Kind company is a plant-based café and grocer with a wider focus around sustainability, making vegan food more accessible and teaching people that eating plant-based alternatives does not mean that you have to compromise on taste, goodness or your overall experience at all. While the main motivation for this business comes from the owners’ love and compassion for animals, the business practices support environmental sustainability throughout. Through an entirely plant-based menu primarily created in-store with local ingredients, the use of LED lighting and the minimisation of single use items, Kind Company’s values and efforts align with multiple of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
University of Otago
Kind Company, formally known as Kind Grocer, is a small family owned and operated business located in the centre city of Dunedin, New Zealand. A couple of years ago Penelope Baldwin and her partner Nick Maguire found themselves struggling to find anywhere they could eat out that catered to their plant-based lifestyle, prompting them to try and find a solution. Penelope described this move as “such a passion project that we jumped in blindly”, and while the business may have had its ups and downs as all do, the passion and motivations behind it has never faltered.
Starting out as the Kind Grocer located in the warehouse district on Vogel Street, they imported vegan products to create an accessible place for the community to access wholesale vegan products, as well as creating their own café goods to sell alongside these. As time has passed, vegan food has become more attainable through supermarkets and majority of businesses will provide plant-based alternatives on their menus. These developments along with the recent Covid-19 pandemic prompted some changes for the business, and in July of this year they made the move to larger facilities in Centre City and renamed the business Kind Company. These new facilities are not only located in the middle of town for accessibility, but contains a much larger kitchen which allows the business to move away from the grocer side of business and focus more on creating their own plant-based meals to share with the community.
The businesses dedication to plant-based lifestyles well and truly supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 15 – life on land. With not only the owners being vegan, but every employee is either vegetarian or vegan, so you just know that this is a business that truly cares about what they are selling. Their menu also promotes Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing showcasing just how delicious healthier alternatives can be alongside some treat meals too of course for that balance. While sharing their plant-based lifestyles and the values that come with this is the original motivation for this innovation, the business takes other steps towards Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities through sourcing all of their ingredients through other local businesses and their use of LED lighting throughout the café. To support Goal 12 – Sustainable Production and Consumption they encourage their customers to bring their own reusable takeaway containers and coffee cups, as well as minimising their own waste wherever they can. Kind Company is a valued member of the UYO community which is an initiative trying to normalise reuse throughout hospitality and has a responsible café guide where consumers can find cafes that share their sustainable values wherever they are across the country. Kind Company is a well-rounded cafe promoting many aspects of sustainable business and doing what they can to educate consumers on these matters as well.
The primary motivation for this innovative business is the owners’ love and compassion for animals and wanting to share these values with the community through the food they create and the way they do this. Penelope is a qualified chef and also has a background in herbal medicine. This has given her a love for quality food and drink, and one of her favourite things to do is to make botanical cordials and tonics. Prior to opening Kind Company, she and her partner owned Botanical Kitchen where they made vegan products such as butters, mayonnaises, teas, and tonics, and they would sell these at the farmers market. Thus began their journey of selling their vegan creations, but being the parents of two young children, working in the cold of Dunedin in a food truck was far from ideal. Then began the task of figuring out what they actually wanted to be doing and what space they need to achieve this. Penelope says a big part of the thought process was deciding “how we could get the most rep in terms of promoting veganism as something mainstream” and what the best way to approach this was. This is part of the motivation to start off with groceries because it was simple, and it created a space that anyone could come to with a wide variety of plant-based alternatives and browse if they were curious. Creating places that are thought-provoking for customers encourages them to question the way things are normally done and begin to investigate alternative options.
While expanding the business and developing into more of a café had been on their minds, what really gave them the push to act was the unknown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. When New Zealand first went into a nationwide lockdown the nature of their business meant they had to cease all trade, and being such a small business this meant all of their employees jobs were at risk as well as their entire business. So as soon as the opportunity arose, they took a leap of faith moving into a new building to try and save their employees and their payroll has doubled since. The new facilities and the opportunities that it has created also means that Kind Company can do more wholesaling to other retailers now, and if Dunedin was to go back into lockdown they would be able to continue a little bit of trade that simply wasn’t possible at the old location. Now through their recent expansion they are moving away from the grocer side of business and focusing on creating their own plant-based food from locally sourced ingredients for the community to enjoy. Along with this they are currently planning to expand into nights on the weekends with cocktails and snacks available so that Penelope can really put her love for botanical drinks to use.
By operating a plant-based café in the middle of Dunedin, Kind Company is not only creating the perfect place for like-minded customers to visit, but the accessibility of it creates the opportunity for others to be educated on alternatives to meat and dairy. With a higher amount of foot traffic and the inviting smell of delicious food and fresh coffee, many customers are likely to step into the restaurant not realising the nature of the menu. This then gives the team at Kind Company the chance to encourage more people to try new plant-based alternatives to their usual favourite things. This provides the opportunity for customers to be educated whether they realise it or not, because acceptance and trying other options when they’re easily placed in front of you can be the first step in people then choosing to educate themselves further on the matter. A big belief and motivation for this innovation that Penelope identified is that “every meal consumed without meat has a benefit to the environment.” So essentially every person that decides to consume a meal at Kind company rather than one elsewhere that contains dairy or meat, is having some positive impact on the environment through decreasing the demand of meat and dairy products.
A big part of this innovation is that it allows Penelope and Nick to share their values and passion for plant-based foods with their community. It’s a niche that creates a safe place that not only vegans can rely on, but also people with allergies such as shellfish, or egg and dairy sensitivities, because they know that there is no chance of food contamination from a place that doesn’t have any of these products anyway. While more and more restaurants and cafes are now providing plant-based alternatives on their menus, it is unlikely that the same care and consideration is put into these meals as they’re simply put there to satisfy the increasing demand of plant-based diets. Kind Company is a trusted part of the vegan community in Dunedin and has a loyal customer base which continues to grow as veganism is more normalised and people become more receptive around plant-based alternatives.
From their recent expansion and location shift Kind Company been able to truly capture their brand and create all their own food so that they are selling exactly what they desire and representing themselves to the core. The business has grown so much that their payroll has doubled, and they are currently looking to hire even more like-minded people to join the family. With such a truly individual café it would be hard not to stand out among the many cafes located down George Street, and this is of great benefit to not only their business in general but their ability to continue normalising plant-based diets.
The primary benefit to the environment that Kind Company is striving for is the resulting decrease in meat and dairy consumption through customers eating plant-based meals at their business. Every meal consumed without meat or dairy has a positive impact on the environment, whether that is directly through the well-being of animals or through less environmental impacts being placed on the natural world through production. Short term benefits can be seen through the immediate decrease of meat and dairy consumption when people are choosing to eat plant-based at Kind company. There are also long-term benefits that can be seen through the education of consumers through sharing their own values and plant-based lifestyles to encourage and guide curious consumers along their own journeys. One cannot simply force someone to change their beliefs and values – but you can educate them on other lifestyle choices and encourage them to make an educated decision after knowing more about the impacts of their decisions. Simply put by Penelope herself, “whether people know it or not they are being educated when they come here because they try something new, it’s a new experience and they’re changing the way they’re thinking hopefully.”
There are other added benefits that come along with Kind Company’s actions such as the subsequent decrease in waste to landfill from their minimisation of single use products, as well as the social benefit of consumers adapting and perhaps being encouraging to think about decreasing their single use waste too. Moving away from the grocery side of the business has more benefits as well due to the fact that most of those goods were imported from overseas in piles of plastic packaging, and that simply doesn’t fit with Kind Company’s brand as well anymore. This has also allowed them to focus less on imports, and more on purchasing ingredients and products from other local businesses in the community that do not have all the air-miles attached to them.
Penelope Baldwin, Co-owner
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Business Website: https://shop.kindgrocer.nz/
Year Founded: 2017
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
This business is a small family owned and operated vegan cafe and grocer located in Dunedin, New Zealand. As noted on their website, they live, eat, breath, sleep and honour their values and want to share the vegan message with the community and beyond to make going plant based more accessible, less intimidating, non restrictive and easier than the alternative.