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Episode 7: Unboxed Market

Toronto's First Zero Waste Grocery

Episode 7: Unboxed Market

Unboxed 2
[00:00:00] Miranda: Would you say you are producing less waste at your curbside than the previous grocery store?
[00:00:06] Michelle: I can absolutely guarantee that because we ran the previous grocery store for three months before we closed and reno'd and opened up. No way!. I can very much guarantee you that the waste is immensely reduced.
[00:00:18] Miranda: Do you know like a percentage? How much did you shrink your waste turning Zero Waste?
[00:00:24] Michelle: Probably 80%.
[00:00:25] Miranda: Whoa!
[00:00:26] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:00:27] Miranda: I was thinking like 50%.
[00:00:28] Michelle: No.
[00:00:29] Miranda: Wow.
[00:00:29] Michelle: Yeah..
[00:00:30] Miranda: That's Michelle Genttner. She, along with her partner, Luis Martins sold their restaurant, took over a grocery store and turned it Zero Waste. But what is Zero Waste exactly? It sounds intimidating. Is it just a PR term to make me feel better or will Unboxed Market revolutionize the way I shop for groceries? Who are Michelle Genttner and Luis Martins.
And what is Unboxed Market?
[00:00:51] Michelle: place, this place. What's this place. What's this place. This place
[00:00:58] Miranda: let's go
[00:00:58] Michelle: inside.
[00:01:00] Miranda: Hi,
[00:01:01] Michelle: Hi,
[00:01:03] Miranda: what is this place?
[00:01:04] Michelle: Unboxed Market is Toronto's first brick and mortar Zero Waste store. Our objective is to eliminate excess packaging and single use plastics wherever possible.
[00:01:15] Miranda: When Michelle says they want to offer as many things free of packaging as possible, she is not kidding around. This is not Bulk Barn. You can fill your milk jug, your egg carton, your butter dish. I was shocked to find frozen peas and corn, scallops, deli meats, pearl onions! Come on! You can buy all these things, just using the packaging you already have in your home.
And not just bags, but all those beautifully designed containers we just toss out week after week. Unboxed is more like a Parisian Market, married Bulk Barn, and had this beautiful package free baby. A baby that must have taken a lot of work to get off the ground.
Tell me, how did this come to be? How did you go from four empty walls?
[00:02:00] Michelle: With a lot of blood, sweat and tears! Luis and I come from a hospitality background. We started in bars and restaurants. When we sold our restaurant, we were talking about what our next move was. Luis had always said, you know, it'd be nice to have something small, something easy, a little grocery store.
And we started researching different types of low waste stores around the world. And a lot of them were re-filleries and they were offering certain components. So we started talking about what it would look like to be able to offer as many of those components as possible in one space. So our nice, easy little grocery store turned into an incredible endeavor.
[00:02:36] Miranda: Was it a twinkle in your eye at all when you were selling?
[00:02:39] Michelle: We didn't leave one to go and do the other. We kind of just, you know, an opportunity came along and we were able to sell. And it's incredibly rare for a restaurant to be able to sell, and for you to be able to pay your bills. And mostly Luis had toyed was just having a little grocery story.
He was looking I think not what we ended up with, but the more we researched that was where we kept coming back to: we both grew up in the country, we worked our gardens. We are very connected to the environment and agriculture and how they interconnect and what they mean to us. So we started looking at the waste streams coming out of restaurants and bars and what comes out of grocery and how we can minimize that.
And then we just kept pushing and pushing and we're still pushing. And we will be, I think for a very long time.
[00:03:25] Miranda: Yeah, I, I heard you describe it as a David and Goliath kind of battle?
[00:03:29] Michelle: Yeah it is!
[00:03:30] Miranda: I visited Michelle at Unboxed to ask her a few questions in person and this David and Goliath image came to me again, the way she has to constantly battle waste.
[00:03:41] Michelle: There's a company that we were talking with this summer and they're small and they're growing. And so they have cans that are plastic sleeved. I can't, I can't justify having a plastic sleeve around a can. So the response was, our staff loved your product, our customers loved your product. We can't carry this right now.
I understand you're growing. And when you get to the point where you have printed cans, reach back out to us, and we will absolutely talk about getting your product in the store. But at this moment we can't. So even our compostable, our bags that we have for our deli meats and cheeses that are in the fridge.
Yeah. We ordered over a sample. We sent it to a lab and got it verified.
[00:04:18] Miranda: What?!
[00:04:19] Michelle: Yeah. And then they were like, yes, it's total. There's no polys.
[00:04:22] Miranda: How do you know how to do, where do you call? Who do you call?
[00:04:25] Michelle: I met a person, and I kept their contact. Um,
[00:04:28] Miranda: When you look back on getting out of the restaurant, do you feel that you dodged the pandemic restaurant?
[00:04:35] Michelle: It's definitely one of those, if we had known then what we know now, thank goodness. I stay awake at night, thinking about all of the things that we need to do to keep our store open. But I also have moments of: where would we be if we were still in the bar, like where would our staff be? What would that look like?
And there are so many people that we know who are hanging on by a thread right now. I want to say it's one less stress, but it's really not, because even though it's not affecting us the same way it's still absolutely affecting us. These are our friends. These are our family members. The ripple effect on hospitality is enormous.
Yes. It's food service, but it's all of the support system. So things like linens and supply services, all of the other behind the scenes things that help those spaces they've also been hit. Right? So the ripples and it's true of every industry, like I'm saying bar and restaurant and grocery, because that's what I know, but it's true of
every single industry. Nobody's not being affected by COVID or be it good or bad, cuz there are some that are making record profits right now. There's nobody who can say they're coming out of this untouched.
[00:05:36] Miranda: I'd like to hear more about the six R's because we were brought up with three R's and I didn't know that there were six, but when you explain them, I'm like, oh yeah, there are six.
[00:05:48] Michelle: The way we learned the three R's recycle was it was a triangle that was supposed to be the circular economy, but they designed it in a triangle. Recycle, always seemed to be that pinnacle and we were pushed into, 'Well, we'll just recycle it!' 'Put it in the blue bin!' Just do the, and everybody thinks they're doing this great thing by putting everything in the blue bin.
The recycling systems are a disaster. They are different from municipality to municipality and they change all the time. Every time you think that you're doing something right, 'Oh well, we were doing that, but now we're not allowed to do that!' 'But we didn't even know! Nobody told us!' We've been generating garbage where we shouldn't have. It's the same with our composting facilities.
It's a, it's a conundrum put on individual consumers instead of trying to work together and work as an entire Country as an entire United Front to, to tackle this issue. Part of the issue is over-consumption. But part of the issue is just, we're told that it goes away and where is away?
So when you're looking at all of the R's, Refuse is the first R, because you shouldn't be bringing things into your life, into your home that you don't need. And that sounds really basic, but we've been trained to buy. We're a consumer society, that's how we make the economy turn, like, spend your money here and it's buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.
And that awareness of, well, I don't necessarily need these different things is the first one. So refusing it, but it could also be as simple as we refuse the plastic bag because you don't need it. Or you refuse the thermal paper receipt because you don't need it.
[00:07:15] Miranda: I've started refusing way more since I interviewed Michelle. It's just little things like receipt paper, elastic bands, twist ties, so many twist ties. Or dumping my berries into a paper bag and giving the pint containers back. They can use them again! I can't. And I don't want it to be on me to have to throw it out.
[00:07:30] Michelle: So
Those kinds of little things are what will help cause the snowball to encourage other people to refuse those things, but also to leave the ones who are kept with those items with a question of, 'Why is this being refused? Do we need it?'
So it pushes the dialogue. Repair is another one. Repair cafes are popping up all over the place. People are starting to recognize the value in the actual products that they own. Then it's the reduce, like all of those three kind of go in tandem.
[00:07:58] Miranda: We're talking a lot about garbage here, but if you really want to understand Unboxed Market, we need to talk about garbage. I had no idea a truckload of recycling can get contaminated. If I put the wrong stuff in my bin. I genuinely thought they sorted through that stuff. It's called a Sorting Facility!
They don't. The whole truckload, including all that good recyclable stuff, it all goes to landfill. And just because it has the recycle symbol on it, it doesn't mean your area accepts that kind of recycling. Off to landfill it goes. So how much recycling actually gets recycled into a new product in Canada? You might want to sit down. It's 9%.
If this were a business, it would have been over years ago. You know, it felt really good when I was putting the wrong things and my blue bin, my garbage was so low. But it was an illusion. It went to landfill just the same. I just took a really expensive taxpayer route to get it there. Like Michelle said, garbage is at a juncture.
It's not user-friendly right now, but just because we're finding out the system doesn't work how we'd hoped it would, it doesn't mean we have to give up! There's a next frontier: to stop the garbage before it starts.
[00:08:56] Michelle: And so that's where Unboxed comes in. Our store is designed to so that you are 1 only buying the things that you need. So you're not required to buy the giant bag of lemons and you only need two. So that's 1. But it's also, if you have something that you can use, use it. So if you have a laundry detergent jug that we all have, and it's that really thick, sturdy plastic, that's pretty much impossible to break.
They're pretty tough, those things! So if you can refill it, why would you go and get a new one? So those little tiny steps make it easier for you to reduce your garbage AND your recycling because you're not generating new outputs. We've saved a couple of million new container creations since we've been open in just two years by having customers reuse the containers
[00:09:46] Miranda: Oh, my gosh,
[00:09:47] Michelle: that they have.
Yeah. It's a pretty incredible.
[00:09:49] Miranda: There really should be one on every corner. Instead of, like, I have a bodega type place at the bottom of my street and they wrap all their green peppers in plastic and it, how
[00:09:59] Michelle: and they're taking the time to do that, that's the more absurd part! They're not even buying it like that. They're wrapping it in their store.
[00:10:05] Miranda: Do you think that that's part of the pandemic? I've noticed so much more, has plastic on it.
[00:10:10] Michelle: I think part of it is Plastics managed to get a huge push because of the pandemic, because they can say, well, if this is wrapped, it's sterile. Like sterile and wrapped are two totally different things and anybody in healthcare will tell you that just because it's wrapped, it doesn't mean anything.
I can wrap a moldy lemon and it's still a moldy lemon. Do you know what I mean? So yes, people are seeing more of it. Also we're home and we're around it and we're surrounded by it all the time they don't just come home, put the groceries away and go to work,
they're sitting in their house with their things. You start to get hyper aware of why do we have that? And when's the last time I actually touched that or look at? Those little bit. So the plastic is more visible. But yes, I definitely think there is a small push from big plastic saying it's better to be wrapped up.
[00:10:57] Miranda: We make you safe when
[00:10:59] Michelle: Exactly.
[00:11:00] Miranda: Okay. So let's say I'm like, okay, I'm going to do this thing. I'm going to go shopping at Unboxed Market, the commando way of shopping: it feels a little like you're going out without your underwear.
[00:11:12] Michelle: I love it.
[00:11:13] Miranda: So, I bring my bags? I bring my containers? How do I buy my eggs? What about the of my jars? .
[00:11:20] Michelle: So the biggest thing is anything you bring absolutely has to be clean and it has to be able to close. This is not a pandemic rule. This is something we've always enforced. It's because of cross-contamination. And we're not saying 'oh goodness, that's a dirty thing'. If you take, for example, maple syrup: if maple syrup is not refrigerated it will mold. And if you bring in a maple syrup container to refill, if it's been sitting on your counter for three days, it could have mold in it and when you refill it, you could contaminate your new product. But then you think that it's our product, right? So clean is the first, most important part. Honestly, for us as long as they're clean and closed, you can bring it in, bring your own bags, do all of those things. So you just come to cash, you weigh everything on the one cash lane, and then you go through and do your shopping.
And then when you come to the other side, we tear off your original weight and charge you for what's inside. For eggs, we have eggs in cartons in paper cartons, or we have them loose. If you don't have a way to carry them, we have extra cartons that have been returned. Some people get really creative and do things like put eggs inside of those stretchy gloves so there's like one in each finger or carry them in their hat. So people get really creative with how they're going to carry things, especially when they're really dedicated and that they're like, 'I forgot my bags' or 'I was just coming for this thing'. And they're, they're so committed, they'll figure it out.
I've seen people shove things in jacket pockets, like balancing up their arms. It's absolutely hilarious makes me smile every time I see it. But for a lot of the things, if you can take it loose, you're welcome to take it loose. Apples. Don't need a bag. Apples can go loose.
[00:12:51] Miranda: So the only difference other than you weigh your jars, when you come in and that maybe that's the only.
[00:12:56] Michelle: That's really that's it just come in and shop. I used to recommend that if you haven't been to our store to come the first time and just wander around and get a sense. There are a lot more products than you probably expect. So get an idea. And then when you're coming back to shop, come with a list.
[00:13:11] Miranda: You could go the first time and just wander around. But be warned these two foodies source, some of the best produce you can find in Toronto. So grab a few different sized bags, cuz I guarantee you're going to find something you want to eat. I found that as I ran out of things, I started asking myself, can I reuse this container? Often it seems kind of ludicrous to throw it out! Think of all the great containers you already have in your house: ketchup, mustard, olive oil, soy sauce, every single soap! These containers were perfectly designed for each product by companies who put a lot of money and thought into them. Why keep throwing them out?! There's this huge freedom
when you restock your groceries without adding anything to your waste bins. Take that recycling, you 9% loser.
[00:13:53] Michelle: It is very stress-free is very easy to do to do. It just takes the tiny little bit of prep ahead of time.
[00:14:01] Miranda: Do you mind when newbies come in and they're like, I don't know how to do it, I'm...
[00:14:05] Michelle: absolutely not come in, ask all the questions. It's very much a community. We love our customers. They're what make our store what it is, you know. Otherwise it is just those four walls. Even people coming since the very beginning, have questions or want to talk about something, or ask us if we can find something. And we're absolutely happy to answer any questions. To find answers if we don't have them. We constantly take down people's phone numbers and email addresses just to send them a note saying, we can't do this because. Or thank you for that suggestion, we found this. Those kinds of things. And it's awesome. It's going to be incredibly
helpful moving forward, because as many stores that we have that are doing this, we need more. Every time we see another store open, you know, I'll get messages. I just had a call from a woman who's trying to open a similar style thing in DC. And we get messages from people all over Canada and especially Ontario right now. Places that are opening or trying to find alternatives that they can bring, even if they're already an existing store and they just want to add some more components to their store that reflect what their customers are asking. And the thing is it's because their customers are asking for it, right? So it means that the customer is pushing everything forward. It also means that businesses are listening and responding and trying to make those changes.
That then just keeps going further, further up. Then you're talking to manufacturers, distributors, policymakers, all of the people who live in this chain with us.
[00:15:29] Miranda: After we recorded the interview and I was editing, I realized I was approaching the interview from a customer perspective. Like how do I shop here? But I forgot to get behind the bricks and mortar and ask 'How does Unboxed Market shop and deal with waste?' Because I know from experience that a store creates way more waste than a consumer, and we don't really talk about that enough.
So I went back in person and asked.
What's different on the backend...
[00:15:53] ExtrasUnboxed Market 1: sure.
[00:15:54] Michelle: ...about your waste. Right. The back end of our store is a lot of cardboard boxes because obviously something has to get to us somehow. We have a lot of reusable containers. For example, our dairy comes in big thick plastic totes that get swapped out with the empty bottles for the full bottles every week. A lot of our farmers have either wooden bushels or big containers that are the farmer's property. And every week when Luis gets the new product he sends back the old totes. They get washed and reused.
[00:16:27] Miranda: And is that, was that something that you had to ask them for?
[00:16:31] Michelle: Depending on who it is. The dairy farmers, for example, they have crates to make sure that everything goes in and out properly pine hedge, and MC use cardboard boxes.
From what I understand, some of them are transitioning also to totes primarily because of the ridiculous increase in cardboard costs that's happened during the pandemic. It's now very expensive to get cardboard.
[00:16:53] Miranda: Oh!
[00:16:53] Michelle Gentener: We reuse our boxes and send the empty jars back, but not everybody does.
[00:16:58] Miranda: God, the irony, because we have so many cardboard boxes that we throw out all the time and cardboard that's crazy.
[00:17:05] Michelle Gentener: And then this is all of our olive oil.
These are like lids for our jars. We save all of our chocolates all boxes. They take them back and restock them.
[00:17:13] Miranda Black: They do.
[00:17:13] Michelle: Yep.
[00:17:14] Miranda: did they do that for everybody or did you have to ask?
[00:17:17] Michelle Gentener: No, , they sent out a message saying, please, there's a cardboard shortage.
[00:17:20] Miranda: Right.
[00:17:21] Michelle: Please save your boxes. Do you know how much money they're saving?
[00:17:25] Michelle Gentener: Just by not buying new boxes, if you can approach a business and give them a financial breakdown of how much money they can save by doing X, Y, Z. Yeah. It is not difficult to have that conversation. Um, and these are like, are olive presse, all of our bags. So we put them in our banana boxes and we use one of their boxes to close the top and we ship them back to them.

[00:17:49] Miranda: The long and the short of it is Unboxed Market has cut their waste by 80%. Imagine if the big chains adopted even 30% of these ideas! Incentivized and inspired their customers to refill the millions of perfectly good containers that are tossed every week. And thinking about the big chains, it made me wonder:
how does a small business like Unboxed cope with the shipping crisis? What happens to small business when the top five retailers in the world are buying up entire shipping fleets.
The supply chain issues are you
[00:18:23] Michelle: experiencing 100%. Everybody is. Anybody who isn't, isn't working.
[00:18:29] Miranda: What would the Zero Waste reaction be to the shipping crisis?
[00:18:32] Michelle: So. It's going to depend on every single individual. In general, I would say it is not beneficial to stockpile.
Nobody's going anywhere, as a business, as long as you continue to support them. It's easier if you go in and shop every week for the things that you need than it is to stockpile, and then not go back to that store for two months. Because you never know, if somebody is doing a massive stockpile, when they're going to be back.
[00:18:57] Miranda: Right.
[00:18:57] Michelle: Whereas you're used to seeing that person coming in once a week or twice a week. The family that comes in every weekend and does their big shop. If they do a massive stockpile, it messes the entire algorithm up for the store that's ordering, for the suppliers who are trying to hold all the inventory, for all of the backend.
[00:19:13] Miranda: People don't realize how important they are and how much power they have. If they just communicate, to talk to you and like, okay, I need this in my life. Someone talks to you, you make the change and helps a whole bunch of other people.
It's such a great ripple effect.
[00:19:31] Michelle: Yeah, it really is. It's true.
[00:19:33] Miranda: What's your biggest challenge since opening?
[00:19:36] Michelle: Packaging. So sourcing new products, talking to distributors, talking to manufacturers. It sounds simple, but it's more the we'll talk to a company and then if we've been open two years now, we'll go back to that company and say, has anything changed?
Can we bring your product in now? Are you doing anything different?
Some companies are more able to have a dialogue with us where they weren't two years ago. And I think that's going to continue to increase. The pressure is there,
One of my distributors is here.
[00:20:06] Miranda: Oh, yeah. Can I ask you if, can you come
[00:20:08] Michelle: in a little closer here? Come, come hang out at the microphone.
[00:20:11] Miranda: Have you worked with other Zero Waste grocery stores?
[00:20:14] Andrea Howard: Uh, not really, like I've worked with stores that focus on reducing waste, definitely. But this would be the first like real Zero Waste grocery store that I've worked with.
[00:20:26] Miranda: That's Andrea Howard. She manages Ontario for Satau, a 40 year old, organic and natural food distributor based out of Quebec.
[00:20:34] Andrea Howard: Michelle asks really good questions and then it leads me to be more educated about my products. I do think that what you're doing though, it's definitely the it's, I think it's going to be the future. Cuz I think people are getting more awareness and it's driving companies to change their packaging. Or at least change, when they're creating new products, what the packaging is. And not all of them do it, but if you've got a couple more, you know, here and there, it's definitely helpful.
[00:20:59] Michelle: there are big corporations that are getting on board, whether all the way or partially on board, it helps push everything else. Because if you think about things like co-packers distribution chains and storage and shelf stability, all of those components that go into grocery, there's a lot of factors. So I think that the packaging until we're not doing this anymore, the packaging is going to always be our biggest hurdle.
[00:21:26] Miranda: You had a restaurant, you knew how to rent a commercial space. You weren't totally green, but what was the biggest learning curve that you didn't expect owning a store versus owning a restaurant?
[00:21:37] Michelle: A bar is very much, especially when you have regulars. There's that sense of, I know the bartender, I know the server. I can talk to these people. There's a comfort level, that's there, and it's been so great to see that continue.
And if we were a massive 15,000 square foot, giant store that wouldn't have continued, but we're 1500 square feet. Our staff is less than 10 people and our community is incredibly engaged. One, because it is the local community store. But two, because a lot of the people who are coming are coming because they're invested personally in helping to make this continue.
So that was a really nice surprise was to know that that sense of community continues.
[00:22:17] Miranda: Are there any plans to open more Unboxed Markets? I know it's so hard to think about, but it would be nice for it to be on every corner.
[00:22:26] Michelle: There's always possibility who, who knows tomorrow? That's the thing, right. Right now it is very tricky. We are in Toronto where real estate isn't cheap. One of the big advantages we had when we started here is we took over an existing grocery store. So some of the mechanics and things were already in place that we were able to upcycle into our store.
Kitchen. Jonathan's not here today.
[00:22:48] Miranda: Was this kitchen was this kitchen here?
[00:22:51] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:22:52] Miranda: Why did they have a kitchen down here?
[00:22:53] Michelle: They had a hot table.
[00:22:55] Miranda: Oh.
[00:22:55] Michelle: Yeah.
[00:22:56] Miranda: So what do you use this, this kitchen's huge.
[00:22:58] Michelle: Massive.
[00:22:59] Miranda: What do you use this for?
[00:23:00] Michelle: We do all of our soups, our stocks, our salads, baked goods. Catering, which is just now starting to kick back up. We have, a meal program.
[00:23:10] Miranda: So when you say you do catering, like you cater parties
[00:23:14] Michelle: Yeah, parties. We just did a little film shoot this weekend. So they picked up,
[00:23:19] Miranda: so it's Zero Waste catering?
[00:23:21] Michelle: Yeah. When they bring everything back to us, their only waste is like napkins.
[00:23:25] Miranda: Well, that's the way to go for catering.
[00:23:27] Michelle: Yeah, absolutely.
To invest from ground up again right now, maybe I don't.
[00:23:33] Miranda: Yeah. Yeah. What is your relationship like with the landlord?
[00:23:36] Michelle: Our landlord is pretty, he's pretty awesome. Actually he and his wife ran the store before we took it over. And so he also, yeah, so he was very active in the neighborhood. They were there for many years. It was her mother's store before that. So like very long traditional
[00:23:53] Miranda: Oh, wow. I love how it's got the historical, like his mother had the store and you're kind of continuing the tradition of that space. I think a space can hold an, a certain type of.
[00:24:04] Michelle: Yeah. And sometimes things are in the wrong space and maybe that's why they don't work out properly. And then they find the right space and it's just like, this fits.
[00:24:10] Miranda: Who do you turn to for moral support? Do you both turn to each other? How do you get through these tough times?
[00:24:18] Michelle: Mo, mostly we turn to each other because we're, we know each other as sounding boards and we can rant and then get over it, or problem-solve together or whatever it is that we need. Sometimes when I'm really stuck, I'll harken back to my mom's days. My mom was a manager of a convenience grocery store when I was very young.
And so I have random memories of like, what did we do in that? I mean, we, I was one of the annoying kids who was around there after school. Mom would say, okay, you guys just go face the sh... so everyone in my family knows how to face products on a shelf because we always did it, you know, afterschool before we went home kind of thing, or like dust the whatever.
And so it's mostly a very small close group of people who have, we can trust to vent or be frustrated or be really excited and know those people are there for us, regardless of what the situation is.
[00:25:09] Miranda: Right. When the pandemic first hit, you guys got to stay open because your're grocery, but it was scary at first, cuz we didn't know anything.
[00:25:18] Michelle: Yeah. So Luis is from Portugal and we were watching things come across from Europe early on, and in our conversations with what was happening there, we set up a game plan saying, okay, we know it's coming. There's too much interconnectedness between Europe and Canada, like we're all connected. So there are things that we do because we feel it's safer for our customers and our staff, but it was from the very beginning, we said, we'll, move as we have to and stretch out when we can, not the other way.
[00:25:46] Miranda: It sounds like you had a good plan and you were prepared for it.
[00:25:50] Michelle: There have been some serious moments of, you know... We shifted our entire store to online and under seven days, still we see some slowdowns and part of that is people are ordering in from the big guys and like, there's not really a lot we can do about that except hope that they come back to us at some point.
So definitely some frustration on that. But I mean, everybody's trying to do what they can, so it's not like we can be angry. We can be sad and we can be frustrated, but there's no other answer. Do you know what I mean? Like, people need to know that they're safe and we are a safe space to come.
[00:26:25] Miranda: Are your products uh is it more expensive to buy from you? If I'm somebody who's on a budget or something? 12 eggs.
[00:26:33] Michelle: So a loose white egg is 39 cents an egg. And so four, four and change for a dozen.
[00:26:38] Miranda: Oh, that's, that's very competitive.
[00:26:40] Michelle: I think so! We're trying to be competitive. We hold our margins as low as we can. We do comparisons with some of the larger stores pretty frequently just to see where some things are. I mean, all of our staples are at or below every everyone around us. We do that comparison pretty much weekly. Our produce fluctuates, everybody's produce fluctuates. There are things you would think because it's less packaging, it would be even more affordable. So those are conversations that we have with some of our distributors, especially the big brands, because for them, their packaging mentality is different.
They like to have the walls on the shelves of like, if you think of a cereal and they want that entire wall of just whatever brand it is, and you don't get that same experience in a bulk purchase. So they haven't pushed that as much
[00:27:25] Miranda: So we're,
[00:27:26] Michelle: they can.
[00:27:27] Miranda: we're paying for their advertising.
[00:27:29] Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. You are take that home, put that box on your table.
It's the best advertising they can ask for it.
[00:27:34] Miranda: I can imagine they wouldn't want to lose that. There's a lot of dinosaurs, even in groceries. What do you think the future of retail?
[00:27:42] Michelle: I think that's up to the individual consumer to decide what the future of retail is. You know, you move into Little Italy, for example, because you love the street life and you love this and you love that.
But If you don't actively support that, then it's not there. So if you want that sense of community in those small independent stores you have to actively seek them out and support them. Sometimes that means spending a dollar more. Sometimes it actually means spending less, but it's an important component in our society: the Neighborhood. I mean, I'm small town. I grew up very rural and I'm used to those little community areas. I can also see how sometimes it's exclusionary and how finances do play a part in it if you're, if you're not quote unquote well to do it is much more difficult to support those and you do need to go to the
big box places because you can get the price. The balance needs to exist in the world. And the consumers are the ones who are going to create that balance. It's not the other way round.
[00:28:33] Miranda: If there were one retail super power you couldn't live without what would it be.
[00:28:40] Michelle: The ability to continue to change. That's true in retail, it's true in restaurants is true everywhere. To recognize something, to evolve, to say, okay, this doesn't work. We'll also have a little bit of foresight to say why this may not work in a few months and already be able to plan to shift with it. Also, I would love if I could make better window displays. I'm not good at it. That is not my super power.
[00:29:02] Miranda: It's your nemesis. If somebody wanted to open their own Unboxed Market in their small town or big town or wherever they are in the world?
[00:29:11] Michelle: Take your time. Don't rush it. And it sounds basic, but really research your products, your neighborhood. Know if people are looking more for a re-fillery, if you're in a food desert and people need the fresh food. Figure out what component is missing and don't take on everything at once, like we did, we have a very complex store.
There are a lot of moving parts for a very small team. So maybe start with something and grow with that a little bit at a time. Just really take your time. There's no reason to rush it, do it and have it be awesome. Cuz your community will support it.
[00:29:43] Miranda: What is your fondest memory of this place?
[00:29:46] Michelle: Families and the kids and all of those people that help us build up the community. They are the community, do you know what I mean? They're what make the store what it is. So that's probably the most important memory. Hopefully not a memory. We love our people. I shouldn't say memory cause like they're there, they're there right now.
[00:30:07] Miranda: Memories evolve, memories evolve!
[00:30:09] Michelle: Exactly. it's fluid memory.
[00:30:12] Miranda: It's not a rest in peace moment. I love your passion behind the store. You guys are amazing retailers, thank you so much
[00:30:20] Michelle: Thank you for inviting us to participate in this. And I hope that the that podcast is amazing and that more people listen and learn more about all of the little things that make our streetscapes so awesome.
[00:30:31] Miranda: Thanks so much. I appreciate your time. . Getting more familiar with Zero Waste has revolutionized my shopping and not just at Unboxed. It's this small shift in awareness. And asking the odd question here or there. Listen, I am far from perfect. I still produce garbage. I still make mistakes, but I'm more aware of the power of small percentages when millions of us are involved. Unboxed Market is trailblazing a way for curious store owners and shoppers to shift our thinking about containers. Unboxed will do more to reduce my waste in one year than my faux blue boxing ever did. Google "re-fillery" and see if there's one in your area. Are there five items you regularly buy that you can switch over to Zero Waste?
You will never have to throw out another container in that category again! Refuse, reuse, and keep your recycling toit! I'll see you in two weeks.

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