Plastic-free grocery-delivery startup Zero is gearing up to launch in Los Angeles on February 10, after solely operating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Zero works directly with suppliers to sell food and other household items in jars, boxes and other types of sustainable packaging, and offers next-day delivery.
Zero works with both big-name brands like Sightglass Coffee, Annie’s and Newman’s Own, as well as emerging vendors that are focused on sustainability, like Planet FWD, founded by Zume co-founder Julia Collins.
Zero members pay $25 per month to access discounted prices on food along with free deliveries. Zero is also available without a subscription, but prices on individual items cost a bit more, and delivery costs $7.99.
I’ve used Zero a couple of times and overall had a pleasant experience. The selection of food is pretty good, but I wasn’t able to find certain types of items like tortilla chips and mandarin oranges. On the plus side, Zero sells my favorite candy of all-time, Tony’s Chocolonely.
In total, Zero founder and CEO Zuleyka Strasner says there are just over 1,100 different items available in the store.
That’s partly because of the leg work that’s required to ensure the food manufactures are meeting Zero’s internal standards for packaging. In the case of chicken, Zero has worked directly with butchers to ensure they package it in compostable paper, which then goes into a compostable resealable bag, Strasner said. That took a lot of time, effort, energy and technology, she said.
Zero does allow plastic at some point in the supply chain process but ensures that plastic is not passed on to consumers. Using chicken as an example again, the chicken starts at the farm and then must travel to one of Zero’s butcher networks and then to a facility to get packaged and processed.
“So those farms and those parts of that transportation process do oftentimes involve plastic in there,” Strasner said. “And as the company grows, we get involved more and more and more into changing more and more of the processes and removing more and more of the plastic for each of our new manufacturing suppliers. So it’s always a journey for each farm, to start with that product going out to the customer plastic-free and then working backwards backwards backwards to removing more and more and more plastics.”
While it would be ideal for all of Zero’s partners to operate fully plastic-free, Strasner said it was important to make it as easy as possible for farms, suppliers and other stakeholders to get on board, “rather than setting up a set of rules and regulations that say either you’re plastic-free from the minute the chicken gets slaughtered all the way to getting it to the customer,” she said.
“That would not create the shift in the industry that we’re looking to create.”
The idea for Zero started to come into fruition for Strasner during her honeymoon in the Corn Islands in Nicaragua. During her trip, she was shocked at how much single-use plastic washed up on the shore, she told TechCrunch. Meanwhile, she had seen the zero-waste, anti-plastic movement growing and began to wonder what would happen if she went plastic-free. Going plastic-free made her think more about the supply chain and how foods are packed in the country, she said.
Given her background in technology, she began to think about how technology could be applied to the problem of plastic waste, “which must be solved within the next seven to 10 years,” she said. “Time is truly finite here and that’s the mission I decided to undertake.”
Zero began testing in 2018 and officially launched in November 2019. The majority of Zero’s customers are members and, overall, the company has “many, many thousands of customers,” Strasner said.
To date, Zero has raised $4.7 million in funding from investors like Precursor Ventures, Backstage Capital, 1984 and others.
“We aim to be and we will be the largest sustainability platform in this country,” Strasner said. “So whatever you need and desire — food, homewares or otherwise, certainly plastic-free but also just sustainable in general — you would come to us. Zero really is a movement beyond just food.”