As consumers grow savvy about the impact their shopping has, industries are being left behind who don’t meet new, environmentally friendly demands. James Denton, co-founder of GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery, talks about how their business model is leading the way for sustainable practices, and why other businesses should be following suit.
The supermarket industry is one of New Zealand’s biggest, with the sector earning $21.6 billion for the financial year ending June 2017, according to Statistic NZ's Retail Trade Survey. Yet this behemoth also has one of the largest carbon footprints of any industry in New Zealand. Approximately 352,000 tonnes of packaging goes into land ﬁlls each year. According to the Packaging Council of NZ, New Zealanders consume about 735,000 tonnes of packaging every year and recycle only about 58 percent of that.
Yet one small player has been leading the change, GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery opened in March 2017, and has seen 35,000 customers through its doors in just 11 months. The Refillery has a supermarket model of supplying food, but with the big difference of being completely plastic-packaging free.
With over 400 options available and a new store set to open in Parnell, GoodFor has a dream of a society where the ‘packageless pantry’ is as common to a household kitchen as a fridge.
“For us, things were crazy at the start,” says Denton. “People were really excited because it was a new concept, we had a lot of media attention that turned it into a tourist attraction. As people have started to understand our price point compared with like-to-like products, people have started to get used to the concept. Things now have really morphed into a local community with people that have relaxed into this way of shopping.”
This way of shopping is completely devoid of plastic packaging, with glass packing available in store for optimal bulk-food shopping.
The store's relaxed ethos allows consumers to slow down and really think about what they’re purchasing, according to Denton.
“If consumers are relaxed, they can read a little bit more about the ingredients and what they are buying. They can have a bit of a think about what they’re going to do with that item later. We find that the more people know about the products the more creative they are with them.”
The Refillery’s ethos is to educate consumers about the detrimental effects of plastic on our environment while also showing the wider industry it is possible to thrive without stooping for the cheapest, usually plastic, option.
“There have been hundreds of people that were completely oblivious to the fact that there actually is a plastic waste problem – and now it is at the forefront of their mind and they feel bad about it. If anything, the majority of people feel really bad about chucking plastic waste away now. So now a big chunk of people have started to recreate their pantry into having more glass and sustainable options. Even just that one [GoodFor] store has made a massive impact.”
Denton expresses the importance of the message their stores have. And recently opening a bigger store and distribution centre in Parnell, the chain is ready to target a wider base of people look to switch from plastic to glass packing.
“I feel like we’re just on a destructive path and it’s inevitable that something must change at some point. It’s logical that if we keep on chucking away the amount of plastic waste and not recycle it, then the whole bloody world will be covered in plastic. So it has to change in some way.”
GoodFor is setting an example for the wider industry, and its expansion into Parnell following a successful Pledge Me campaign shows the consumer is still asking for what they’re offering.
“We asked for $20,000 and we got $22,000,” says Denton. “It was just an awesome marketing campaign that a lot of people got involved with. It was kind of like a vote, and showed us that we were going in the right direction and really brings out that loyal customer base who are keen to have us around.”
Behavior is shifting around sustainable practices, according to Denton, yet knows there is a lot of work to be done within an industry that is not known for its environmentally friendly practices.
“I think it’s just the consumer market, it’s like companies and corporates are just trying to appeal to the consumer. It’s like ‘give them a convenient plastic package to eat their food out of’, it’s all about money really. We’re just trying to show that you can still trade food to people and business can still make money out of it, you just don’t have to destroy the environment at the same time.”
GoodFor understands the consumer drives business but also highlights that the consumers are the ones changing the behavior.
“I think it comes down to more and more awareness. It definitely has a lot to do with social media, and people are starting to be exposed to things that they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. Social media means these things are popping up in people’s faces and really making them think. Once people are aware of the problem they tend to start taking a little bit more notice and making that change.”
The 35,000 customers who have visited the Ponsonby store over the past 11 months are a testament to how enjoyable the GoodFor shopping experience can be but also to the awareness of the public about how bad our nation and the worlds waste problem really is.
Pushing for a positive change, Denton says GoodFor is forefront at leading the change for the industry and claims to have even made a positive change by showing its direct competitors that sustainable options are indeed what consumers are craving.
“We’ve made a big impact even with some of our suppliers, but it is difficult because it really does come down to the companies that are producing these plastic products. I think the best way to go for any retailer is starting to choose better manufactures. I personally think people should be packaging things in glass like they used to, retailers need to start purchasing in a smarter manner.”
This movement has been a sudden shift, and retailers who aren’t cooperating with new consumer demands are finding themselves forgotten by these people with new values towards sustainability. A loyalty has developed towards brands who are doing their part, and GoodFor has found itself a loyal base, but are now pushing for other businesses to follow suit.
“In the way the world should be, it should be the companies that should be taking responsibility surrounding that packing and what happens to it afterward.”
“But I feel like we’ve even made a big impact on other places, we’ve come in and places have gone ‘oh right this is the way to go’ and it has a bit of a domino effect on other businesses knowing they’ve got to start catering towards these more informed people.”
GoodFor is all about progress towards reducing how much is sent to landfill from both consumers and suppliers, as the saying goes, progress is just putting things how they used to be.