Making zero waste shopping a reality

As the Small Business Saturday campaign moves into its second decade in the UK, SME Magazine is profiling some of this year’s SmallBiz100–a line-up of Britain’s 100 most impressive small businesses. As Michelle Ovens CBE, Director of Small Business Saturday UK, says: “The fantastic small businesses featured in this year’s SmallBiz100 sum up the incredible contribution that small firms make to our economy and local areas.”

Here, SME Magazine catches up with Keli King, above, owner of The Little Green Pantry, an award-winning zero waste shop enjoying its second year on Wellington High Street in Telford. The business sells plastic-free refills of dried food, baking ingredients, cleaning liquids and much more, and has built a loyal following among eco-minded customers who want to do their bit for the planet.

Keli, tell us about your business. When did you set the business up and what was the thinking behind it?

I launched the business as a popup stall on Wellington Market back in 2019 after identifying a need for a plastic-free shopping experience in the Telford area. At the time, the nearest zero waste shop was more than 16 miles away. Factoring in time, emissions, and costs, I didn’t see this as a sustainable way to shop, so I decided to launch something similar in my local community.

I shared an online survey in local community groups on social media, which showed there was a growing demand for this type of business. The community raised almost £5,000 in crowdfunding, which allowed met to start The Little Green Pantry as a pop-up stall.

Thanks to a strong social media following and community support, the business has gone from strength to strength, and in 2021, I was able to move to a bricks and mortar shop on the high street. I calculate that, so far, The Little Green Pantry has diverted more than 49,000 pieces of plastic from landfill, due to customers purchasing their household toiletries and kitchen goods in recyclable paper or cardboard packaging and refilling rather than buying new.

What do you enjoy the most about being your own boss?

I love that I can hand pick the products my customers and I want to see in store. I get to speak with local suppliers and crafts people and learn about their businesses and products first hand.

I also love that I can respond quickly to my customers’ requests, sourcing products that they want within days, without going through anyone for authorisation or a lengthy procurement process.

What advice would you give someone thinking about setting up their own business?

It’s not for the faint hearted, it will be constantly on your mind, you may feel like you can’t switch off and you’re always working on something for your business … BUT if it’s something you’re interested in and passionate about, then it doesn’t feel like working at all.

It’s still important to find the right work life balance for you and your family, and taking a step back regularly and taking a break does help you see the bigger picture. It’s so easy to feel like you’re constantly on a treadmill when running your own business.

What does the Small Business Saturday campaign mean to you?

Small Business Saturday is so important to my business. It is amazing to have a campaign solely promoting the great work small business owners are doing for our communities and economy. It showcases my business on a much wider scale than I could reach alone and is fuelling a movement, encouraging people to shop small across the country.

Sum up your business in three words

Sustainable, wholesome, innovative.

The Little Green Pantry