Living lightly: a package deal at Cape Town’s ‘nude’ store
About a million plastic bottles are dumped every minute globally, with 250,000 thrown away every hour in the Western Cape. A staggering 500-billion plastic bags are used worldwide every day.
A typical grocery might yield a quantity of packaging equal to that of the produce sold in it — shocking, considering that many foods require little, if any, protective casings.
Confronted with the reality of plastic pollution and frustrated by the lack of shopping alternatives, Paul Rubin and Sherene Kingma took action and are giving Capetonians the option to go green at their newly opened no-plastic store, Nude Foods.
While neither of them has a food, waste or retail background — Rubin worked in marketing and business management and Kingma was a television producer — they shared a sense
of dissatisfaction with the wrapped-and-ready status quo.
"Nude Foods was born out of frustration with the unnecessary amount of plastic packaging modern retailers insist on using. We got tired of waiting for someone else to open a plastic-free grocery store, so we did it ourselves," says Rubin.
Inspired by zero-waste and bulk-food stores abroad, though keen to cater to a local market, Nude Foods on Constitution Street in the city bowl offers Capetonians an opportunity to refill their own glass jars, plastic containers or bags with a variety of fresh and dried produce that is sold by weight.
"Foods are overpackaged for convenience mostly — convenience for the retailer more than the customer. Packaged goods are easier to distribute and sell," says Rubin.
While some consumers diligently recycle when and where possible, the Nude Foods website states that only 17% of plastic is recycled. Rubin points out that "reducing unnecessary waste is even better" and that SA is running behind the curve.
"India and Kenya have already banned plastic bags and I’m sure we’ll follow suit soon," he says.
He describes the 100m² Nude Foods store as "bright, natural and fun" and rattles off the naked foods customers can buy. "Dry pantry goods like tea, coffee, spices, grains, cereal, legumes, pulses, lentils, beans, flours, salt, sugar, nuts, seeds, dried fruit; organic fruit and veggies; wet goods like oils, vinegars, tahini and honey; body, household and lifestyle products like handmade soaps, Earth-friendly cleaners; reusable jars and produce bags; bamboo toothbrushes and reusable beeswax wraps.
"We also plan on stocking a ready-to-eat range of foods including date balls, superfood snacks, salad jars, soup jars, cold-pressed juices, vegetarian rootis, nut milks and yoghurts."
Rubin says while the goods are all locally sourced, non-genetically modified and Earth-friendly, Nude Foods is striving to create something accessible to the average South African.
"Although we do stock some higher-end products, the majority of our products are competitively priced," he says — a feat aided by the fact that 15% to 40% of the cost of packaged foods can be attributed to packaging.
We will also be exploring the possibility of a store-within-a-store concept with some existing larger retailers
As to the store’s location on "the fringe", as the area on the outskirts of the city centre is known, Rubin says while he toyed with the idea of setting up shop in Woodstock, the decision on the location was a strategic one. "The east city precinct is an extremely entrepreneurial district, with many exciting projects and developments currently taking place," he says.
"For example, Lekker Vegan, SA’s first vegan fast-food restaurant, which opened on December 7, is just a few stores down from us. The whole area is coming alive with renewed energy. It is centrally located and accessible to many people. There is a spirit of community and camaraderie amongst the many business owners and entrepreneurs in the area."
Previously a predominantly industrial area, labelled unsafe at the best of times, near neighbours now include New York Bagels, Truth Coffee and The Book Lounge.
That’s not to say the Nude Foods team does not dream of expanding beyond the city bowl. Rubin says the hope is to open a second store in Newlands in the first quarter of 2018.
"We will also be exploring the possibility of a store-within-a-store concept with some existing larger retailers," he says.
Customer response to the store, which has been open since December 6, has been overwhelming, he says.
"We had customers banging on the door while we were setting up, asking us for our opening date. Cape Town is clearly very ready for nude shopping."
When asked about the steps we can all take to contribute to the no-waste movement, Rubin emphasises that we can reuse as much as possible.
"Refuse single-use plastics [such as straws] and other unnecessary waste. It’s important to remember that we all get to vote through our spending.
"There are also many recycle centres around the country. People just need to commit to this way of living."
As for the insidious culture of consumerism, Rubin believes we can begin to reverse it: "Becoming aware of the problem is always the first step. Finding fulfilment in other aspects of life is the next."
• Nude Foods is at 5 Constitution Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town. For opening hours and further information, visit the website Nude Foods .