I hope you all have a productive week! I’m kicking things off with a very exciting Behind the Biz interview. If you’re new to Prettygreentea, this is my weekly interview series where I discover businesses, the people behind them and their business journey. Today’s interview is all about ethical and sustainable living.
In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Rowan, the founder of Gram – Sweden’s first package-free grocery store.
Photo by: Eva Kvanta, Svenska Måltider
Please tell us about your business.
Gram is Sweden’s first package-free, “zero waste” grocery store. We sell around 170 products including rice, beans, lentils, pasta, nuts, muesli, flour, spices, oils and vinegars as well as household products like soap, washing up liquid and washing powder. Everything is sold loose and by weight. The idea is that customers can come with their own containers – jars, bottles, cloth bags, even an old ice-cream tub, fill up with groceries and have nothing to throw away when they get home.
Where did the inspiration for Gram come from?
I read an article about a girl in New York, Lauren Singer, who could fit her landfill waste for 2 years in a small glass jar. I was blown away and thought if she can do it then so can I, so can we all. So, it started as a life experiment to see how much I could reduce the rubbish my household created with simple tweaks to my everyday routines. But I always got so frustrated over food packaging, and started looking at the bulk food shop concept that’s popular in Germany and France.
Please tell us about the Zero Waste movement.
In a world of global warming and plastic filled seas, zw is a way individuals can make a difference. It’s about rejecting and finding alternatives to single use items and packaging. It’s about living more simply, buying less, buying smart and always looking for options where packaging is non-existent or has a reusable option. A good example is disposable coffee cups. Simply by carrying a reusable cup you can save all the energy and resources that went into making the cup, the raw materials in it and the energy that will be used to recycle or dispose of it. All that for c. 3 minutes of use before it hits the bin.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
I’m a British girl living in Malmö, Sweden, so for me the name had to work for my Swedish customers and feel right to my English tongue. I went through a few alternatives and put my top ones to the vote with a few friends. Gram got the top vote and has the same meaning in both languages – relating obviously to the fact that we sell by the gram. I like that it’s short and to the point and isn’t trying to be overly clever.
What did you do before starting Gram?
I was, and still am a copywriter. I work for a communications agency 25% as well as running the shop. It’s feels good to keep doors open and other ways of earning a living available, especially in the early stages of a start-up.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
I’ve been through different periods of being employed and self-employed in my life, they each have their pros and cons. Right now I like having the freedom and fulfilment of running my own business, alongside the security of being employed part time. I know I can always make the rent!
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Because Gram is the first zero waste shop here, it has the challenge of being a novelty and the hurdle of people not being ready to embrace something so new. It is, apparently, very hard to change such ingrained habits as how people do their food shopping. I’m also having to learn to be a sales person, something that doesn’t come very easy.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
One of the big Swedish newspapers named us in a list of positive things that happened in 2016, an adverse to a year with Trump, terrorist attacks and Prince’s death. That was nice. But my real heart-warming highlight is when I’m in my shop and a few “zero wasters” show up with their bags of clinking jars and they stock up for the week without any excess packaging, and they are all so happy that they can do it.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
I use social media a lot to share news about zero waste and to market the shop. A Malmö tourist site recently did a video about us, which has since gone viral. Off the back of it I’m getting emails from people in Perth, New York, Greece, Dublin, asking how they can set up a zw shop. It’s amazing for spreading the message, but it’s another thing turning all that hype into customers. Facebook can be so global, when what you sometimes need is to get the attention of the people in your backyard.
Instagram is my favourite platform. I guess because I’m quite a visual person and it also has this laid back vibe to it, you can have a more relaxed tone of voice there.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Gather your cheerleaders and supporters. Think about all the friends and contacts you have and what they are good at. Maybe you’ve got a mate who’s an Excel geek and can help with your budget, another who’s a marketing pro, another who can make the perfect cuppa in a time of crisis. If your project is interesting enough, people will gather around you and want to help. There’s no way I could have got the shop up and running without the support of some fab people.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
At the moment the shop is in a wonderful covered market where we have a fairly small space. It’s been a great place to start and build the brand and customer base. But, I’d like to move to our own premises, and build our product range, add fresh foods, etc. and offer our customers even more. For that I want to have a business partner on board. So far, apart from the cheerleaders, it’s been all me on my own. But I’d really like to bring in a partner who can share the responsibility, decision making, worries, joys and hauling around of 25kg sacks of nuts!
If you’re near to Malmö then make sure you visit Rowan’s shop and learn more about the zero waste lifestyle. Alternatively, you can support her business journey over on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
I want to say a huge thank you to Rowan for taking the time to be a part of Behind the Biz. I loved finding out about her ethical business journey and learning about the zero waste lifestyle. It’s something that I’ve already become more conscious of and as a start I’m making a firm effort to use a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. I’ve also started to buy avocados in advance, they really over-package the ‘ready to eat’ ones. I can’t wait to see Gram grow and hopefully one day I’ll bee able to visit her store in Malmö.