Honest Whole Food Co. is a New Zealand small business that aims to reduce household waste. This is achieved via their zero-waste bulk food store sold over an online platform. Customers purchase their wholefoods via the website, drop off their own reusable containers, which are then refilled, and the customer then picks them back up. In providing this service the company's online business model is contributing to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation” (SDG 9)*. With the focus being whole foods, they also contribute to reducing food waste (SDG 2)*.
University of Otago
The innovation is the combination of a zero-waste bulk food store with an online platform. Founders and sisters Nicola Cross and Emma Brown say their mission is “helping households reduce waste from their weekly grocery shop”. The innovation is “making that change accessible for them”. They describe the concept as “removing the barriers of what customers see as challenges; so the accessibility, the cost, the extra time it takes... getting rid of those barriers through the platform."
They began by researching whole food products that can be purchased in bulk with minimal to no waste in their supply chain. The companies they chose to work with comply with certain criteria Nicola and Emma have set. Another difference between Honest Whole Food Co. and physical bulk food stores is that they're trying to decrease the supply chain waste as well.
They then worked on the logistics and key metrics to make selling online simple, considering things such as weights, prices, drop off - pick up timings, etc. This took over a year to develop, including designing a website that met the customers' needs.
Nicola comes from a marketing background so she's the 'ideas' person, where Emma is an accountant by trade so she runs the accounting side of things. A perfect combination of aspiration and sensibility. As Honest Whole Food Co. is in its early years, the small scale of the business means both are very hands-on with the actual day to day refilling and customer service.
The inspiration to launch Honest Whole Food Co. is inextricably linked to both Nicola and Emma's sense of personal mission. This emerged from both sisters becoming sustainably conscious, which they say evolved over the past ten years aligned to their growing global environmental awareness. They knew that purchasing food in disposable packaging every week was wasteful and unnecessary. Having lived overseas in larger cities where bulk food stores were more accessible, made the transition to a New Zealand small town difficult to stay true to their moral obligation to consume less waste. After having children, the practicalities to do so became even more difficult and apparent. Nicola recalls a turning point: “looking at what we as a family were buying and what we were consuming, and looking at what we were throwing out, I then began looking for better ways.”
Nicola and Emma decided to start their own business with a model that eliminated the barriers to shopping more consciously. This emerged from personal frustrations at not being able to do their weekly shopping without consuming unnecessary packaging and the great deal of time and energy it took trying to do so. The sisters wanted to make it more accessible for others to also generate less weekly household waste. As they say, “if people are going to do this, it is going to have to be super easy, super simple, affordable, and convenient.”
The impact is both growing awareness and decreasing waste from food products for both consumers and the producers. Nicola works with many of her suppliers to come up with solutions for eliminating waste from their food packaging. She provided examples that showed her passion and dedication to establishing a circular economy for the whole food supply chain: "every two months I go through a list of suppliers that we recognize where we get our waste from, and try to work with them to find solutions”. She believes to make a change you have to “not to go in with a problem, but to offer a solution.” An example is their partnership with a granola company that only supplied in 1kg commercially compostable bags, this did not meet the criteria that Nicola had set for Honest Whole Food Co. Therefore, they worked with the company to find a sustainable solution; this was to use the large coconut oil buckets (which the granola company had used in their product) to ship the granola in, and once empty, it is sent back to be refilled. This type of product stewardship goes beyond traditional bulk food store approaches as Honest Whole Food Co. is true to their mission within their businesses as well.
Honest Whole Food Co. is a profitable business; however, a growing customer base and repeat customers are the most important measurement to them. Their goal is to provide a service that can help change household habits. The success can be seen with their above-average* repeat customer rate of 52% and a new customer rate of 50% within the first year of business. They have also nearly doubled the volume of orders during this time.
The business model has the ability to be scaled up and was created to be replicated across New Zealand with long term goals to expand into more local depots.
By eliminating most of their own business waste, and with minimal to no delivery, packaging, or display costs, Honest Whole Food Co. reaps the benefits of a traditional platform business as well as a circular economy business model.
There are the obvious environmental benefits of sending less waste to landfill and, thus, reducing Greenhouse Emissions in the production and disposal of packaging. However, the real mission here is in changing consumer behavior, to drive change throughout the supply chain to producers and policymakers. Once people start to make environmental decisions, they continue with it. Nicola believes the “long term effect by changing a household's habits in weekly groceries is in turn changing all of their environmental habits”. This is the theory that changing one habit can spark a chain reaction. If consumers stop using incumbent food networks, they will be forced to revise their current model. This can already be seen in the adoption of the 'priority product stewardship scheme' in New Zealand, in which plastic packaging is one of the identified products where “people and businesses take responsibility for the life-cycle impacts of their products, either voluntarily or in response to regulatory tools.*" Small changes, can cause great effects.
Nicola Cross, Co founder
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Wanaka, Otago, NZ
Business Website: http://www.honestwholefoodco.co.nz
Year Founded: 2018
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Honest Whole Food Co. is a small business in Wanaka, New Zealand. This zero-waste online refill store aims to reduce household waste. This is achieved via their zero waste bulk food store sold over an online platform.