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Third generation Kerala provision storekeeper turns conscious retailer with his “ zero waste” store

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Born into a family of provision and wholesale retailers who have been in the kirana business for nearly 90 years, Bittu John decided to convert one of his family owned 40-year-old grocery store into his dream concept called the 7to9 Green Stores.

The shop does not promote plastic at all and shoppers are encouraged to buy products in paper bags and glass bottles. All liquid daily-use items like dish-wash, soaps and liquid detergents can be bought by consumers in the glass bottles provided by the store by paying a nominal deposit, which is refunded once a customer returns the bottle. 


Of the nearly 250 customers that walk into the store on a daily basis, 10% of them bring their own containers. Those who don’t are provided with paper covers and cloth bags from the store. Glass bottles are also provided for liquid items with a minimum refundable deposit amount of Rs.20-100.

FACT FILE

Date of Store Launch: 2018

Location of Store: Kolenchery, 25 km from Ernakulum in Kerala 

Size of the Store: 600 sq.ft.

SKUs in Store: 1800

Product Basket: Staples, Fresh Produce, Organic, FMCG

Annual Turnover Rs. 1.5 crore

Monthly Sales: Rs. 12 Lakh

Average Ticket Size: Rs.200 -250

Daily Sales Rs.40,000-60,000

Expansion Plan: 2nd store of 1400 sq.ft. to open in Jan. 2022 in Ernakulum, Kerala

Business Model: Franchisee

Bittu John’s family runs a chain of provision and grocery stores called Kothamangalam Traders, in Kolenchery, Kerala.  Following a holiday trip to London in 2016, where he came across a zero-waste store, John thought of embracing a similar concept in his home town. He quit his corporate job as an engineer and converted his family’s old grocery store into a Zero Waste Store. 

The idea took over a year and a half to evolve as most of the dispensers, containers and equipment had to be sourced from several countries. 7to9 Green Stores started operations in 2018 in a remote area, around 25 km away from Ernakulum city in Kerala.

The store has over 1800 SKUs in a 600 sq.ft store space. Products are locally procured as well as outsourced. The store also stocks up around 50 private labels that come from a mill belonging to John’s brother. The private label range includes a wide variety of flours and oils.

Among the most commonly purchased items are oils, flour, grains, pulses, tea, coffee powder, spices, vegetables, milk, coconut water, hand wash, floor cleaner, dish wash liquid, soaps, and other items of daily use, all of which are of very high quality. The shop also sells eco-friendly sanitary pads and other hygiene products.

Green concept, zero plastic use

No items sold at the shop are delivered through plastic bags, tins or containers. The shop does not promote plastic at all and shoppers are encouraged to buy products in paper bags and glass bottles. All liquid daily-use items like dish-wash, soaps and liquid detergents can be bought by consumers in the glass bottles provided by the store by paying a nominal deposit, which is refunded once a customer returns the bottle. Other items like pulses, spices, vegetables, fruits can be bought in high quality paper bags, which can be used to carry bulk purchases as well.

Shoppers have hailed the store’s green concept as a great idea towards promoting green earth and reducing single-use plastic. “It’s a store that has taken the words ‘be the change you want see in the world’ to heart. The store sells most everyday items in ‘loose packaging’ and items like sugar, pulses, rice and even sweets are sold by weight in paper packages. But what’s most surprising is that the store uses the same ‘loose package’ concept to sell and deliver milk, coconut oil, hand wash and even chilled mineral water or you can collect these products by bringing your own glass bottles! The store is quite definitely an innovative step in the right direction,” writes one customer on the store’s website.

Catering to a wide audience

Located in a remote area in Kolenchery, the 7to9 Green Stores attracts a wide cross-section of customers from different segments and demographics. According to John, the price of the products here is a huge factor in drawing customers to the shop. 

“We can’t call ourselves 100% organic since we stock outsourced products, private labels as well as homemade products”, says John, adding that “the main reason why we decided not to be exclusively organic is because such product categories belong to a higher price point. When it comes to homemade or locally sourced product category, we can provide good quality products at an affordable price.”

 Simple System

Of the nearly 250 customers that walk into the store on a daily basis, 10% of them bring their own containers. Those who don’t are provided with paper covers and cloth bags from the store. Glass bottles are also provided for liquid items with a minimum refundable deposit amount of Rs.20-100. The items are then refilled and weighed by the customers themselves, where the weighing scale coordinates with the barcode billing system.

All the cleaning solutions, personal care, products like oils are sold in glass jars and rest of grocery items are sold in paper covers and cloth bags.

Pandemic Effect

The pandemic lockdown had drastically brought down walk-ins for retailers all over the country. Hotels, restaurants and caterers were hit hard but the retail grocery segment saw a sudden increase in demand as customers were forced to stay home leading to an increase in home expenses. Shoppers became more health conscious in their selection of products. Shopping patterns also changed. Customers who visited the store 3-4 times a week took to stocking up on provisions and grocery to last for two weeks to a month. The number of home deliveries also increased. 

Expansion Plan

The second 7to9 Green Stores is set to open in a locality known as Tripunithura. The shop is housed in a 1400 square feet rented retail space and is located on the high streets of Ernakulam city. According to John, this store format will serve as a franchise model for newer 7to9 Green Stores. Set to launch in January 2022, the store in Tripunithura will provide better understanding of logistics, tackling of short shelf life of products and supply chain systems. Organic products tend to go stale easily in tropical weather, so the store will stock up mostly on fast moving product categories.

A regular store would have products like green gram in three different grades and chilli powder in various brands and sizes. John decided to stock up only the best quality and superior grades of all items in large dispensers. Products are procured in bulks of 30-50 kg. “Most of the cleaning products come in big plastic jars, which we return to the supplier for the next round of supplies, but not all suppliers have this policy,” he explains.

Business Model

John is keen on expanding his store concept into a franchise model. “Once we operationalise the new store in Eranakulum, we can then go about our expansion plans.” He has received lots of enquiries from all over India for franchising his store format.

Marketing strategy 

7to9 Green Stores has grown organically with an annual turnover of Rs.1.5 crore. “We haven’t done any major campaigns but have received a good amount of media attention through print, digital and news channel over the past 4 years. None of this is paid for,” he concludes.