Changemaker Series with Brianne Miller and Alison Carr

Welcome to episode ten of the Fairware Changemaker Series, where we highlight entrepreneurs and thought leaders that continuously inspire us through their passion for using business to better the world.

This week we’re featuring Brianne Miller, Founder of Nada and Alison Carr, Buyer and Supplier Relationship Manager. In this episode, we visit Nada Grocery to learn what it takes to work hard for a just food system that supports a thriving local economy, all while connecting people to their food.

Can you tell us about the Nada journey and how you got to where you are today?

Brianne: I’m coming at this from a Marine Biology background. I’ve worked for almost a decade studying coral reefs, tropical fish and marine mammals. The job took me to various different places around the world, and it became very apparent that we have a mass pollution problem. Plastic was everywhere. During that time I wasn’t on a single dive or remote field site where I didn’t see any plastic. It is hard to turn a blind eye to it, seeing it so often. That’s where this idea came from; I wanted to tackle a problem at its source.

Alison: I was studying waste at the University of British Columbia and found Brianne on Facebook, having heard through the grapevine what she was up to. It was super inspiring, and I felt connected to the project as a whole.

What solution does Nada provide to this problem?

Brianne: Nada works by encouraging our customers to bring in their own containers to pack their food purchases, tackling plastic pollution by reducing the amount of single-use plastics that are used or brought into their homes. We’ve been open for just over a month and have already diverted 20,500 containers from our landfills, and that’s just on the consumer side of things. We do a ton of work within our supply chain in terms of reducing waste with all of our suppliers, so we have implemented container systems and ask every business we work with to make a commitment to help us reduce waste – not only in our business, but theirs as well.

What will customers find within your zero waste grocery store?

Alison: You will find 90% of items you’ll find in other grocery stores, with everything from produce, dry goods, large spice section, and a deli area with cheese, spreads and dips. People are used to buying vegetables or dry goods in bulk, so when they come in and are also able to buy maple syrup or nut milk in their own containers, it’s a really great opportunity for people to connect with what we’re trying to do. We see a lot of people celebrating that and connecting with the movement, so we’re feeling fortunate to be able to expand on the variety of items we do source. And right now we are just starting up!

Brianne: We learned a lot from our pop-up shops as well, having conversations along the way with customers about what products they wanted to see and what they had a hard time sourcing package-free.

Can you tell us about the customer shopping experience?

Alison: We were worried that there would be a little bit of a barrier for some folks, because there is a technology component to making Nada a package-free shopping experience. However, the connection people feel to our mission and also the long-lasting relationship we have to the end goal of waste reduction has made it a smoother transition. It’s super fun to customers coming in and smiling, interacting with the tech. It makes us feel empowered and excited, because it’s this new tech we can all engage with in an interactive way.

How does the tap refill system work?

Brianne: Our tap-fill-pay refill system is quite a simple solution. We’re trying to speed up the zero waste shopping experience, and we know that if we’re to encourage a larger number of people to shop this way, it needs to be as quick as the traditional shopping experience would be.

Alison: The advantage of stickering all your containers is that the next time you come in, you don’t have to do that step. Just come in, fill up, and deduct the weight of the container.

What are some of the requirements to be a Nada supplier?

Alison: It really depends, as we do have supplier criteria that encompass a wide variety of things. We do primarily source organic and local products. Ultimately, it comes down to the supplier being excited about reducing their waste reduction and willing to work with us to reduce waste in our supply chain. We don’t stick to a hard guideline, because we want to be able to work with as many people as possible.

What’s next for Nada Grocery?

Brianne: We currently have a lot in the pipeline and are excited to grow Nada. The next step is working on the technology piece, as there is a lot to improve and scale with that. As for the store itself, we do see new stores on the horizon and we’re slowly starting to scope out where the next ones will be.

Can you tell us how Nada built such a strong community?

Alison: It’s a combination of spending years attending community events, collaborating with local businesses, and really getting to know our customers and what they want to see in our store!

Brianne: Looking forward, we want to devote more time towards community outreach, as we really enjoy interacting with our community. We’ve done school workshops with Vancouver School Board, trail clean-ups, film screenings, and hands-on events to engage people and get them thinking about their shopping behaviours.

What does being a changemaker mean to you?

Alison: It’s participating in something that is greater than us, and also inspiring others to participate in trying to set a precedent in an industry that thrives on waste. This includes getting people excited about the ways in which they can reduce, and empowering our community to feel excited about their waste reduction efforts. People know the problem is there and it’s not going to go away until we take collective action.

Brianne: Being a changemaker is about being that spark or catalyst around zero waste conversations. If someone sees you using a reusable straw or container for takeout, it sparks these conversations and inspires a new approach, creating a ripple effect. We see it with our customers, but also in our daily lives as well.

Brianne and Alison are on a mission to procure high quality and responsibly sourced packaged-free foods from right here in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. They do this by creating long-lasting relationships with their suppliers to tackle the waste not only in their own store, but in their suppliers businesses too. Make sure to check out their store located at 675 East Broadway – and don’t forget to bring your own containers!

Thank you Brianne and Alison for opening your doors and inspiring others to change the way they shop for groceries. Stay tuned for our next episode by signing up for our newsletter for all the latest on sustainable products and ethical sourcing trends.