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Helping to launch The Clean Kilo: the UK's largest zero-waste supermarket

It all began with a simple question: “Why isn’t there a supermarket without packaging?” They didn’t know it at the time, but for menswear designer Jeanette Wong and her scientist partner Tom Pell, this sparked an adventure that would see them named as a retail trend to watch less than a year later.

“Back in 2017 we were watching A Plastic Ocean and saw what was going on. We’d heard of plastic pollution before but didn’t realise it was that bad,” said Tom.

“Our lifestyle was already quite zero-waste, but we wanted to cut down on plastic use and found it hard. Jeanette said she had a vision of a supermarket without packaging selling food like hotels serve breakfast cereals. And The Clean Kilo was born.”

Talking shop

To get the supermarket up and running, Tom and Jeanette turned to crowdfunding and corporate sponsors. “I was looking online at local companies that were interested in corporate social responsibility issues to see if they would sponsor us and Deloitte Birmingham came up. I sent them an email and got put in touch with their Green Champion," explained Tom.

Our Birmingham team provided the start-up with pro bono business advice and initial sponsor funding. But because of the Clean Kilo’s potential, and its alignment with our own thinking, we went on to provide ongoing pro bono support from Propel, our business start-up team, plus Real Estate and Tax.

Jeanette was still working as a designer while the supermarket was being set up and used her creative flair on the interior, 90 per cent of which is recycled. Jeanette and Tom turned scaffold boards into shelves and brought in wood cladding from an old school gym. We helped by commissioning illustration agency Scriberia to develop a large wall mural.

Waste not, want not

In June 2018, The Clean Kilo opened its doors in Digbeth, Birmingham. On its first day, hundreds of people queued for up to an hour to experience zero-waste shopping for themselves.

“There’s no packaging, so customers bring their containers with them,” explained Tom. “These are weighed, filled with ingredients and weighed again before they pay.”

As much as their produce as possible is locally sourced from farmers, artisans and bakers. Tom and Jeanette are working hard to make their supply chain waste-free too.

“With local suppliers, like those who provide our milk, ice cream, honey and oil, we ask to exchange containers,” said Jeanette. “The process is longer, but that’s the logistics of zero-waste shopping. It’s more labour-intensive when there’s no packaging, but we can’t live by convenience anymore.”

And staying true to their zero-waste ambitions, the Clean Kilo team even use spillages for bird feed.

“People like the shop the moment they come in,” continued Tom. “It almost becomes addictive and kids love it. I think of it as back to basics shopping.”

Clean and green

Jeanette and Tom are keen to raise awareness of plastic pollution in mainstream culture. Besides working with local schools and groups, they hold regular workshops and talks in the hope that The Clean Kilo can become a community base for environmental issues.

They have plans to open another store and are looking into creating a food hub so customers can order online and collect later. They also want to help other zero-waste shops get up and running.

The couple credit Deloitte as the driving force behind their success. “To have advice and funding from the start has been hugely beneficial to us,” said Tom. “Also, because of our association with Deloitte, we think we have been taken more seriously by the big supermarkets and the corporate world in general.”

This was particularly apparent at a retail trends event earlier in 2019, when they were presented to industry leaders as a trend to watch. They’ve also become the UK’s largest zero-waste supermarket.

And now Jeanette and Tom have got people’s attention, who knows where their clean journey will take them next.

“It’s more labour-intensive when there’s no packaging, but we can’t live by convenience anymore.”

Jeanette Wong, co-founder, The Clean Kilo

Banner image courtesy of Dominika Kubalova

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