What was the inspiration for setting up Refill Quarter in Belfast?
We set up a yoga studio in Ballyhackamore, Yoga Quarter, which encourages ideas of connecting to the world around us and creating an open community, so sustainability was always in our consciousness.
Personally, I have long been interested in sustainable retail and sourcing products locally and started to see zero waste shops popping up around the UK and Europe. I even joked to my business partner that it would be our next business venture. Time passed and, still, no one had set up a zero waste shop in Belfast, so we decided to go for it. We wanted to shop in one ourselves and no one else was doing it.
Who buys from Refill Quarter?
There is a very diverse set of people who come into Refill Quarter at both our Lisburn Road and Ballyhackamore locations; young and old, families and single people. Children bring in their parents because they've had talks at school about waste, people who live alone like to come in because it’s easy for them to buy smaller amounts and to reduce their waste. We have a real community feel and that is a product of how the shop works, it's a slower process and customers are interacting more with the food they are buying, it gets people thinking and sharing their ideas.
Have you seen an increased interest in sustainable food since the pandemic?
The pandemic hit all businesses, big and small, but we were fortunate because Refill Quarter counted as an essential service, so we were able to remain open. In some cases we had things in stock which were unavailable at the supermarkets like flour, pasta, and even toilet rolls, which was fantastic as it resulted in new customers discovering us due to word of mouth, which has diversified our customer base.
There was a wonderful sense of supporting local during the pandemic, sadly, some of that has slipped away as things return to normal. Thankfully, gaining new customers also meant people discovered that refill shopping is affordable. Our prices are somewhere between a supermarket own brand and a branded shop, we want people to know it is not an expensive option. In fact, our customers can save money by only buying the amount they need - like buying one tablespoon of ground ginger or five chocolate coated peanuts!
What is your best seller?
Peanut butter. We have a machine that freshly grinds it straight into the customer’s jar, it’s very satisfying to watch and also delicious. Bulk dry foods like pasta and porridge oats are always popular, as well as liquid cleaning products like laundry detergent and washing up liquid. We also sell a lot of shampoo bars, which are locally made. It’s wonderful chatting to our customers and explaining the benefits of these products. No plastic, no nasty chemicals, they last ages, they support local creators who also use locally sourced ingredients, win win win win win!