Refill shop, Juniper, tells us what’s involved in running their business

Vickie and Victoria of Juniper refill shop
Vickie and Victoria in front of one of their refill stations for grains, pulses and pasta

At Greenscents we are working with increasing numbers of refill shops. This means we can support our customers who find it difficult to buy or store our large containers. This way our customers can support zero waste by filling up their bottles at a local shop or via a local delivery scheme.

We talked to Vickie Christie and Victoria Primrose of Juniper about their refill shop in Petersfield, finding out what drives them and how they choose the products to stock.

Can you tell us why you started Juniper, a minimal waste, sustainable goods and refill shop in Petersfield, Hampshire?

The drive to open Juniper came from a desire to do a package-free shop locally and conveniently. With a background in outdoor education I was keen to do more to protect and improve our precious planet now and for future generations. Vickie, my co-founder’s business, The Real Bread and Food Company, was locally based and had already been producing sourdough bread using organically grown ingredients for 8 years. Using renewable energy to power the ovens and delivery van, environmental responsibility in food production had always been a core driver. Together we discussed how similar our motivations were and how we could combine efforts and create a new company to encourage others in our community to join us and shop for foods and household goods in a more sustainable way. We each firmly believe that now is the time to change shopping habits and make packaging free shopping easy and available to everyone. This way of shopping also minimizes the possibilities of wasted, unwanted foods lurking in the backs of cupboards and eventually making their way into rubbish bins – if you only need a small amount, only buy a small amount – simply get what you need and store it in the way that you know keeps it at its best.

Why do you think it is important that people move towards a zero waste lifestyle?

We believe it is up to each of us to change our habits now to prevent further damage to our world. Over consumption, thoughtless purchasing and unnecessary packaging are a serious and long term problem that needs to be urgently addressed. We all know that the plastics in packaging can be hugely problematic for entire eco systems and that their manufacture comes with its own environmental costs. Additionally we now increasingly accept that recycling is not the answer – it uses high levels of energy and all too often, recyclable products simply end up in landfill or our waterways and sea.

Adapting to new ways of shopping takes a little thought and organisation but a few simple changes at a time really can make all the difference. As a nation, we swapped single-use, plastic carrier bags at the supermarket check-out for reusable ones without too much heartache! In the same way, changing to refill just requires a few extra tweaks and soon it could and should be the norm. Having your own ‘circular system’ with, for example, washing up liquid and laundry liquid, really works for our customers. Many have two bottles, one at home in use and one which they drop off at Juniper for us to refill for them or they come in for a more general shop and refill for themselves. That way they never run out of liquids and never have to throw away another plastic bottle! Similarly, many bring their own produce bags and containers for refilling their dry goods – just the amount they want.

Victoria refilling a Juniper bottle from Greenscents 5 litre containers

How do you decide which suppliers to offer and which products to sell?

We research our products very carefully and make sure that we test and use everything we sell ourselves.

In our cleaning and body care liquid products we look for:

  • biodegradable, non-hazardous, environmentally safe and preferably vegan products
  • circular systems where our suppliers take back the dispensing containers, clean, refill and send them back to us.
  • local suppliers – reducing transport impact
  • companies with evidence of clear ethical policies in place eg cruelty free products, sound employers
  • products which actually work. Some products have amazing eco credentials but some that we have tried don’t work well, or they don’t smell good or for some other reason are disappointing – we wont stock products that we don’t like ourselves.

With our food products we look for:

  • High quality and environmentally sound production methods
  • Almost all our food products are certified organic
  • We will choose products grown as close to us as possible – it is currently not realistic to get all British or indeed all European goods, but we do consciously try to source with as few food miles as we can
  • We support business that are actively trying to do good – eg B-Corp certification, Fair Trade certified,

Can you tell us why organic certification is important to you?

Organic certification is important to us as it’s a guarantee that a grower or organisation has reached the very high and strict standards of environmental care that official Organic Certification demands. However we are fully aware that organic certification takes years to achieve as well as being expensive to get through all the hoops and jumps – so some of our suppliers produce their goods organically and fulfil almost all of the required criteria but because of cost and time don’t necessarily have the certification. Equally, there are some growers in the process of conversion to organic status, or some that adhere to a range of other demanding standards that reflect a serious commitment to soil care and biodiversity and species protection – we like to support these enterprises too. We research as much as we can and take care to be alert to ‘green washing’.

How has COVID 19 affected your business?

We opened on 2nd December 2020 which wasn’t in ‘full lockdown’ but we still had Covid restrictions in place (masks, hand sanitising and social distancing) so we actually have little experience of trading outside of ‘Covid times’. We have managed to keep trading throughout the pandemic apart from one day when we had to close due to a staff health alert (this actually turned out to be a false alarm – but better to be cautious we felt!) We’ve had quite a lot of staff juggling to sort out with ‘track and trace’ etc, but between us we’ve managed to keep the shop open. We’ve noticed a few delays with getting goods delivered from suppliers and have had funny phone calls with suppliers working from home with dogs barking in the background and children calling! Sometimes these disruptions make it all a bit more ‘human’ and often it teaches us all to be more patient and accepting.

front of Juniper in Petersfield
Victoria and Vickie outside the shop

What plans do you have for Juniper over the next year or so?

We would like to keep expanding our range of environmentally responsible products. This means continuing to put time and energy into researching, testing and trying things out; which is fun but also time-consuming work. We love finding new products that really work.

Can you tell us why you decided to stock Greenscents?

We have tried lots of cleaning and household liquids over the months before we opened and since opening. Some of them had amazing eco-credentials but didn’t actually work. When we found Greenscents we were so excited to find beautiful products which were made in the UK, not too far from Hampshire, smelt lovely, looked great, were super concentrated, had a high organic content and most importantly for us…. REALLY WORKED!! We get great feedback from our customers and give away little samples for people to try – they come back to make a full purchase pretty swiftly!

If you’re in the Petersfield area and would like to find out about the Juniper refill shop and all the lovely sustainable products you can buy, here is their website