Posted 26/07/2018 6:19:10 PM by Oliver Lam
Photo: Amanda Palmer
Nestled in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood is a grocery store that is setting a new standard for the way people not only shop for their food but how they connect with their food as well.
As Canada’s first package-free grocery store, Nada is much more than a place to purchase food. It is a community. It is zero waste. It is an educational hub. It is Just Food. And at the helm of this not-so-hidden gem of a store, which has caught the attention of various local media as well as most recently the New York Times, is founder and CEO Brianne Miller.
For Miller, it was an experience during her time as a marine biologist that planted the seed for Nada. While on a field study, she saw with her own eyes the large amount of harmful plastic floating in our oceans and at the same time noticed that source of the majority of that plastic was food packaging. This led Miller to think seriously about our current food system, from beginning to end, and ask herself, “How can I make a positive and permanent change to every aspect of our food system?” The answer was a package-free grocery store that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the customer experience, sourcing products consciously and responsibly and being active participants in building healthier communities and promoting healthier lifestyles for everyone. Along with Buyer and Supplier Relationship Manager Alison Carr and an amazing staff, Miller has the city buzzing with excitement over Nada.
We were excited to pop into the store to check out the beautiful, one-of-a-kind space, and chat with Miller about all things Nada.
Photo: Amanda Palmer
Paint the picture of what the night before opening day was like for you and how things have been going since opening in June?
Well, we were here until 5:15 a.m. on opening day (laughs). It was 5:30 a.m. in the morning and we were biking home and then decided to text a couple of friends asking them to swing by the store on their way to work to help us tidy things up because it still wasn't done yet. We were opening at 10:00 a.m. so we got back to the store by 8:00 a.m.
Given the nature of Nada being package-free, each day must bring a whole different list of things to do compared to a traditional grocery store.
There are many more things to do. We have hundreds of products and we need to figure out the labels. Also, we can’t do a lot of the pricing until things come in and we get the invoice. For every product that arrives we have to track how many grams, we’re having to set the price, track inventory and then move it out onto the floor. And our supply chain is so different. It’s not like we’re getting one transport of goods. Every day we’re getting around 15 to 20 different shipments so we are constantly keeping track of all that as well.
I understand it took a true team effort to get the store ready for opening. What did it mean to you to have such support from everyone who helped out?
It was amazing. This store definitely would not be open without everyone’s support. There were probably around 100 people in here the past couple of months. Some really great friends, some family and some volunteers who have been following us and really wanted to help. There are so many things that go into a store like this as we are doing things differently with the physical space. All the fixtures were second-hand so we painted them all and all the tops were redone. All of the wood is reclaimed as well. There was even a wall separating the space at one point, and instead of demolishing it we were able to rebuild all of our walls using that one wall. We were trying to do a green buildout and use as many reclaimed and reused materials as possible; and that inherently takes more and time and costs a lot more money. So we were trying to offset [those costs] with a lot of helping hands.
Your brand tagline, "Just Food", represents much more than being a package-free grocery store. It’s refers to the process of revaluating our current food system. What does it take to fully realize the vision of Just Food?
For us, it ultimately means supporting a more just food system. One that is accessible to a wide variety of people, is inclusive of many different cultures and food systems. We’re working towards supporting more indigenous food cultures. We do a lot of community outreach, trying to educate people about a more just food system and what that could mean to them. There are lots of things we are doing to improve accessibility. A big part of what we’re trying to do is convey with our products the true cost of food. Buying local, organic is more expensive and so we're educating people about why we think it’s a good decision to spend your dollars on items like that, while at the same time trying to make this type of shopping accessible as well.
We have a couple of food recovery programs that we work with and do what we can to ensure food gets into the hands of people who need it most. We’re working with another company called FoodMesh to get recovered items in our store that can be sold at much lower price points. Actual inclusion and accessibility goes with the space as well, making sure our space is open, accessible to people in wheelchairs or who have other disabilities.
I understand you have a specific criteria when choosing your local and organic suppliers. What do you look for when bringing a company on board?
At the top of the list is choosing to work with companies who are helping us to reduce waste in the entire supply chain. That is first and foremost and the highest criteria. Right now we work with over 300 suppliers to try and reduce waste in not only their business but ours as well. And to be honest, by the nature of the businesses that we work with, a lot of them are already doing really amazing things like that so they’re learning a lot from us and we’re learning a lot from them. For example, where we can, we have a lot of products come to us in reusable containers and they go direct to shelf and then the containers are swapped back and forth. We also try and support a lot of alternative business models like B-corps, those supporting 1% for the Planet, a lot of female led businesses, a lot of small-scale food producers. We also prioritize companies who are using recovered materials or ingredients. We have a soap company called Plenty and Spare, who collect tallow from local butchers, pay for it and turn the tallow into soap. We also source imperfect fruits and vegetables.
Photo: Amanda Palmer
There's a lot to be excited about given all the buzz since the store opened. What has brought a smile to your face when you think of the impact Nada is making?
It’s been more the ripple effect we’ve seen within our personal lives and with everyone that comes into the store. The idea that making small actions do add up especially when you’re a large number of people. It’s a very inclusive community and I think a lot of people are really curious. For example, we have a stainless steel straw and they look cool so people will come up and say “that’s so neat” and then ask more about where we got it and why we have it. This starts all kinds of conversations and it may start small with something like a straw where you realize how much waste is created with a drink and that there are other ways [reducing waste] can be tackled. So it starts small, but over time more people jump on board and really start thinking about their purchases and how it can impact the lives of their friends and family.
Photo: Amanda Palmer
GETTING TO KNOW BRIANNE MILLER, NADA FOUNDER & CEO:
You have a background in marine biology. Which sea creature do you find most fascinating?
Oh there’s lots, but I’d say a manatee is my favourite marine mammal. They’re pretty funny, slow moving creatures that live in Florida and the Caribbean.
What would you say is an underrated ingredient that you love to incorporate into your meals?
Buckwheat groats is a really random one. I wouldn’t say you can cook too much with it, but you can make some really good breakfast smoothie bowls if you blend it with fruit and berries. Also walnuts, even though I’m not a big fan of walnuts on their own but they are really good to make raw bliss ball type foods or this brownie recipe. You get walnuts, cocoa powder, dates, salt and a bit of vanilla, press everything into a pan and it tastes like real brownies—it’s pretty crazy!
What's one of your favourite outdoor activities?
I love to rock climb, and in fact a lot of our team like to rock climb too. We’re trying to get a hangboard in the back of the store because I have one at home that I don’t get to use, so I might as well bring it here.
DID YOU KNOW?
The YMCA of Greater Vancouver is an inclusive charitable organization dedicated to promoting healthy living, helping children and families thrive and building healthy communities. This is achieved in a number of ways including providing programs and services that help youth grow up healthy and engaged in their community, allow adults to experience optimal health as they age, support parents' efforts to raise healthy and resilient kids and provide people of all ages with a sense of belonging and connection.