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Zero-waste grocers form new association

Twelve New Zealand grocers have formed a new association aimed at increasing the prevalence, influence and efficacy of grocers working to minimise food and packaging waste in the country.

Launching today, June 4, Sustain Aotearoa will act as a support network for zero-waste grocers, most of which are owner-operated small businesses, and increase their influence on supply chains to reduce packaging waste.

The association will also act as a resource for new zero-waste grocers just starting.

“We’ve all been there; we know how hard it is to set up. If Sustain Aotearoa can help others get off the ground more quickly, with the benefit of our members’ learnings, that’d be a great outcome,” Bron Green, Sustain Aotearoa president and owner of Be Free Grocer in Palmerston North, said in a statement.

The association is encouraging any independent grocers, or those interested in starting one, to get in touch. But they must be 100 per cent zero waste.

“Our point of difference from other stores with bulk bin aisles is that we don’t also have aisles with products in single-use packaging. We’re zero waste only – that’s a key part of our membership criteria”, Green said.

Zero-waste grocers tend to fall into one of two categories, according to Green.

They either stock unpackaged product in bulk dispensers or ‘on tap’, so that customers can fill their own reusable bags, bottles and containers, or they pack goods into reusable packaging, like glass jars, which customers return when empty for sterilising and refilling.

The association says there has been a 110 per cent increase in the number of zero-waste grocers in New Zealand over the past two years, with a total 23 stores operating across eight regions.

The more zero-waste grocers there are, the more they can influence suppliers to reduce packaging waste before products even get to stores, Nicola Cross, Sustain Aotearoa secretary and owner of Honest Wholefood Co in Wanaka, said.

“At Honest Wholefood Co, we’d be on the phone to suppliers constantly, encouraging them to rethink their bulk packaging. But being able to engage with suppliers and major distributors as a collective of stores helps us advance zero waste supply chains faster – it makes suppliers see that there’s a growing market for this,” Cross said.

“For many of our members, we’ll actually look to switch suppliers if our current ones aren’t willing to work on reducing backroom packaging waste. None of us want to order beautiful food and have it arrive on a palette shrink-wrapped in one-use plastic.”

This has led many zero-waste grocers to hunt out local, New Zealand-grown products.

“It’s always easier to work with someone you’ve met directly, to chat about whether they can supply you a little bit differently. And it’s easier to trial reusable packaging systems with local suppliers,” Cross said.

“We’ve found a real hunger amongst local suppliers for these kinds of conversations. The only reason many haven’t done it already is because no retailer has ever asked them before.”

The 12 founding members of Sustain Aotearoa are:

· Forward (Whangārei)

· Sprout The Grocer (Birkenhead, Auckland)

· Plastic Free Pantry (Waiheke Island, Auckland)

· The Store Room (Te Awamutu)

· Re-Store (Thames)

· Unpakd (Ahuriri, Napier)

· Be Free Grocer (Palmerston North

· Hopper – Refill, Shop & Cafe (Wellington)

· Honest Wholefood Co (Wanaka & Hawea)

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