Plastic-free groceries and reengineering the supply chain with Zero
The Cool Down with Brendan O’Connnell
Plus what’s the environmental impact of your streaming addiction?
This week, I had the pleasure to speak with Zuleyka Strasner, founder and CEO of Zero. If you visit Zero’s website, you’ll quickly realize the company is a low-waste food and homeware delivery service; but, the company is much more than that. On top of minimizing packaging waste, Zero is re-architecting the supply chain to optimize accessibility, improved food quality, and reductions in food waste. We talk about this and much more below.
I also answer the question you’re too afraid to ask—what is the environmental toll of your streaming addiction? I suspect you’ll be satisfied with my findings, but beware, my piece is really data centers 101.
Thanks for reading!
Plastic-free groceries and reengineering the supply chain with Zero founder Zuleyka Strasner ❌🗑️
What is Zero?
Zero is the first-ever plastic-free, online grocery store. Our mission is to enable as many Americans as possible to shop 90% plastic-free or more in a given week, should they choose to do so.
Why did you start this business?
Two things happened at the same time. I was working in venture capital as a chief of staff and seeing a lot of companies. I was fortunate to learn about a variety of businesses, meet founders, and understand the ecosystem of Silicon Valley. In many ways, it was my boot camp. At the same time, I became interested in the question of being and living plastic-free. To my admission, I was not an environmentalist. I certainly wasn’t ignorant of the environment, but it wasn’t front and center to my work. Before VC, I had come from politics. But even in politics, my focus areas were foreign and educational policy, and never environmental policy. Even my husband would get on me about my plastic use. I loved plastic wrap. It was my thing.
My husband and I went on a honeymoon to a beautiful island in the Caribbean called the Corn Islands. But it was littered in plastic. Seeing all the plastic just woke me up. I’m a very curious person. I spent my days swimming and enjoying the island, but I also spent a lot of time fishing out this plastic and wondering how 1,000 people living on this small Caribbean island could produce so much waste. Of course, they weren’t. Most of it was washing up on their shores. I then started to look into the zero-waste movement. I had seen it on social media and wondered what would happen if I tried to live this zero-waste life? I adopted the plastic-free lifestyle when I came back to San Francisco for a year and a half, and it was hellish. Some parts were great and easier than I thought. But for the most part, it was hard, and the most challenging piece was getting your food.
Those two worlds collided for me—the plastic free-world and my background in VC. But I genuinely didn’t set out to start a venture-scaling business.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the packaging waste issue. Can you talk about why the everyday consumer should care about this problem?
There are many pieces to this. The initial obvious one is that plastic doesn’t look very nice. It’s not cool to walk around and see it lying around everywhere. We also have a huge landfill problem globally and in the US. But there are many other reasons that only surface once you start digging into the detrimental impact of plastics and BPA. Plastic shows up in the fish you eat. It shows up as microfibers and can easily be in your food and food systems. It’s also implicated in the rise of cancer. New research is coming out about the links of plastic and petroleum to all of these areas. Even deeper, many communities up and down this country are being impacted by changes in the environment, whether it’s massive flooding in the Gulf or wildfires in California. Those events are tied back to the environment and a combination of what is happening to the planet right now. People of all types—rich, poor, black, and white—are being affected by changes in the environment, and it truly is the movement of our time to fix this.
Besides packaging waste, what other problems are you trying to solve with Zero?
Zero is solving both food and packaging waste issues. Our company mission is tied around the reduction of waste and changing consumer behavior and habits. But the other big piece is accessibility. The waste in the production and transportation of food is also a driver of accessibility because it contributes to increases in the cost of the food itself. If you get more efficient and effective in the supply chain, not only do you solve the packaging and food waste pieces, but you can offer products at much better price points because you’re not hand over fist losing revenue. Zero’s goal is to enable as many Americans as possible to access good quality products and get them at better price points.
How are we able to do this? Zero is a technology company. We didn’t enter into this to just be a new grocer. We entered into this to use technology to really impact how grocery works and how grocery functions in this country as a whole. It’s the technology that we’re building today that enables us to reduce waste. There are new products and facets of Zero that we’re launching very soon to drive down costs and reduce waste further. But if you have a big waste problem in the supply chain, the only way to solve that is through technology that can tell you when and how that waste is produced. If you can predict what’s happening with much more accuracy and farm with more accuracy, you can reduce that waste.
Do you see Zero ever offering the infrastructure to enable legacy grocers to join the low-waste movement?
We are re-architecting the supply chain through our technology. Zero is quickly becoming the largest sustainability platform in the US, where consumers can get everything that is clean and green. That’s not just the food you eat, but it’s also household items. Today, we have 950 SKUs. Just in that 950, we already cover homeware, personal and body products, as well as a considerable amount of food. Our food is fresh—it’s produce, dry food, meat, deli cheese, vegan products, and much more. Now, how is that technology-enabled? It’s that the technology touches every facet of the supply chain. This is why we’re so different than retailers and grocers. We care about the full product lifecycle—from how and where it’s produced and packed all the way to distribution to the end-user. The technology stitches all of those pieces together for the first time. Many partners can plug into this supply chain. The only reason that the platform is successful is that we have partners in all parts of the supply chain plugging in and adopting green practices. We understood early on that for this to work, and for us to make the whole industry green, we had to build the supply chain we wanted to see.
Keep Reading the full interview.
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