The book that started it all

It all started with a book that my mother gave me for Christmas: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

I had never heard of Bea Johnson, nor was I aware of the existence of a zero waste movement. I read the book in one day. Clearly, it struck a chord! The lifestyle Bea was advocating for and her many useful tips made a lot of sense to me. I was inspired to embark on my own zero waste journey.

As I was transitioning to a life without waste, various alarming headlines also caught my attention. I remember this study released at the world economic forum in Davos, warning that by 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. A month later, I read about the thirteen whales that were found stranded on a German beach, with stomachs full of plastic waste. These disturbing stories only strengthened my resolve.

Part of adopting a zero waste lifestyle was to change the way I did my grocery shopping. Following Bea’s advice, I decided to stay away from single-use packaging and find bulk stores where I would fill up my own containers. I live in Ottawa, and I was able to find a number of stores offering products in bulk. But there was no one store where I could find all my packaging-free groceries, and I had to visit 4 to 6 stores on my grocery run to get the products I needed. It was just too time-consuming.

The idea takes shape

I started imagining a zero waste grocery store where I could find everything that I needed, and which would be specially designed for zero waste shopping. After doing some research, I discovered that stores like this already existed. They had been opening all over Europe in the last 2-3 years and were thriving! I also learned that similar projects were underway in Montreal and Vancouver. So I decided to open a zero waste grocery store in Ottawa.

As I shared my idea with friends and family, we all became increasingly excited about this project, and convinced that the time was right. While I was working on a formal business plan, I had many helpers who offered their time, advice and talent. Their help was crucial, but up until March of 2017 NU was mostly a solitary venture.

From Me to We – Sia comes on board

For a year I had been working on NU without knowing that at the same time, someone else was working on a similar project. It was Sia, who, in the course of the same year, had been working on opening a zero waste store of her own. By then, she and her husband, aka zerowastecouple, had been on a zero waste journey for almost five years and had recently quit their day jobs to pursue their dream. Ottawa is a not a big city, and yet, our paths had never crossed until Bea Johnson connected us! We met for coffee and liked each other instantly. Instead of competing against each other, we decided to join forces. 

The NU project was more advanced, so Sia and I started to work together on turning the NU vision into reality.

I had already found the Wellington Street location and was negotiating the lease and supervising renos, while Sia was focussed on supplier relationships and finding the right products for our store… plus the million little tasks that come with business creation!

With an August opening upon us, recruiting a numazing team was one of our priorities. We were ecstatic when Kylie accepted to join us as our store manager, and were lucky to assemble an amazing group of Nubies (our store staff), whose kindness, work ethic and passion for the zero waste lifestyle make NU such a unique place to shop, and work!

The Grand Opening

We opened our door officially on August 19th, 2017 with Minister Catherine McKenna, Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Jeff Leiper as our prominent guests.

Since then, we have been working continuously to increase our offering, improve our processes, engage with our customers and community and better ourselves in every possible way. It was a steep learning curve and we’re still learning!

NU products are packaging-free, but they are also all-natural and, whenever possible, organic and local. We strive to create a unique shopping experience in our open-concept store that is modern and uncluttered. Contemporary and welcoming, our store makes it easy for our customers to live the zero waste life.

NU is a grocery store, but it is also a platform to educate and raise awareness about waste. Our mission statement says it all: NU is on a mission to eliminate waste and reinvent consumption!

So come and visit! We can’t wait to chat #zerowaste with you. Follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @nugrocery) – we are very vocal!

Valerie, Founder and CEO