Local businesses reap rewards of zero-waste model

There's next to no packaging at LOCO grocery store, and customers are encouraged to use their own containers.

Going green is certainly on trend as many businesses try to minimize waste and reduce their carbon footprints.

While more prominent franchises are following the money, some independent entrepreneurs have been using this business model for years.

Marie-Soleil L’Allier realized how wasteful grocery shopping was four years ago, and decided to make a difference by opening a zero waste grocery store.

“All the co-founders, we all studied environmental science, and we wanted to use the business model to make a change at the systemic level,” said L’Allier. 

LOCO has more than 80 small producers from Quebec. The grocery store in Villeray has next to no packaging and customers are encouraged to bring their own containers. The store is transparent with their customers about where their produce comes from, and they are starting to add the number of kilometres between their stores and the producer.

“Everything we can find locally, we buy locally,” said L’Allier. “But for the rest, you have to import.” 

While their oldest store is turning a profit, so far the two newer ones are not, though L'Alallier said they're on track to becoming profitable with a little more time.

“The citizens have shown that they are ready to change the way they live, and they are ready to change their habits,” said L’Allier. 

Half of all consumers consider the company’s values when deciding where to shop, said business consultant Glenn Castanheira.

The business model is a success and is definitely viable on a larger scale, said Castanheira, adding that the model is actually not new. 

“We’re just going back to classics,” said Castanheira. “The model we’re seeing today with supermarkets where you can buy everything at the grocery store is actually only about 40 years old. This idea of buying fresh produce at bulk or with your own bags or what we call today zero waste, is just going back to the business model that our grandparents knew not so long ago.” 

Castanheira said half a million people in Montreal participated in the strike against climate change this year, and business owners could see this as half a million customers. 

LOCO is noticing this recent change in consumerism, too, because their producers are also catching on. 

“At the beginning it was more difficult, but today we have a lot of producers that are writing to us, because they want to change the way they work, or they want to start a new business model,” said L’Allier. 

In Verdun, zero waste coffee shop Cafe le 5e opened up about the same time as LOCO. It's having success, too.

“I came from an engineering background, and I've worked in big corps, and it was kind of an inner feeling, I needed to be closer to my values, and to have a greater impact on my community,” said co-founder Vincent Dessureault. 

For the cafe to respect their zero waste values, le 5e had to cut single-use cups out of their business model. The cafe had to start hosting events to cover that revenue lost.

“Up to 50 per cent of the business model comes from take-outs, quick take-outs,” said Dessureault. “So that was a big sacrifice for us.” 

To keep their take-out clientele, le 5e has a deposit-return system for mason jars. The cafe charges $1 to customers who want to take their drinks to go, and clients can get that dollar back if they decide to return it. 

The cafe is also partnered up with La Tasse, $5 province-wide deposit-return system on reusable cups. The blue recyclable cups are made of polypropylene plastic, and are recyclable in Quebec. 

“We can see (the results) just by the waste that we throw every week,” said Dessureault. “It’s pretty much just a little bag, and that’s it.” 

Business is going well for these two shops so far, but some say even more could be done to turn this trend into policy.

“I think the next step is to work with local government to change the rules,” said L’Allier.