Portsmouth has welcomed its first plastic-free supermarket, The Package Free Larder, based in Southsea and started by a small group of local volunteers who successfully raised over £40,000 to get the project off the ground.
A true community project, The Package Free Larder committee formed in September 2018 with an initial nine volunteers all with a passion to lend their expertise and help build the shop, with more volunteers joining along the way.
“We wanted to create a place for everyone in the community to access plastic-free groceries and create a community hub for everyone interested in the plastic problem,” committee member Connie Fenner told NPN. “As we wanted it to be built by the community for the community, we decided to go through crowdfunding. We needed £40,000 to cover the start-up costs and in the end we raised £43,765 from 905 supporters in 56 days. In addition to the money we raised, businesses donated their materials and time to build the shop. We are very proud of our wall of supporters with 70 businesses and organization logos that you can see in our shop.”
The store sells more than 200 products in over 19 product categories (all also available via its online shop and click and collect service), and aims to continue expanding its range. “We’re loving stocking locally made products like our reusable wipes and kitchen products from Cheeki Chops and our reusable menstrual products from JJ Giraffe,” Fenner explains. “Currently our plastic-free snacks like yogurt coated cranberries, chilli rice crackers and vegan chocolate buttons seem to be really popular. We have a gluten free aisle, frozen vegan and vegetarian ready meals and we’re hoping to expand our vegan, organic and gluten-free range so we can give plastic-free options to as many people as possible. In the future we’d also love to stock fair trade.”
As we wanted it to be built by the community for the community, we decided to go through crowdfunding. We needed £40,000 to cover the start-up costs and in the end we raised £43,765 from 905 supporters in 56 days
The spacious shop is on Elm Grove – an area with high footfall and lots of local residents – and has been designed by a local interior designer. “Abbi Greenland volunteered to design the shop and she did such a fantastic job that we receive comments every day about how lovely the atmosphere is and how homely we have made it look,” says Fenner.
Although, due to COVID restrictions, the store couldn’t have a big launch event, the opening was attended by local MP Stephen Morgan (pictured below) who had helped the team during its crowdfunding campaign. “He donated personally and his party hosted a fundraising event last summer on our behalf which was really appreciated,” says Fenner. “It was really great to have someone from parliament there making a speech. As a team we were all very excited and emotional to finally let people into the shop and hand it over to the community. The first customers (and everyone afterwards) were really supportive and it was the best feeling after all our hard work to hear people feel excited to shop plastic-free.”
The business model is a non-profit, volunteer-led project and people have told us they’re really happy to know their money is going towards a good cause and more plastic-free options in Portsmouth
Any containers the team can’t return are reused and rehomed and any food waste from spillages is composted. “When you shop with us you will never take home any plastic which in itself makes a big difference,” says Fenner. “A lot of the products we buy in bulk from suppliers comes in paper packaging but unfortunately there is still some plastic in the supply chain that we’d love to get rid of by working with our suppliers to reduce this.”
Affordability is an important aspect of the shop so as many people as possible can embrace a plastic-free lifestyle. “The business model is a non-profit, volunteer-led project and people have told us they’re really happy to know their money is going towards a good cause and more plastic-free options in Portsmouth. We’ve had lots of positive feedback and people seem especially pleased at how cheap we’ve been able to make our prices,” says Fenner.
“People who already have the zero waste mentality are really happy that we’re around and people who have never heard about shopping with their own containers tell us they find it really easy. It’s amazing how easily people seem to be changing their habits – I think people have been wanting an affordable plastic-free alternative to the supermarkets for a while.”
Photos: Tracey Spice/Spice Art