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Sisters find city eager for zero-waste shopping options

Published on

Cathy Dobson

The owners of Great Lakes Refill Co. knew they had the business case for a big expansion within six months of opening.

Sisters Melissa Matthews and Lisa Ladouceur started their one-stop eco-friendly store in September 2018 in a small kiosk at the Downtown Market.

“By January, we’d hit the sales level that told us we can sustain a much bigger operation,” said Lisa.

The new Great Lakes Refill Co. opened in early October in space 10 times larger and with 700 products, a big jump from the 250 at the first location.

What was a part-time venture is now a full-time operation with three employees hired.

Two months ago, Lisa left her job in the finance department at Lambton College to dedicate 100% of her time to the business.

“We’ve learned that being an entrepreneur is non-stop,” said Melissa, who was formerly a stay-at-home mom. “You don’t just close the door at the end of the day. There’s always so much more to do.”

Chief among those responsibilities was planning Great Lakes Refill’s growth.

The market location proved to the sisters there’s a strong customer base looking for bulk products such as biodegradable shampoo, dish soap and laundry detergent. Also popular are products to replace single-use household items like straws, plastic cutlery and plastic wrap.

Now, the new Great Lakes Refill Co. also offers a variety of bulk food, fresh produce, freshly baked bread, teas, coffee, oils, vinegars, pastas and more.

“This store was always our goal and we’ve opened it exactly when we expected to,” said Lisa. “The market location was like dipping our toes in the water to see if Sarnia was ready.”

The women consulted with similar operations, including NU Grocery, Ottawa’s first zero-waste grocery store.

The idea is to eliminate packaging, a concept that’s catching on in Sarnia, said Melissa.

When packaging can’t be avoided for products, like coconut milk or canned tomatoes, Great Lakes Refill sells only tins made from recycled materials.

Prices are comparable to local bulk food outlets, said Lisa.  For instance, dry roasted almonds sell for $2.56/100 grams.  Whole-wheat flour ground in Wyoming costs 22 cents /100 grams. Elbow macaroni is 59 cents/100 grams and dried Turkish apricots sell for $1.38/100 grams. There’s bulk candy too, such as vegan gummy bears for $5.50/100 grams.

The new shop has baking products like nuts, flour, sugar, oats and spices.  Produce, including salad greens that sell for $3.50/100 grams, is delivered on Fridays by a local farmer and moves quickly, said Lisa.

Customers are encouraged to bring in their own containers but some are available in store for sale. A basket near the front lets customers drop off containers they don’t want so others can use them for free.

The store is located at 454 Christina St., at the south end of the plaza recently redeveloped by Longo Holdings.

A grand opening is planned for Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Local suppliers will be on hand with honey, fresh hummus, kombucha, coffee and bread. There will be raffles and refreshments as well.

The new Great Lakes Refill Co. is fully accessible. For more, and new store hours, visit www.greatlakesrefillcompany.ca or the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Open five days weekly Tuesday – Saturday.

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