Plastic-Free Spotlight: Nelson Naturals

Nelson Naturals started in the mountain town of Nelson, selling toothpaste at farmer’s markets. It’s a company now growing across Canada, selling toothpaste and other everyday hygiene items with plastic-free containers. Dana, Kevin, and Truckee the dog have been operating as Nelson Naturals for 6 years and answered some of Plastic-Free YYC’s pressing questions about emerging in the industry.
Location: online or at your favourite health food store across Canada!
Instagram / Twitter: @nelsonnaturals

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your products and how your company came about?

You can’t talk about Nelson Naturals without first talking about Nelson! If you aren’t familiar with the quaint city of Nelson BC, let us fill you in. Imagine a town of only 10,000 people, tucked away in the stunning mountains of the interior of BC surrounded by lakes, forests, and hippies. It’s often described as a small town with a big city vibe. It was here in Nelson at the local farmers market where the first jar of Nelson Naturals was sold.

But how did we get to that point? Six years ago the natural toothpaste market was not what it is today. There were really only a few brands to choose from, and in our opinion, none of them had very effective products. So this is where the entrepreneurs brain kicks in and we decided to start making our own. We knew what ingredients we wanted to avoid (fluoride, SLS, glycerin, triclosan), and we knew that our goal was to create a toothpaste that was actually effective, and only used high quality, clean ingredients. This meant a lot of formulating, a lot of research, and a lot of inviting friends over to brush their teeth.

Once we had a formula that we were happy with, we spent a summer selling at the farmers market. This was our first experience with customers trying our products, and the verdict was, they liked them! We were often told it was a very ‘Nelson’ thing to see natural toothpaste being sold at the Farmers Market, so we ran with it.

After the market season had ended we started getting emails from tourists who had visited Nelson in the summer and bought our toothpaste at the market. They had run out of product and wanted to know where they could find more? The simple answer was, they really couldn’t, and that just seemed wrong. So we decided to try and start selling our jars of toothpaste to retailers. We had 3 flavours at that time, Spearmint, Cinnamon, & Fennel.

Our approach was very grassroots; We would get in our minivan with our dog and a few cases of toothpaste and we drove around to health food stores all over BC and convinced (and sometimes pleaded with) the buyers to list Nelson Naturals. It was not always an easy “yes”, in fact, we heard the word NO quite a bit more than we had hoped, but we remained determined and stayed positive. Eventually the YES’s began to add up, and before we knew it Nelson Naturals was available at stores across BC and Alberta.  Now, all these years (and a few minivans) later, we are humbled to find our products in both small towns, and bustling city centres across Canada.

What is your biggest driver for being sustainable?

We are continually inspired by the growing community of people around the world who are determined to help reduce plastic waste. We are in the midst of a movement, a shift in the way we view consuming, and we feel very privileged to be a part of it. We feel it’s our obligation as a company to contribute and to help educate consumers so that they can make smarter choices for their families and for the world.

For example, being able to work with and provide products for the new generation of ‘bulk’ stores is something that we are very proud of. These refillery & apothecary style stores that are popping up across Canada are providing consumers with an opportunity to make small changes by being able to purchase products in bulk, without any single use plastics. All you need to do is step into one of these stores, and the inspiration will just about knock you over.

How would you differentiate your products from other sustainable alternatives? What sets them apart?

Plastic-Free is one of Nelson Naturals main company ethos and has been since day one when we started selling toothpaste in jars back in 2012. With our newest product Crush & Brush, we are proud to offer fully biodegradable packaging in place of the traditional plastic toothpaste tubes we all grew up with. We are actively helping to divert millions of plastic tubes from our oceans and landfills, while simultaneously raising awareness of the negative impacts of single use plastics.

What is one thing you have done at your company to drive sustainability that other businesses could replicate as best practice?

We have end to end waste reduction measures implemented throughout our manufacturing process and all of our shipping and packing materials are paper-based, 100% plastic-free, and re-purposed whenever possible. We ask our distributors to implement these same principles throughout the entire distribution chain as well. By asking your suppliers and distributors to pack and ship using less, or no plastic is a simple way to encourage them to be more sustainable themselves. Initiating a conversation is always the first step to change.

What have you done outside of work to live a more sustainable life?

We try to live by the saying, “practice, not perfection” when it comes to zero waste and sustainability. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed so we try to adopt small changes in our daily life and go from there.

Changes in the kitchen are big for us, since we love food. We have been using metal straws for years, and we kicked the paper towel habit a few years ago as well. Shopping at the local farmers markets, and buying locally grown food when we can is very important to us. We have a decent garden of our own, and growing herbs is a must. It’s very hard to find fresh herbs in the grocery store that do not come in a plastic clam-shell container… it’s much more satisfying to walk into your garden and pick your own.

Which sustainable action or change you’ve made in your life are you most proud of?

Honestly, the reusable coffee cup sounds like such an easy switch but it was one of the hardest for us. It is so easy to pop into a coffee shop when you are travelling or on the run and forget your cup, so finding a cup that we loved and keeping it with us ALL the time was a big step.

What is your “guilty” habit that just isn’t very sustainable? How do you plan to change it if you could?

We drive our car a lot. It’s just one of those things that’s hard to avoid doing. It takes quite a bit more planning to walk (especially in a mountain town where roads are very steep) but we are working on it.

Can you provide your top tips for others trying to lead more sustainable lives and reduce their waste?

  1. Baby Steps. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure.
  2. Don’t be scared to try something totally new to you (like beeswax wraps, or toothpaste in a jar)… stepping outside your comfort zone is where we grow.
  3. Making changes doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy more stuff… in fact, sometimes it just means saying NO to something that you already have a replacement for. For example, take some of your regular cutlery with you when you travel, you don’t need a fancy new bamboo set of cutlery to be more sustainable.

Bonus: Share the love – Which businesses besides your wonderful company would you recommend to help people reduce their waste?

Routine- we love love love their products and they can be refilled. Brush Naked- bamboo toothbrushes. Any store with a focus on refilling: The Apothecary in Inglewood, & NADA are some of our faves.