero waste living. There are so many wins associated with this business, such as reduced waste and plastics going into the landfills, savings from purchasing exactly how much we need, and healthier lifestyle consuming / using natural ingredients. We look forward to the expansion plans of the Nada Grocery brand, as we know it would be a welcomed concept not just in Vancouver but around the world!
675 E Broadway, Vancouver