It was during one of his leisure trips to Europe in 2015 when Bittu John Kalungal caught the concept of bring-your-own container for grocery shopping. An MTech in Aeronautical Engineering Kalungal aged 32 decided to launch a green grocery store – 7 to 9 Grocery store – in 2018.
He converted his father’s 40-years-old, 600-square feet grocery store into a Green store. “Since there was no such store in India, the concept was new and thus, I learnt more about setting up such a store via the internet. It took one-and-a-half year for me to convert my father’s store into a green store. Bins had to be imported from the U.S, China and Germany,” says Kalungal.
The store encourages customers to bring their containers for a refill. Alternatively, they can buy glass containers at the cost of Rs 20-25. “Customers can give back the containers later, and get a refund or can use the container for further refills,” says Kalungal. The same concept is followed for online deliveries too. Customers save two percent each time they shop at the store if they bring in their containers. On World Environment Day, June 5, they offered a discount of 10 percent on all their products.
A couple of visits acquaints the customer with the system and they are ready to handle the self-service – from taking the tare weight to refilling and scanning the barcode to printing the bill. This system helps the store to accommodate up to 15 customers at a time.
The store houses biodegradable and chemical-free products. With an aim to build the local economy, Kalungal adds, “Many of the products like rice powder are powdered at my brother’s mill. We source good quality ingredients and these are shared with the local network to make healthy snacks.”
It was initially difficult to turn brand-conscious customers to choose homemade high-quality products. He also deals with organic products, but considering the cost usually goes up by 30 percent, he encourages high-quality homemade products. Biodegradable cleaning solutions are mostly imported. They also source from export quality solutions.
Kalungal now has around 500 enquiries for franchisees from across India. However, considering logistics, he is at the moment open to franchisees only within 20 km from Kolenchery. The first franchisee will go on floors soon, and Kalungal hopes to determine the exact franchise cost, which would be lesser than his initial investment.
From around 150 walk-ins per day during the pre-green store days, the store now has 300-350 walk-ins daily. Customers drive from Kochi to shop at his grocery store to save plastic. The lack of facilities in the city of Kochi, and the ban on burning or dumping plastics are encouraging people to opt for plastic-free shopping.
“In each bill, we print the number of plastics saved. In 2.5 years, we have saved 12.5 lakhs of plastic, including 2.5 lakhs of bottles. In short, the tiny store is helping save 1500 pieces of plastic daily. “The town of Kolenchery has 48 shops and five supermarkets. Imagine the number of plastics that would be saved, if all the shops convert to zero waste stores?” concludes Kalungal.
They aim to give reasonably priced high-quality products without plastic and initiate steps to reduce plastic wastage on earth.