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Eat and Drink

Inside Nude Foods Market’s Zero-Waste Grocery Operation

The bulk foods store delivers pantry staples, produce, prepared meals, and other goods in reusable packaging via bike in Boulder.

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Verity Noble goes to great lengths to avoid using single-use plastics and other landfill-bound materials. Case in point: If she doesn’t bring enough reusable shopping bags into the grocery store, she simply fills her pockets with green beans, empties them onto the conveyor belt, then stashes them back in her pockets for the trip home. She’s also not afraid to gently nudge fellow shoppers, either. 

“I’ve been banging the zero-waste drum for a long time,” she says. “As much as people probably get frustrated with me, I’m the person who goes up to someone in Whole Foods and says, ‘We’re just doing a survey to find out why people bag their vegetables.’ And like, ‘Those bananas? You know they have skins.’ I’m just hoping that people might start thinking like, ‘Huh, why am I bagging my bananas or avocados or honestly anything.”

Noble is so passionate about zero-waste shopping that she helped launch Nude Foods Market, a bulk foods company serving residents of Boulder, along with co-founders Rachel Irons, Jimmy Uvodich, and Matt Arnold. Since officially launching last October, Nude Foods has grown to provide more than 250 households with regular bike deliveries of pantry staples, prepared meals, and other groceries packaged in reusable containers.

The idea of opening a zero-waste bulk foods store has been germinating in Noble’s mind since she moved to Boulder from London seven years ago. About every three months or so, Noble made the 25-minute trip to Longmont to shop for groceries at Simply Bulk Market. She loves the store, but by the time she weighed, filled, then re-weighed her 20 different mason jars with bulk grains, spices, and other essentials and completed the roundtrip journey, the whole process took about two hours. “We try to be as zero-waste as possible and I’d been thinking: Why doesn’t Boulder have a bulk store?” she says.

Noble began mentioning this curious void in Boulder’s food scene to friends and acquaintances. Through networking and introductions, she connected with other like-minded people who had been wondering the same thing. Noble is an entrepreneur through and through—she launched a hybrid travel agency/events company in London and a Boulder finance company with her husband, and has worked at a startup accelerator—so she wasn’t afraid to take the leap and start Nude Foods.

Originally, the co-founders planned to open a brick-and-mortar bulk foods store. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, upending how people shop for groceries. They forged ahead with their new business anyway, shifting to online ordering and bike delivery or pickup only. After a pilot launch in July 2020, Nude Foods Market officially opened in October. And, based on the market’s growth and popularity, Noble wasn’t the only one searching for a zero-waste bulk food shopping solution. “People are absolutely loving it,” she says. “It’s been a raging success. We planned to grow 10 percent a month and we’ve been growing 10 percent a week.”

The Nude Foods team: (from left): Verity Noble, Matt Arnold, Michael Martin, Jimmy Uvodich, and Rachel Irons. Photo courtesy of Nude Foods

Customers can shop online and choose from an array of grocery and pantry staples like olive oil, apple chips, tofu, dried mango, eggs, oats, rice, nuts, and grains, just to name a few. The market also sells “rescued” foods from stores, bakeries, farmers, and purveyors—foods with imperfections or items they simply bought or made too much of—like day-old bagels from Moe’s Broadway Bagel, cheese from Whole Foods, and mixed boxes of organic vegetables from local farmers. Altius Farms, Williams Orchards, FoodMaven, and Forevergreen Farm are among the other partners Nude Foods works with to acquire products. The company also sells ingredients like marinara sauce and prepared meals including lemony lentil soup and sweet potato chili with pickled red onions, produced in a commissary kitchen using recipes developed by Noble and Irons. 

All of the market’s offerings are delivered in glass mason jars, cloth, or other reusable packaging. Customers pay a jar deposit, which they get back when they leave their jars outside the front door to be picked up at a later delivery date. The market works with a crew of 15 to 20 volunteer delivery cyclists, who get a full box of produce after every shift.

While Nude Foods is still young, the company’s co-founders have big dreams. In an ideal world, the market will expand to every U.S. city with online ordering and delivery, with three or four flagship brick-and-mortar stores around the country, too, Noble says. Right now, Nude Foods is taking steps to accept SNAP benefits—short for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income individuals—and the co-founders hope to find other ways to make the service more affordable. Its prices are always lower than Whole Foods, Noble says, but she recognizes that zero-waste and organic foods are just too expensive for many people. “We want this to be accessible, we don’t want this to be a wealthy white person company, although that is where we’re starting,” she says. “That’s the easiest market for us right now and then hopefully it will filter down and be available to everyone.”

If scientists someday create an entirely biodegradable, sustainable packaging material that all food manufacturers are willing to use, Noble says she’d be happy to go out of business (though she suspects that, even then, there would still be people who want to avoid using resources and energy to make that packaging). In the meantime, the company is trying to open people’s eyes to food packaging waste and shine a light on simple changes people can make to their shopping habits, Noble says.

“There are enough people who really care about this to get it started and if we make it as easy, if not easier than, going to the grocery store and at a similar price, then it feels like a no-brainer to me,” she says. “We’re only going to become more aware of the waste issue as time goes on—because we have to.”

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