What makes zero-waste grocery stores unique, and how store owners are using technology to make a big impact
- Organic and kitchen waste makes up about 30% of all Canadian household waste[i]
- Consumer interest in reducing waste footprint is driving the zero-waste grocery movement
Environmentally conscience consumers along with tougher are fueling the growing demand for a reduced waste footprint in everyday food and household products. Zero-waste grocery markets are growing in popularity, with a mission to reduce food waste and eliminate single-use plastics and excess packaging. As zero-waste grocers carve out their own niche in the market, technology is playing an important role in ensuring business viability.
Toronto’s first single-stop zero-waste grocery store, Unboxed Market, is one example of how successful zero-waste retailers are using technology to combat throwaway culture while making a profit. Opened in 2019, Unboxed Market is a complete grocery store that offers produce, dried goods, butcher and deli items, cleaning products, oils, and other sundries. The store partners with distributors and customers to reuse containers and aims to reduce food waste by using bruised and wilted produce to create food in their onsite commercial kitchen.
Michelle Genttner and Luis Martins, owners of Unboxed Market, rely on point-of-sale technology to effectively manage their growing business and achieve their vision of zero-waste. “Our main focus was [finding] a system that could work outside of the box, and collaborate with our unique business,” explains Michelle. “We researched quite a few point of sale systems before deciding to work with Auto-Star. The ability to allow for items like taring containers, handle a large amount of SKUs, and offer paperless receipts were key factors.”
Bring Your Own Container
A key part of the zero-waste business strategy is reducing product packaging through the sale of products in bulk, with customers supplying their own containers. Ranging from store bought jars to reusable plastic containers to cloth bags, weights can vary significantly. To ensure customers are accurately charged for products, Unboxed Market uses their point of sale (POS) system to subtract the empty container weight (or tare weight) prior to charging for the item at the till.
Sustainably Sourced Products
Offering a wide variety of sustainable products while balancing margins and customer satisfaction is a challenge for any retailer. To manage their extensive product and inventory data while creating a quick and smooth customer experience, Unboxed Market uses a customizable till that includes product images to find item codes quickly. The solution also gives the owners the information they need to minimize loss and waste while improving inventory turns. Live snapshots of inventory for a specific product or fine line signal if prices need to be reduced or products repurposed in-house. “We search for innovative ways to increase our output without sacrificing the quality of our offerings,” says Michelle.
Despite the growing demand, zero-waste grocers face significant competition from traditional grocery and bulk food stores. To stay competitive, creating a relationship with customers that fosters awareness and loyalty is vital. In addition to a strong presence on social media platforms, Unboxed Market has a fully functional website with pickup or delivery order options. For a seamless end-user experience, they use their POS system to automatically download web store orders and generate reports. To further add value to their customers’ shopping experience, Unboxed Market recently added a customer loyalty program, “which has been an excellent incentive for our regulars to continue to shop with us,” Michelle notes. And, to keep with their mandate to reduce waste, Unboxed Market emails paperless receipts directly to customers from the till at the time of purchase.
As zero-waste grocery stores continue to grow in popularity, integrating technology into operations is pivotal to meeting customer’s increased demand while ensuring environmental and business sustainability. “The team at Auto-Star has been amazing at working through all sorts of not-your-average questions and thoughts that I (and our team) have had in order to make the system work best for Unboxed Market,” says Michelle.