A GRIM approach to sustainable scaling

Our mission at GRIM is and has always been to maximise our positive impact on the planet. Today 1/3 of fruits and vegetables are discarded due to unfair beauty standards and overproduction. By bringing perfectly edible produce that would normally be wasted back on people’s plates, we can feed more people without increasing food production. But how do we grow our impact? By scaling our business in a way that makes sense for people, the planet and profit. 

Making GRIM accessible to large parts of the population

Until recently, GRIM has been an entirely volunteer-driven business based in Copenhagen Nordvest. Although we still have many volunteers coming to help us in the operations (we really couldn’t do it without you guys), today we’ve grown from Petra and Carolin, who founded GRIM, to a team of 12 paid (and proud) employees who take care of over 2000 active customers, which we serve in the greater Copenhagen area. That’s some of us right here!

 

Aarhus, North Sjælland, Roskilde, Odense and Aalborg: are you ready to get ugly with us?

Big visions require big actions, and this is why we are expanding our delivery areas to many new parts in Denmark! Something we’ve been working towards hardcore over the past couple months will finally happen: over the summer, we will gradually launch to all of North Sjælland and Roskilde, then Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg. In numbers, that is over half of the Danish population that can now subscribe to GRIM boxes! Get ready, y’all and tell your friends who live there about us!

Read more about launch dates and box pre-orders here

Community is the driving force

Community is what makes GRIM so special - after all, we have a network of over 400 volunteers, insanely active customers who love to instagram the contents of their box and a bunch of creative GRIM chefs who make delicious recipes for you on a weekly basis. Without that community love, there’s no GRIM! In fact, over half of our customers have come to us through word of mouth, which just shows us that GRIM has the little extra spice that is missing at so many other companies 🌶

The center for our community life is our warehouse in Nordvest, where the packing happens every week and where people come to pick up their boxes. What started out as a way to attract people from the hood and to offer our product for a cheaper price - pick ups don’t pay 40 DKK in delivery fee - has proven so successful that to date, about ⅓ of all our subscribers choose to pick up their box.

This is huge! In fact, so huge that over the summer, we’ll onboard new pick up locations across Copenhagen as well as in Aarhus. More traditionally-minded business people might think we’re crazy (we’ve heard them say it), but we believe that pick up spots are the way forward to scale the community feeling that is so unique to GRIM. Therefore, we chose to partner with locations when there’s a value match, cause no shared values, no community can form. We are excited to see how GRIM can take new shapes and forms in collaboration with other awesome people and businesses.

New, plastic-free packaging that will increase the quality of your veggies 

Probably the biggest change to the product itself is that our GRIM boxes are getting a whole new look! We will swap out the wooden box for recyclable cardboard boxes that come with specially developed separators inside the box to keep your veggies apart and thus safe during packing and transport. Think no more squashed tomatoes! 

Also, we will ditch the plastic bag entirely and start using bags made of 100% biodegradable and compostable polyester, vegetable oils and starches for delicate items, such as leafy greens. Those of you who live in Københavns Kommune know these as the green bags the municipality provides for disposing of your bio waste, and yes, if you live there you can totally reuse our bags for exactly that - they are even made from the same producer. Other municipalities might handle their waste differently. That being said if you want to use the bag as a food waste bag (madaffald), please check beforehand how your municipality is able to handle biodegradable bags. In any case, you can dispose them in the residual waste (restaffald). 

The green biobags have been critically discussed lately as the results of a study conducted by Copenhagen municipality have shown that they actually contain more plastic than initially assumed. However, the conclusion was also to continue using the bags, because after all, biobags have the least CO2 emissions in connection with both production and waste treatment than other alternatives. At the same time, any residue from the biobag material is degraded in the agricultural soil within a few years as opposed to fossil bag residues.

Biobags also means no more sweaty vegetables in the summer, since they can actually breathe and don’t accumulate humidity, like the plastic bags do. This means that produce that needs to be kept in a dry environment, such as onions, roots and potatoes, will be better protected from rotting by taking the humidity out of your box while the leafy greens actually stay crisp.

In fact, we’ve done some testing over the past weeks, where we compared the temperature increase inside the old and new packaging when placed in a hot environment of over 30 degrees Celsius and left it for a day. The result was simply crazy! While the temperature inside our old, open at the top box increases to almost 30 degrees in literally no time, the cardboard box was able to isolate the temperature much better and keep your veggies inside just above 20 degrees. We believe that the new cardboard packaging will increase the quality of vegetables delivered to you - especially during hot summer months.

Reusing vs recycling?

When we started out, we fell in love with the idea of reusing the wooden box as much as possible. For the system to work, customers are asked to return the wooden box to us with each new box that arrives. After almost 2 years of practical experience, the reality looked much different: return rates for boxes dropped dramatically from 7 times being reused when we initially started, to 3 times today. The reason for that are several: more customers means more boxes that are proportionally not returned, as well as the delivery drivers not taking back the old boxes you put out for them. In short, the system has been hard to keep up with, so we are ditching it altogether.

Not taking your boxes return also means that from now on, our customers will be responsible for disposing of their box themselves. For some this might be a little inconvenient to start out with, but we believe that in the long run it’s the way forward. Why?

An issue we had to take into consideration when redesigning our packaging was the disposal of the wooden boxes. According to Københavns Kommune (home of GRIM and where our boxes are being discarded - see picture) once a wooden box has maxed out its life, the broken wood packaging has to go into the bulky waste bin (storskrald). That means that instead of recycling the wood and processing it into something new (usually engineered wood products or making paper from pulp), the material is burned. Sure, some say burning converts into energy. However, looking at the lifecycle analysis of different wood disposal options - a method which allows researchers to compare the impacts of different items, from production to use to end-of-life - it is clear that recycling wood has the lowest cost, while burning wood as a substitute energy source has the highest. 

The low cost of recycling is related to the fact that recycling offsets the need for virgin (new) fiber. The high cost of burning wood is related to its costly environmental effects. These include, among other things, an increase in carbon emissions from incomplete combustion. Therefore, from an environmental point of view, we wanted to find a solution that would mean better material use. Cardboard was a great solution because it is easy to dispose of in designated bins accessible from basically every apartment building. And most importantly, cardboard is being recycled and given a second - or third - or fourth - life. In fact, our cardboard boxes are made of 66% recycled and 33% virgin fiber from FSC certified sources in Sweden and are produced in Denmark. Finding a cardboard producer who is close to home was important to us.

A GRIM approach to sustainable scaling

Of course we acknowledge that when embarking on the adventure of finding the most sustainable packaging solutions, the best logistics option, the right area to expand to - there is never an easy - or even one right answer. The reality is not so simple, but how we see it, we have to start somewhere. Our starting point is always guided by our vision to provide an inspiring solution that creates a more transparent, impactful and inclusive food system.

Effectively, we see GRIM as an easy solution for people to live more sustainably, and for that we have to choose our battles. By critically questioning our decision making process and filtering out the elements that guide us, we are constantly aligning with our vision in re-thinking the way we consume while asking ourselves: do I really need this?

Especially when talking about “sustainable packaging”, we as brand owners have an obligation to consider very carefully what packaging format we use and to make an informed decision based on the reality of our current waste management infrastructure, level of public understanding but also what’s best for ensuring the quality of our produce and bringing our message across. Denmark, the country where we are expanding in this next phase of GRIM, has the infrastructure and processes in place to handle the disposal of the material we chose to scale with while being the better choices for the environment. After all, our decisions have significant signal value, making it easier for people to sort their waste correctly and more consciously.

So, is cardboard boxes the right solution to growing our impact? Maybe - it definitely is when we want to make our product accessible to more people. Are biobags the way to go? We acknowledge there are pro’s and con’s - it definitely is the right direction when we want to see a world that is less wrapped in plastic - after all, one of the biggest polluters of today’s oceans and land.

These are the battles that we chose to fight. We can’t get it right 100% - but we can start somewhere and grow from there.