Housed in the ancient Conquest House on Palace Street, Unboxed sells fruit and veg, pasta, rice, teas, coffees, cleaning products, in fact a whole range of produce – with one thing in common. None of it has packaging.
Owner Lynda Desmarais knows a thing or two about food as the owner of the Ebury Hotel, Dems Restaurant and the Castle House Hotel.
The Journal called in on Lynda as part of our series on local businesses, and she explained how she got into the industry.
“I used to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) and there were horror stories among exchange students about the awful food they’d been served during their stay.
“I decided to set up a foreign language school that served really great English food. I found a great place, but in the middle of buying it there was a change in regulations, so I ended up opening as a guest house instead.
“I’ve always been environmentally conscious. I drive an electric car and the restaurant doesn’t use any plastic. However, I was always slightly embarrassed about how much rubbish we throw out at home, especially things like takeaway wrappers. The neighbours can see your bins!”
Lynda’s answer was to set up a shop that helps people like you and me cut down on the amount of rubbish we produce.
Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers but recycled cardboard boxes and canvas bags are available.
Of course, it’s not just about the end product. Lynda works with suppliers to minimise wastage along the supply chain. She jokes that one supplier tried to deliver fruit wrapped in plastic that she would have had to throw away before displaying the items loose on the shelves.
I ask her if she thinks this is the future of retail.
“Clearly it won’t work for everything” she replies. “It’s about reducing and re-using, not eliminating packaging completely.
“Right now, it’s about providing a service that lets everyday people make a small difference to the planet. Or put it another way, not to make the situation worse.
“Eventually this will be how all supermarkets operate. But if that’s the reason I go out of business I won’t be unhappy about it!”
It doesn’t look as though the business is struggling though. I go in first thing in on a cold January morning and there are already customers milling about. Lynda tells me trade has been increasing every month since they opened last April.
The world is waking up to the fact that we can’t carry on as we have done in the past. The environment is something all of us have to do our bit to protect, and it looks as though Unboxed might be ideally placed to help.
It’s also the kind of forward thinking that will keep Canterbury city centre bustling regardless of what’s happening in the wider world of retail.
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