Sustainability Spotlight: Full Circle Foods a Fresh Take on Grocery Shopping
Throughout the month of November, we plan to spotlight Ontario businesses that are focused on sustainability and interview a member of their leadership group. Not only will this help us learn from businesses in our industry, but it will also spotlight local businesses during this unprecedented time. We get to learn about more businesses and local businesses get some well-deserved exposure, creating a win win situation. This week’s interview is with a community-based grocer that is rethinking the way we go grocery shopping. We interviewed Julia, a Co-Owner of Full Circle Foods. A passionate member of the community and environmentalist.
Full Circle Foods is a Kitchener-based whole foods store that was founded in 1981. In 2017, Julia and Sam purchased Full Circle Foods and have been dedicated to developing new practices and products to make the store more environmentally friendly. Reducing waste is at the core of the business, selling products to be packaged in jars from home or in environmentally friendly packaging is just the start. Full Circle Foods is committed to supporting the community and local suppliers, while also operating as a community hub that supports a healthy lifestyle. You can find them on 3 Charles Street West in Kitchener.
(Questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity)
Food Fight (FF): What was the inspiration behind Full Circle Foods?
Full Circle Foods (FCF): Full Circle Foods was actually an existing Whole Foods Store and we decided to purchase the store in 2017. We decided to purchase the store because we already had a personal background being passionate about environmental issues. In our personal lives, we are engaged in activities to reduce our emissions; we eat a plant-based diet, we try to take the bus, walk, or bike when we can, overall try to live a life that has the least amount of environmental impact possible. So, we thought that operating Full Circle Foods would align with our personal values and allow us to make a greater positive environmental impact.
FF: What is the mission of Full Circle Foods?
FCF: In one sentence our mission is to provide environmentally sustainable food. There are many layers and challenges that come with achieving this mission. We want to be financially accessible and community-based. In daily operations we promote plant-based foods and waste-free shopping through the expansion of the bulk area of our store, reducing single-use plastics, and offering paper bags for customers to use instead of plastic bags. Going forward we plan to eliminate the use of small single-use packages, so we are working on promoting more sustainable options and the reduction of unnecessary packaging.
FF: What are some of the challenges of running Full Circle Foods?
FCF: There is an ongoing challenge on how to balance food variety and financial stability. Our business is committed to having the biggest environmental impact possible, but financial sustainability is crucial as well. It can be difficult to predict sales, especially in a time where all of society is living in a world full of unknowns. We are constantly learning how to scale the business and which areas we want to invest more in. As the business continues to grow, cash flow problems have become more complex, so just learning more on the financial side of things can be challenging.
FF: What are some of the challenges Full Circle Foods has faced during the pandemic?
FCF: We have run into sourcing issues particularly relating to plastics, the supply and manufacturing process has had some issues due to selling restrictions. Smaller producers have been more flexible with reducing packaging, however, there becomes an issue in terms of their ability to fill our capacity needs and it usually costs more. Making it difficult for us to remain competitive in terms of product offering and price. We are experimenting with ways to better store food in a waste-free and sustainable way. Certain items are more difficult than others to use eco-friendly storage because of spoilage issues. In addition, we are working on addressing other small-scale challenges that are ongoing. One of the biggest challenges due to COVID is the unpredictable nature that exists right now. There have been some costs added to make sure our business has adapted to be COVID friendly. Some smaller-scale challenges include that we fill customer's containers for them, and we have a new workflow. We are trying our best to ensure our staff and customers feel safe while trying to maintain our commitment to Full Circle Foods being a place for the community.
FF: We noticed on your website’s About Us page that you include pronouns for your staff, where does that commitment to inclusion and diversity come from?
FCF: We thought it was something we should just do naturally, and it is a very simple step to take. We want to do more in terms of diversity and inclusion, but we think that was a good first step. We believe that it is a simple step that everyone can take.
FF: What would you say are the benefits of going to Full Circle Foods vs. a typical bulk or grocery store?
FCF: A major benefit of our store is the sustainable aspect when we shop at our store it reduces waste and we have a wide variety of food that we offer. I personally believe that we have delicious food and we have worked on expanding the food that we make in-house. By going to our store, you support that community lifestyle and get to know people in the community. COVID has made it difficult for people to interact, but you get to know people as you go to the store on a regular basis and our customers value the community aspect. Our store helps reduce emissions because of the location, having it downtown makes it easier for people to access our store either by walking or biking. This provides community and environmental benefits.
FF: What are some misconceptions that the public has about Full Circle Foods?
FCF: People attribute our product offering to have a higher price point. This is not necessarily true because our bulk offerings have been consistently cheaper than stores like Bulk Barn, we do have some items that are more expensive than alternatives, but that usually happens because it is organic, ethically sourced, or another reason to explain the premium price.
FF: What do you attribute your success to?
FCF: Some of our success comes down to luck, but I think we have been able to strike a good balance between maintaining our values and meeting our financial targets. We have also done a good job of solving practical issues while keeping true to our values. We have also been able to implement non-conventional solutions that have been effective. Sometimes we have an idea that we like, but are unsure if it’s going to work, but so far a lot of those ideas have been successful.
FF: What has been the highlight of running Full Circle Foods?
FCF: It is a highlight to be a part of the community and have an opportunity to promote sustainability. It is exciting to have the opportunity to implement and think of innovative solutions that promote our values. The moments when our unconventional and risky ideas payoff is very rewarding. Seeing the direct impact our business has and the recognition our effort has garnered is a highlight for sure.
FF: Is there anything else you would like to promote or share?
FCF: If you want to learn more about Full Circle Foods you can find their website here and links to their social media pages below:
FF: Thank you so much for your time! I really appreciate the work Full Circle Foods does and look forward to going to the store in the near future. It is amazing to see the work you continue to do in the community during this crazy time!