Sustainability was never really something on James Denton’s radar – which may be hard to believe considering he’s now opened a zero-packaging plastic-free store in Ponsonby. GoodFor Refillery is beginning to change the way people think about our consumption, and take a look at how much single-use plastics creep into our daily life.
GoodFor Refillery stocks organic bulk wholefoods, ecoconscious cleaning products for the home, and beverages, peanut butter and maple syrup on tap.
If you shop in-store, you either bring in your own jars, containers and reusable bags to fill, or GoodFor have free brown paper bags or jars you can purchase.
GoodFor is a business that pushes back at our modern society, which has become so fixated on convenience at the cost of sustainability.
But where did it all begin?
James is from Dunedin, and went on to study at Otago University, doing Accounting and Finance.
“I always knew I wanted to get into my own business back then, because I knew I wasn’t the greatest employee,” James laughs.
After Uni, James and a mate got to work on the European Golf Tour, or as he puts it – ‘We basically got paid to travel around the world and watch the best in the world play golf,”
The tour gave James a taste for travel, and he continued to work and travel for a couple more years before going to Mexico and falling in love with the soft shell taco.
There, he watched Mexican women make tacos from scratch – from first grinding down corn kernels, making a paste, and pressing out the finished product – a delicious and fresh soft taco shell.
James moved back to Queenstown, wanting to start up a business with freshly pressed tacos. Starting out with a food truck and then opening a store as well, James’ business TacoMedic was the place to get a bloody good taco.
Did the Mexican ladies give him the secret recipe, or the tricks of the trade?
No, it involved a lot of research and hard work, but it resulted in a taco that could compete with an original Mexican one.
“Mexico have good ingredients, but for being in the mountains and in the cold, these tacos are pretty unbeatable,”
After establishing TacoMedic in Queenstown, James started to get over it a little bit. While discovering that this wasn’t where his heart was at, another issue came into play; sustainability.
“I just started to get really fed up at all the rubbish we were creating,”
Anyone in hospitality can relate to the struggle – daily orders come with an array of plastic components and packaging which you can’t recycle and get sent straight to the landfill.
James then spent around a year thinking about business models involving sustainability and the environment. He came across a business model in Australia for a zero-waste, plastic-free food store. He got in touch with the owners, and talked about bringing the business over to New Zealand. However, it was going to involve big money.
After realising he had the necessary skills to make something like this work, James took it on himself to create his own, and worked hard to make it sound. This involved a lot of research to source ingredients from around the world, and to find out where the Australian company sourced their ingredients from.
“When I decided to do my own business model, the guys in Aussie went cold on me, but now that i have the store up and running I respect them for it, I’ve had like 50 people come in and ask me where I get certain things from, and I’m pretty hesitant to tell them because I spent months of hard work finding this stuff.”
James spent around five months getting everything ready, during which his younger brother jumped on board and they’re now business partners.
“He started helping me when I was setting up, then he got real into it, jumped on board and now we kinda run the place together.”
James says social media has been paramount for the success of his business.
“Social media is the cheapest and most effective form of marketing hands down. It’s the way to get the word out and we’d be nowhere near where we are now without it,”
A lot of GoodFor’s social media content features pictures of packageless pantries – but when did James start his?
“About a year before the store opened, I recognised my own plastic problem. I started off using reusable bags and thought that was it, but everything inside the bags were riddled with single-use plastic packaging. From there I started to cut down as much plastic as I could,”
But since GoodFor’s opening, James has found that even big companies are willing to change to more ecoconscious options. Ceres Organics are looking at changing certain product lines to biodegradable packaging options
James is also a firm believer of shopping local. While a lot of ingredients in his store are sourced from around the world, he has a lot of New Zealand products too.
“It is limited in New Zealand as to what you can get, but we make the most of it and support little NZ brands,”
“Companies like Little Bird with their Macarons and Tom and Luke’s Raw balls – we fill up buckets from these guys, and send buckets back to them to get refilled. No packaging or anything, its awesome.”
What are some of the funkiest ingredients GoodFor stocks?
“We have lots of unusual grains I never knew existed. Like Freekeh and Teff, which are like mini Quinoa. These grains feed big populations and pack lots more nutritional punch than mainstream grains.”
Teff is a gluten free grain, high in protein, calcium, iron, fibre, zinc, and contains eight amino acids.
Seven Sharp did a small segment on GoodFor a while back, and on it Mike Hosking complains that it’s all too hard and too much of a hassle to shop with zero waste and he was comfortable sticking with his single-use convenience plastics – what’s your response to this?
“I guess it’s just not on his radar, he’s not aware of the problem. I wasn’t not so long ago. But zero-waste is a cool business, it’s on trend and fashionable – people like Mike Hosking who care about their image, and want trendy things to be part of their image – we hope we can appeal to these people this way.”
Okay, now take your ordinary Kiwi, how do you change their mindset?
“Our perspective is about showing regular people who are oblivious or think that they don’t have enough time on their hands and making them aware. And we get it out to the world via our social media content. Not everyone can access more sustainable choices, so we want to make it more available. We also want to make people feel bad – like you shouldn’t feel okay about putting something in the landfill, not at all.”
In between this all, James wants to make GoodFor a popular and successful business, and hopefully take a portion of revenue from big supermarkets. After all, a lot of their money spent is in advertising and packaging.
But in a society where convenience has taken over, resulting in plastic bags, cutlery, straws and more, can you really change this mindset?
Can New Zealand’s single-use plastic, throwaway culture really be changed?
“We’re never going to stop convenience, but we might make some of the big players change – and they already are. Take Ceres Organics for example, they’re making big changes and other companies are too”
James wants to see this change happen to the point where most supermarket product packaging is biodegradable. However, at the moment, not many people manufacture sustainable packaging, and its being produced at a low volume for a high cost.
GoodFor’s option for online shopping is great for those not in the Ponsonby area, but it still has to get delivered to you, and the food has to come in some packaging – so what happens when you shop online at GoodFor?
“All of your products come in lightweight brown paper bags inside a brown cardboard box – everything is biodegradable and plastic free. After you store your items, you can dissolve the bags and the box in water, and then feed it to a worm farm, I have one at my house,”
If you don’t have a worm farm, the paper bags and cardboard box can be put out in your recycling for collection.
“Online delivery services are saturated with plastics, but its not that hard to use sustainable packaging – its really easy actually. But maybe people use packaging with plastics for a preservative effect. With us, you get your box of grains and flours and them put them straight into jars so its not a problem.”
The GoodFor store is located in Ponsonby, but James says they are 100% extending, currently looking at Wellington and the North Shore. His goal is to have 20 stores spread all over New Zealand so everyone can have access to ecoconscious and sustainable options.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to start reducing their waste?
“It all starts with attitude. You have to take on the fact that its not okay to produce so much rubbish. Start to refuse. Never buy a plastic water bottle again. Refuse plastic straws – they’re a mindless convenience and paper ones work just fine, and cause so much less damage. Use reusable shopping bags, and go to farmers markets.”
Every time a customer makes a purchase at GoodFor, a tree is planted by Trees for the Future.
“It’s an American company started by an old dude and his wife. So, money from each sale goes to them to buy seeds and propagate them. They then supply communities in Eastern Africa with suitable tools and the propagated seeds, and the communities plant them. The soil over there is buggered so its essential to plant trees to put nutrients back into the soil.”
James is a pretty forward thinking person, with strong beliefs and a real sense of respect for the environment we live in.
Who are your inspirations?
“Always people, and people that are big thinkers. People like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who changed the world in a big and bold way,”
“Social media is also a big source of inspiration, and I’ve read so many blogs that have inspired me too.”
What is your advice to someone wanting to turn their passion into a business or lifestyle?
“You have to sacrifice a lot, and work hard for years continually. Set goals constantly, and keep making them higher. What you start with is probably not what you’re gonna end up with. If I hadn’t done the tacos I wouldn’t have learnt the basic form of business and that it wasn’t for me.”
James was a really light, friendly and exciting person to talk to, and getting to know his story was inspiring to say the least.
GoodFor is definitely the start of a movement that will hopefully spread quickly throughout New Zealand, and it really makes people stop and consider how much waste they’re producing. Consuming wholefoods are better for your health too, as compared to processed foods, so Goodfor gives you the option to not only make ecoconscious purchases, but healthy ones too.
To see more, visit GoodFor’s Social links below:
Pay attention to your daily habits, and try to notice how much waste you’re producing and try to minimise it – I’m definitely going to start trying. Stop buying plastic drink bottles – invest in a glass one. And if you want to go all the way, try to create a packageless pantry and make sustainable and conscious purchases. We’re not perfect, but it all begins with a change of attitude and an awareness of the issue.
Thank you so much James for making the time to talk to me and helping me write this post!
Below are a couple of sustainable alternatives to plastic household items that end up in the landfill:
- Canvas reusable shopping bags
- Wooden toothbrushes
- Glass or stainless steel straws
- Paper straws
- Glass or stainless steel drink bottles
- Keepcup reusable glass coffee cups
- Glass jars and containers for food storage
- Wooden clothes pegs
- Biodegradable pens
- Bamboo dish brushes