Entrepreneur

Are M’sian Zero Waste Stores Here To Stay, Or Just A Fad? We Asked 3 Founders In The Biz.

How are zero waste stores doing, have you wondered?

In recent years, they are beginning to sweep over the country.

From an outsider’s point of view, it does appear that they’re seeing an incline in their demand.

This is good for the country as it’s time for us to work on reducing our impact on the environment. 

But then again, would it continue along this path, I wondered.

Do people see these stores as a fad? Or are they the beginning of a transformative shopping experience?

I asked 3 zero waste stores in Klang Valley to better answer my concerns.

A Growing Base Of Customers

Though there is no particular demographic that zero waste stores cater to, it’s mostly mothers and housewives that frequent their stores, at least for Liquid Etc and A Bit Less.

NUDE on the other hand, sees more young professionals frequenting theirs, which makes sense seeing they’re located in PJ.

NUDE Zero Waste founders / Image Credit: NUDE

Both NUDE and A Bit Less shared that they have a solid customer base, which shows from their IG following and Facebook likes of about 9,000 to 11,000.

But throughout the short time they’ve been operating, all 3 stores have been seeing an increase in customers.

“We see our regulars every week, sometimes twice a week, depending on their consumption,” said Cheryl, one of the founders of NUDE.

However, just like almost every other business, this trend has dropped during MCO, pushing them to move online.

“Customers visiting the shop have dropped, my rough guess is 50%? But we do find an increase in terms of online orders,” shared Kai, founder of A Bit Less.

The team at A Bit Less and their bulk store / Image Credit: A Bit Less

Online Shopping Is Great, But…

The downside to it is that shopping online, by default, uses packaging.

Most of the time, the packaging uses single-use plastics, which is the opposite of what zero waste stores stand for.

Liquid Etc shared how they worked around delivering their products without single-use plastic packaging with their project called the Roving Refillery.

Delivery, zero waste-style / Image Credit: Liquid Etc

It’s a project for their customers to shop safely, conveniently and sustainably.

“We drive up to the customer’s doorstep and refill their orders for them. We can also prepack their orders in reused containers and deliver to them,” shared Le Zanne, founder of Liquid Etc.

Innovations like these meet their customers’ demands, but most importantly, it saves their business from closing down.

We’ve All Been Zero Waste To A Certain Extent

The local zero waste Facebook group just keeps growing; it already has about 35K members in there who frequently engage with one another on how to live zero waste.

Restaurants, malls and corporations are starting to adopt more eco-friendly amendments as well. 

Some recent ones I’ve observed are Sri Nirwana Maju Banana Leaf like replacing plastic cutleries with bamboo ones and Sunway Pyramid directing their restaurants’ food waste to their own compost stations for people to get their compost for free. 

Bamboo cutleries in Nirwana and a compost refillable station in Sunway Pyramid

But what do the insiders of this market think?

Kai and Cheryl share the same sentiment of the trend growing, but Le Zanne begs to differ.

“I don’t think there’s much of a trend change, because essentially zero waste is decreasing the waste you produce in your life,” she explained.

Le Zanne believes that zero waste has always been a part of our lives as Malaysians, but they look different at different times of our lives. 

“When we were younger, it was saying no to plastic bags. Then two or three years back, it was saying no to plastic straws. Lately, because of the pandemic, it’s been swapping out disposable masks with reusable cloth masks.”

Cheryl on the other hand, shared that when they first opened NUDE, zero waste still had a very niche and elitist appeal to it, but that has changed over time. 

“Myths that zero waste is difficult/expensive/unrealistic are getting busted every single day.”

“The proof of this lies in the fact that a number of new zero waste businesses have opened up in the last couple of years, which bears testimony to the fact that the market size is growing,” she highlighted.

As the market for zero waste stores are increasing, so are their revenue trends.

NUDE and Liquid Etc are seeing an incline in their revenue trend throughout the 1.5-2 years they’ve been operating.

A Bit Less, on the other hand, has been experiencing ups and downs which usually happens around festive seasons.

The Big Boys Are Catching On

Many industries affect the zero waste market, such as aviation, F&B, FCMG, hospitality, retail, oil and gas, and so many more.

Their change in packaging, operations and carbon impact all have an effect on the market trends for zero waste stores. 

All 3 of our zero waste insiders see positives in these industries in terms of how it affects their market. 

Kai shared that he recently came across big name detergent and beverage manufacturers that are planning to include a refilling option for their customers.

“As we see an increase of demand for sustainable packaging, manufacturers are also starting to use recycled or biodegradable materials,” Le Zanne adds. 

They believe that all these small industrial changes contribute to the growth of their demand, as more people are starting to see the importance of switching to a zero waste lifestyle. 

“This ripple effect will trickle down to the consumers, and hopefully more organisations come on-board to take more actionable steps in protecting the environment,” Cheryl shared. 

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After learning more about the customer, industry, revenue and zero waste movement trends in Malaysia, it’s clear that zero waste stores are here to stay.

Though many of them have been popping up in the country in recent years, the rate of these stores closing down is almost nonexistent.

You may have heard of the Frangipani Bulk store closing down at The Linc KL, but even that was not due to suffering heavy losses (the owner wanted to spend more time with her kids).

However, when other industries gradually implement more zero waste policies in their businesses, zero waste stores may no longer need to fill that gap anymore, which might threaten their market. 

Even so, the owners aren’t too pressured by that competition, as they’d want to encourage the zero waste movement to grow in Malaysia as a whole, regardless of buying from them or not.

  • You can learn more about Liquid Etc here and here, A Bit Less here, and NUDE here and here.
  • You can read more of what we’ve written on zero waste here.

Featured Image Credit: Le Zanne, founder of Liquid Etc and Kai, founder of A Bit Less

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