21, February 2023
Indie Spotlight: Oat Float, Bristol
Today we’re throwing our Indie Spotlight on something a little different: a mobile zero waste shop. Based in Bristol, Oat Float is a colourful vintage milk float that delivers plastic-free refill products directly to customers’ doors (and containers!). We caught owner Matt on a break from his busy rounds to find out more about his brilliant business.
Tell us about you – when did Oat Float open and what inspired you to set up shop?
Oat Float opened in May 2021, with the goal of making it easier for people to buy their groceries without the plastic packaging which might last in the environment for centuries. Looking around supermarkets these days, it is difficult to find anything that isn’t wrapped (or double wrapped!) in plastic. We wanted to make it easier for people who are trying to reduce their plastic footprint by bringing the refill shop to our customers’ doorsteps.
The Oat Float is a converted 70s electric milk float that operates in North Bristol. We offer both in-person shopping at the float, or a doorstep delivery service refilling our customers' containers and popping them back on their doorstep (just like the milkman used to do!). We stock a wide range of pantry staples, toiletries and household essentials - from porridge oats to shampoo, pasta to laundry detergent, coffee to washing up liquid.
Customers bring their reusable containers to the float, or leave them out for us to refill, helping to avoid a huge amount of single-use plastic packaging ending up in landfill or being shipped overseas.
What’s been the most surprising or unexpected thing about running your business?
Refilling your existing jars, bottles, bags and tubs is a different way of shopping (and inevitably involves more faff than buying something pre-wrapped). But it has been so satisfying to see just how motivated our customers are to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use. If we all make small changes to the way we shop, and if we showcase more sustainable ways of shopping through reuse, refilling will become more mainstream. And that’s what we want to see happen!
Children love the Oat Float! Not only our quirky milk float, but also the process - often they’ll have their own little containers and they’ll be allowed to choose something to put in it, whether that be raisins, or pistachio nuts, or even noodles! They understand why plastic is damaging our environment and why we need to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce, so it is great for them to be able to see that put into practice, hopefully inspiring them to be the refillers of the future!
Talk us through your product range, how do you select which brands and products to stock?
We have two sides to the float. On one side we have a wide range of dry foods: pasta, rice, pulses, cereals, dried fruit, nuts, coffee, oils – your pantry staples. And then on the other side, it’s all about toiletries and household essentials: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soaps, laundry liquid, fabric softener and cleaning products. Everything we sell is without plastic packaging, with the vast majority having no packaging at all. Customers bring their containers and we refill them, allowing them to reuse their existing jars, bottles, bags and tubs many times over.
We love brands that support this model and ideally ones that work in a closed-loop, meaning they allow the return of the containers in which they ship their products, to be used again, thus reducing waste in the supply chain as well.
We’re also really proud to support local makers and producers; we stock locally roasted coffee and handmade reusable sandwich wraps.
We love that you put a focus on zero-waste and refills, are customers receptive to changing their shopping habits?
Yes definitely! So many people have started shopping in this way at the Oat Float and it is fantastic to see them build up their collection of containers. Household liquids like laundry detergent and toiletries like shampoo & conditioner are great starting points as we all already have bottles we can reuse. What is brilliant to see is how these small beginnings can lead to much more; many of our customers now fill up on a wide range of pantry staples, toiletries and household essentials at the float. And every refill makes a difference.
What are your favourite Faith In Nature products / your customer’s favourites?
Grapefruit & Orange is the Oat Float customers’ favourite fragrance - we stock Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash and Hand & Body Lotion and all are popular. Most customers refill their original Faith In Nature bottles (there are some pretty old ones still going strong!) but the new Faith In Nature aluminium refillable bottles are also proving popular for those starting their refill journey. Loose soaps also sell really well - aloe vera being the best-selling scent.
What do you love about your local area?
Bristol is a very green-minded city and I love the fact that so many people care passionately about the environment, both on a local level and globally. There is a thriving network of like-minded businesses in the area who are really supportive of one another. We stock a number of products produced by other local businesses, who are all willing to support our packaging-free model. For example, our coffee is locally-roasted in small batches, packed in reusable bags, and picked up on foot.
Where is your go-to nature spot?
Leigh Woods is a wonderful place for a nature fix; it’s just over the Clifton Suspension Bridge and flanking the Avon Gorge, but a world away from the hustle and bustle. Walking, bird-watching and taking in the views - we love it!
What is one simple sustainable swap someone can do straight away?
The bathroom is a great place to start as most people already have bottles that can be reused; keep hold of empty shampoo and conditioner bottles and start refilling. You’ll be surprised at how long these bottles will last – and each refill means one less plastic bottle used.
Any exciting plans for the future of Oat Float?
We’re passionate about reducing plastic waste through refilling so we’re focused on making this as accessible as possible. We now offer a doorstep delivery service that allows customers to leave out their containers for us to refill while they are out, perfect if you’re not able to make it to the Oat Float in person and it saves you from having to carry heavy containers to a refill shop.
Find Faith In Nature refill stores across the UK with our stockist map. We support independent retailers of any size, so if you are considering stocking Faith In Nature in your store, enquire about opening a Trade account here.