Ottawa’s first zero-waste store setting up shop in Hintonburg

By Alyson Queen –

Canadians have a $31 billion food waste problem and teacher-turned-entrepreneur, Valerie Leloup, is determined to tackle it.

After embracing a zero-waste lifestyle a year and a half ago, she is opening Ottawa’s first zero-waste concept store, Nu Grocery, right in the heart of Hintonburg.

“One of the aspects of a zero-waste lifestyle is you change the way you do grocery shopping. So you stay away from single-use packaging and you consume in a way that creates less waste and doesn’t impact the environment negatively – or you to try to at least.”

Valerie Leloup is opening a zero waste store in Kitchissippi. There will be no plastic packaging at all. Dry products will go in paper bags and wet products in jars, which will be available for a small deposit. Photo by Alyson Queen
Valerie Leloup is opening a zero waste store in Kitchissippi. There will be no plastic packaging at all. Dry products will go in paper bags and wet products in jars, which will be available for a small deposit. Photo by Alyson Queen

With zero-waste shopping, you bring your own containers to the store and fill them with the bulk product(s) that you need.

For Valerie, that was the easy part. The challenge was finding everything she needed in one place, often heading to five or six different destinations to purchase sustainably, and sometimes having to convince store owners of what she was doing.

Although other big box stores like Bulk Barn have introduced the zero waste concept for some products, Nu Grocery will be the first of its kind in this city, and even in Ontario, with 1700-square feet of one-stop-shopping.

“We’ll be leaving out meat and fish, but other than that we’re trying to offer everything including produce, dairy and cheeses, dry products, prepared foods, condiments, cleaning and beauty products – and I could go on!”

Two main principles are behind her concept: get rid of plastic, and source local.

“There will be no plastic packaging at all.”

Dry products will go in paper bags and wet products in jars, which will be available for a small deposit if they don’t have their own.

Valerie is also sourcing local goods wherever possible, noting an additional benefit.

She says the bigger national suppliers are not set up for a zero-waste concept, but with smaller, local companies, she can start to introduce the change.

“You say to suppliers ok, deliver to me in reusable containers and when the next order comes, you take back the containers and clean them and re-use them and create a circular economy. This you can only do with a local supplier.”

Zero-waste shopping is great for the environmentally conscious consumer, but what about cost? Valerie says it can, in fact, be cheaper to buy at a zero-waste store like Nu Grocery.

“The general rule is that a product in bulk is cheaper than the same product packaged. The price difference really depends on how sophisticated the product is.”

She uses the example that oatmeal is 20% cheaper when bought in bulk.

But she is also going to carry higher quality, natural goods that aren’t chemically processed and full of preservatives.

“I think as a society we need to move to buying less and better quality.”

For Valerie, the concept essentially advances what many people do already, by taking reusable bags to the grocery store.

“It’s not more complicated. It’s just different.”

Her model is based on successful shops in Europe. But she has had to adjust for Canadian consumers, who on average waste 30% of what we buy.

She notes that Europeans are used to having smaller, more specialized stores but Canadians are more inclined toward larger, one-stop shopping.

For a store that hasn’t yet opened its doors, Nu Grocery has already attracted plenty of attention, even receiving a Bootstrap Award from Algonquin College for entrepreneurs who are making a positive contribution to the community. This came before she had an announcement date, or even had revealed the location.

Valerie, who came to Canada from France in 2003 and moved to Ottawa in 2006, is also a full-time teacher at Lisgar Collegiate.

She researched a number of possible locations in the city but ultimately landed on Hintonburg.

“I chose Hintonburg for demographic reasons because I believe it’s a great neighbourhood for a concept like this, with a high percentage of millennials and people who care about sustainability. It had the right criteria I was looking for in an ideal location.”

Although she is still navigating permits, suppliers and all of the details that come with launching a brand new business, Valerie is targeting the end of July to hang her “open” sign at 1140 Wellington St. W., next door to Stella Luna.

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