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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Updated on Nov 10th, 2023
Fact checked by Emma Vince

NUDE FOODS 2023: Zero-Waste Grocery Chain

Paul Rubin, Managing Director of NUDE FOODS, spearheads a transformative initiative that challenges traditional shopping practices. Frustrated by the excessive use of single-use packaging in the grocery industry, he founded NUDE FOODS in 2017, pioneering plastic-free shopping in Cape Town. With two stores and a commitment to positive change, NUDE FOODS aims to address the environmental challenges posed by plastic pollution and inspire collective action. Paul believes in the power of everyday consumers to make a significant difference in reducing the 300 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually, making a crucial contribution to a healthier planet. DeliveryRank has the opportunity to chat with Paul.

NUDE FOODS has pioneered a plastic-free shopping experience, offering a wide range of eco-friendly products without wasteful packaging. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind creating this concept and its subsequent journey?

In 2012 I went through a lifestyle change and became completely plant based. Living in Cape Town, I noticed two things: I was spending so much time and effort keeping my eating clean, however I was doing the opposite for the environment. This was due to basic plant-based foods like legumes and grains all packaged in plastic doy packs by mainstream retailers.  

I was accumulating a massive amount of these plastic pouches, and did my best to try re-purpose them, but became despondent with the situation. The second thing I realised was how expensive simple commodities like rice, beans, and lentils were. Many retailers were taking advantage of the health food craze and charging premium prices for these basic goods. The NUDE FOODS concept was born from these frustrations, as a solution to both problems. 

We launched in December 2017, on the back of the global wave of zero waste stores popping up in cities around the world. It was a very exciting time as the movement had really gained momentum. Capetonians embraced the concept, and a devoted base of eco-conscious customers quickly developed. We opened our second store in 2018 in Newlands. This growth trend continued steadily until Covid hit in 2020. 

Globally the zero-waste movement took a massive step backwards from the pandemic, as people started to priorities survival over environment. Many zero-waste stores around the world closed. We consolidated back to one store to survive. We are now stable once again and slowly seeing growth in both our sales and customer base.

Your goal is to make plastic-free shopping easy and accessible while supporting local suppliers and waste-reducing initiatives. Could you share some insights into the challenges and successes you've encountered along this sustainability journey?

One of our main challenges has been to find suppliers who align with our ethos and approach. We don’t just eradicate single use plastic from our retail offering, we are also plastic-free along our supply chain. Getting this right has probably been the toughest part of our business model. We use a rotational system with our suppliers, making use of reusable food grade bulk containers. This allows us to eliminate unnecessary plastic and waste. 

In addition to bulk wholefoods and Earth-friendly products, Nude Foods also offers a unique range of services, including Café NUDE and the Wild Eatery food truck. How do these services contribute to your mission of promoting a low-impact lifestyle?

We realised that many of our customers were wanting a café experience alongside our grocery offering. We launched Café NUDE in 2021, which is our instore café offering organic teas, coffees, smoothies, lattes as well as a range of vegan, gluten free muffins, chocolate confectionaries, and snacks. Unlike any other café, we do this all plastic free, this means we use returnable glass jars for our smoothies and hot drinks. 

Wild Eatery is the food truck located in our outside courtyard area. They offer the most sensational plant-based wraps, salads, bowls, and treats. All ingredients are sourced from NUDE FOODS allowing them to operate plant-based and plastic-free. 

Can you delve into the ways in which Nude Foods has addressed the issue of single-use packaging, and what impact it has had on consumers' shopping habits?

Before NUDE FOODS, there never existed a refill culture in South Africa. After our successful launch, we encouraged many entrepreneurs around the country to follow suit, and similar stores started mushrooming. We even had one of the largest supermarket chains in the country follow our lead by creating zero waste sections in some of their stores. 

Specific to NUDE FOODS, we have so far diverted over 3 metric tons of single-use plastic from landfill. We have also created a slow-shopping mindful community of consumers in Cape Town, positively altering habits to align more with reuse and refill.

Zero-waste shopping is a significant part of your mission. Can you walk us through how a typical zero-waste shopping experience works at Nude Foods, and what benefits both consumers and the environment can expect from this approach?

We encourage our customers to bring containers from home, this can really be anything from Tupperware to glass jars and bottles, to old ice-cream containers. Customers weigh their empty containers at a weigh station provided, they write the weight in grams underneath the container with a marker. They can then fill with any of the amazing bulk products we offer and proceed to checkout. At Checkout we deduct the container weights and only charge for the weight of the contents. 

We also offer recyclable brown paper bags for first time customers, or for those that perhaps forgot their containers. We also sell a large range of glass and bottles for those in need of refillable containers. 

The environmental benefit is reducing waste and diverting tons of plastic from our rivers, oceans and landfills. The customer benefits by being able to purchase as much or as little of any product as they choose, and not being held to fixed pack sizes. They further benefit from saving on packaging costs, and shopping mindfully and local.

If you would like to find out more about NUDE FOODS, visit ​​https://nudefoods.co/

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