Sustainable Business; Grocery & Food Retail

Sustainable Ethical Grocer/ Food Retailer

Today we have another article in my series on sustainable businesses, this time for grocers and food retailers. If you’re not in the line of work feel free to forward the article onto someone that is.

Nothing mentioned in this article has been sponsored. It’s all just my own personal opinion. If you like your sources to remain independent then please;
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Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

Take-away Food Containers

Packaging / Labelling

  • Aim to have loose veg the same price as packaged-veg
  • Consider ditching fruit labelling in favour of laser labelling as offered by Spanish company Nature and More
  • Wherever packaging is essential aim to only use recyclable or compostable packaging. This will solve a big headache for customers and they’ll appreciate that you’ve taken all the thinking out of the recycling process for them.
  • VPZ offer compostable fruit and veg nets and fruit boxes made from beech trees. They are based in Germany.
  • Switch to plastic-free multi-buy promotions for non-perishable, perhaps using paper / cardboard bands
  • Offer refill points for filtered water, beer, wine, milk, juice, washing-up liquid, shampoo, laundry liquid. Wine lab in Ireland sell wine dispenser taps that use kegs thereby reducing glass bottle waste. Infinity Water Systems offer a refill system for bottled sparkling or still water without the waste and cost associated with traditional bottled waters. They are based in Ireland
  • Sell condensed capsules of cleaning products instead of full bottles, like those from SploshIron & Velvet, or Ocean Saver’s Pod
  • Consider package-free versions of products your already sell like soap
  • Introduce toothpaste tablets and mouthwash tabs that customers can buy package-free
  • Introduce fully compostable versions of products that are accepted by bin collection companies, like ear-buds, cleaning cloths etc.
  • Trial a few package-free dry goods like rice, pasta, beans, dried fruit. The gravity bins might look like they’d spill all over the floor but they actually manage the flow in a very controlled way and are designed so that the older stock gets dispensed first.
  • Miwa is a circular system of reusable capsules that use smart technology, to fit into the logistic and hygienic standards of supermarket chains and Good Club is an online supermarket that delivers all it’s products in reusable containers. It’s based in the UK.
  • If you want even more idea Greenpeace have recommendations on how supermarkets can cut their packaging by half by 2025. Aimed at UK supermarket chains but might of interest all the same.

Food Waste & Miles

  • Tailor multi-buy options for fruit and veg, if done badly it leads to food waste. Replace with ‘recipe packs’ that invite customers to buy all they need for a particular featured recipe, which you display on posters in store for customers to take a photograph of. Recipes would be built around locally grown veg as much as possible to reduce air miles.
  • Promote locally sourced package-free veg.
  • If you’ve a lot of food waste consider installing a commercial food digester, or if you food waste is less there’s a smaller version that methane from the decomposing waste and use to power your gas appliances. called MyGug
  • Consider offering veg offcuts free for pets.
  • Donate unsold food with the Irish charity Food.Cloud or offering it through the apps Foodie Save or Olio
  • If you generate a lot of food waste take a look at Winnow Vision, a digital tool to help capture, and reduce food waste


  • Klee Paper in Ireland sell compostable single-use gloves
  • If you sign up for Terracycle points you can earn cash for a charity or community organisation by collecting and posting certain packaging streams.
  • Set your tills to not give receipts unless requested.
  • Allow customers to donate unwanted reusable shopping bags for customers can use if they forget theirs. Link to a charity so customers can donate in appreciation of the scheme.
  • If you need to give out bags consider using paper bags made from leaves!
  • If you’re going to use compostable packaging make sure you have a compost bin for all food waste and compostable containers nearby and signage to explain which bin to put it in and why.
  • If you’re in the market for paper straws JBX Paper Pax makes them from sustainable sourced food-grade kraft paper in Ireland and Ecostraws sells edible straws and reusable straws.
  • Support the initiative Refill and allow people to refill their reusable bottles on your premises.  Ecofil sell water refill stations. They are based in Ireland.

Energy & Water

  • Urban volt install LED lights with no money down. They get paid from a percentage of the savings you make from using less energy. They’re based in the US and Ireland.
  • Switch energy provider to one that offers the highest percentage of renewable energy.
  • Monitor your energy usage and set targets for reductions
  • Monitor your water consumption and set targets for reductions.

Packing Material

  • Cardboard Converters sell cardboard shredders that allow you to reuse cardboard boxes as packing material. They have an office in Ireland.
  • Also Cardboard Cloud is an Irish company looking to match people with cardboard with others who can use it, or helping businesses reuse the cardboard they have. They appear to be just at pilot stage at the moment but taking enquiries.
  • Flex-hex use expandable cardboard sheets to protect bottles
  • Palletsock provide reusable durable socks for use to palette thereby doing away with the need for acres and acres of stretch wrap
  • Recycled cardboard packing material by Ecor
  • Flexible compostable packaging by Tipa

Promotions / Signage

  • Print posters with offers and invite customers to photograph instead of doing individual catalogues
  • Switch to a digital loyalty scheme that uses phones instead of a plastic card / keychain
  • Use an eco print company like The Factory in Co Offaly. They print on recycled or sustainably sourced paper using plant-based inks and toners on low energy printing and finishing machines/ Their packaging is 100% plastic-free.
  • Consider using waxed cotton for outdoor signs instead of plastic coated ones like Millbee Studio did.
  • Avoid dates on banners and pop-up signs so they can be reused.


  • Linea Zero is a range of professional cleaning products that are fully biodegradable and based on plant ingredients or source your cleaning products from Klee Paper, or another eco-stationary brand


  • Neutral in Denmark offering custom printing of certified 100% organic fairtrade toxin-free t-shirts which have made with renewable energy and are carbon neutral.
  • The social enterprise We Make Good can make many items for uniforms


  • Deliver locally by bike
  • Deliver to non-local areas with an electric car / van
  • If you do need to use a delivery company considering using one that uses bikes or electric vehicles or offsets it’s carbon emissions, like the Irish owned EcoXpress or Green Couriers or global brand DPD.
  • Get yourself or your staff driving more sustainably with the device Lightfoot. It plugs into the vehicle’s on-board computer and monitors driving performance. This is then displayed on the dashboard with a series of little lights. They’re based in the UK.

Car Parks

  • Use reusable plastic tokens instead of printing single-use tickets.
  • Promote cycling by put up bike racks close to the door to reduce theft

Positive Actions

  • One percent for the planet work with companies that want to donate 1% of their gross sales to environmental charities. They are based in the US but work with companies all over the world.
  • Invite people in to talk about sustainable living or other issues.
  • Offer a free coffee for a bucket of litter collected from the vicinity.

If you’d like to calculate the carbon footprint of your food business there is a dedicated carbon calculator for your sector called Food Steps. It has been created by former Cambridge university student so the data should be fairly transferable to Ireland.

If you’re planning on opening a zero waste store here’s a handy guide on what to consider from Zero Waste Store association Bepakt.

There’s some interesting data you could use for social media in this report on Package-free Stores in Europe, plus some great business ideas for reusable packaging in this report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Thanks for reading


PS – Other posts in the series include

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Sustainable Business; Grocery & Food Retail

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