Sustainably-Focused, Plant-Based Online Groceries Are Thriving. Here’s Why
Besides COVID-19, climate change is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing this decade, but the good news is there is ample opportunity for innovation. Some companies have caught on, proving that some segments of the economy are actually thriving under the circumstances. Such is the case for sustainable and plant-based online grocery stores.
Sustainability focused products are growing 5.6 times faster than other products and generating the highest growth in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. One such enterprise is Trashless, a growing concept that delivers responsibly sourced products from local and national purveyors – from staples like grains and flours to pizza kits, dog food and personal care products – through a zero-waste process.
Trashless promotes sustainability by packaging items in multi-use glass and metal containers that are picked up, sanitized and reused. Everything is delivered right to your door observing safe social distance practices.
Based in Austin, Texas, Trashless works with popular local producers such as Third Coast Coffee, Easy Tiger, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Connie Jo Kirk and many others, making their goods either waste-free or more sustainable by upcycling packaging that can’t be reused or recycled.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our customer base doubled, then tripled, as many were forced to change the way they shop for food,” says Yogesh Sharma, Co-Founder and CEO of Trashless. “Our service provides a safe solution for consumers, and much needed support for local makers who may not be able to meet their customers face to face right now. We provide the technology and infrastructure to procure, sell and deliver goods throughout Austin and have a passion for supporting local makers looking for avenues to reach customers and to make their processes more sustainable.”
Trashless has recently added a line of high-end pet products, as well as Magic Pizza Kits and a CO2 for You program as a convenient, affordable and environmentally friendly way to make your drinks fizzy, cutting out the long-distance transport and packaging and keeping cans and bottles out of the waste bin. Pizza is the food most often ordered for delivery, and pizza boxes aren’t recyclable because of the grease they soak up. Two billion pizza boxes are used in the U.S. alone each year.
Last year, Trashless began a StartEngine campaign to raise capital for expansion within Texas in early 2021, with goals for national growth in the second half of 2021. “We continue to grow rapidly, and are focused on building out our products and services to cover all household needs in a zero-waste way, providing exceptional customer service, scaling to other geographies and building the technology to support it all,” says Sharma.
“Local food used to be considered expensive, but we’ve been able to bring in efficiencies through technology and operations to help bring those costs down and with the added convenience and sustainability of those items not having to travel far. More people than ever are relying on subscription meal kits and takeout, which unfortunately increases the amount of single-use plastic that often doesn’t get recycled. “The time for sustainable grocers is now.”
Ben Simon, a former international campaigns consultant, wanted to combine his love of food and travel with his eco-conscious lifestyle. He focused on finding solutions to help people eat outside of the dominant industrial system and become more invested in producers who are making delicious products that are also beneficial for humanity and the planet. Last November he launched Ben to Table, a monthly subscription service that offers sustainable pantry ingredients from all over the world paired with inspirational ideas for both meat and plant-based eating.
“It started as a shift from the career I had built in issue advocacy; I’d done a bunch of work on food systems with Greenpeace, and one of the things we always talked about was how to help the folks producing food the ‘right’ – in an ecologically and socially beneficial – way to find more demand and customers. I wanted to see if I could be a part of making that happen,” says Simon.
Ben to Table is all about bringing home cooks the best pantry ingredients available through three different subscriptions with options for vegetarians, meat and plant-based eaters. The Pantry Essentials offers basics like heirloom beans, grits, grains and more from producers like Rancho Gordo, Geechie Boy, and Maine Grains, while Taste the World is an exploration of a different culture’s cuisine each month. Past months have focused on Ethiopia, Persia, Peru, Thailand, Sichuan, Greece and more, with Oaxaca and Andalucia coming this year. The Ben to Table Box puts both elements together.
“We’ve seen growth due to Covid,” says Simon. “Lots of folks looking for ways to keep the home-cooked meals interesting.”
Another driving force for healthy online shopping is the growing impact of the plant-based community. PlantX was born from a combination of the need for education in plant-based living and eating, and co-founder Sean Dollinger’s 20 plus years background in e-commerce. The concept, a one-stop-shop with more than 10,000 plant-based products that ship all over Canada and the USA, was created by merging the two to make a plant-based lifestyle more accessible to all.
“I’ve developed many successful e-commerce companies, but PlantX is different. This time, it is about giving back and helping people live healthier and happier lives through plant-based living,” says Dollinger. “Before the pandemic, online grocery shopping was already on the rise, so it only makes sense that this vertical took off during lockdown. Of course, we must compete against Amazon, Instacart and many other big players, but offering consumers the peace of mind of knowing that everything on the PlantX platform is 100% plant-based gives us a competitive advantage.”
Since PlantX has so many different verticals, it has seen tremendous growth from every angle. In addition to offering meal and indoor plant deliveries, plans are underway to expand the product lines to include cosmetics, clothing and its own water brand. At the beginning of the pandemic, people were having fun cooking at home with their families or in their bubbles. However, the novelty of cooking and cleaning started waning as the lockdown grew longer.
“Being able to order unique, healthy, pre-portioned meals directly to their home each week is something people are gravitating toward,” says Dollinger. “We have also noticed that by switching up our menu every 2 weeks, our customer base has continued to grow rapidly.”
In addition, their indoor plant sales have also taken off. Since the pandemic began, consumers have become even more health-conscious, so bringing plants indoors to clean the air, provide oxygen and help ease anxiety has changed the indoor plant industry. “We never thought that selling plants online would be this profitable.”
“We always say that there is absolutely no judgment when it comes to PlantX. Of course, we are 100% plant-based, but we love how inviting the platform is. You can eat a steak for dinner, and then have some of our PlantX meals for lunch the very next day. We’re just here to help you add more plant-based options into your daily routine and to educate anyone and everyone that wants to learn.
We wanted to create a community around PlantX, and we believe that helping people during these unprecedented times through sharing recipes and plant-based knowledge is one of the most rewarding aspect. Through the combination of our web-based recipes and YouTube content, education about plant-based living is even more accessible to anyone and everyone that wants to learn.”