The Package-Free Pantry: Fair-Well in London Delivers Bulk Organic Staples

Charlie The Fair Well bulk food and supplies van London.

Concerned about your household’s single-use plastic and other packaging waste? The package-free movement has been gathering momentum: bulk goods stores and farmers market stands have been cropping up all over, and most groceries now have bulk sections—all of which allow customers to fill up their own containers. But does carrying your own jars and marking tares feel like a mission impossible? Fair-Well in London is out to make package-free shopping much easier.

Three years ago, the two friends purchased a 1970s electric “milk float,” a milk van that they named Charlie and converted into a home delivery shop of bulk organic comestibles and staples, such as compostable cling wrap and coconut dog shampoo bars. Charlie roves London making scheduled stops and spreading the word about mindful ways to consume. Customers, including designer Mark Lewis who tipped us off about Charlie, place orders online at Fair-Well. They then come greet the truck or leave out empties on their doorstep to be picked up and refilled. Come see how it works.

Photography courtesy of Fair-Well.

Jerilee and Claire of Fair-Well, London cleaning their delivery truck, Charlie.
Above: Fair-Well co-founder, Claire, and team member Jo, polish Charlie, a vintage, 100-percent electric “milk float” (the vehicles were so named because they float through neighborhoods soundlessly). The business, they note, is a social enterprise “inspired by the way the previous generation food shopped: locally, without plastic, and with a much more custom approach.”
Charlie The Fair Well bulk food and supplies van London.
Above: Charlie is fitted with a wide range of food and household staples, including rice, oats, pasta, quinoa, beans, cereal, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, oils, vinegar, herbs, tea, and coffee, as well as beauty and household products (linseed floor cleaner, anyone?).

Fair-Well sources its offerings largely from food co-ops—among them: Infinity Foods, Planet Minimal, and Suma Wholefoods—and applies “strict criteria to ensure the products we offer reflect our values.” Fair-Well only works with businesses whose “supply chains are ethical and fully traceable…The day Fair-Well was born, we made a promise to always put our values before profit.”

Charlie The Fair Well bulk food and supplies van London.
Above: Charlie makes stops in specific London neighborhoods—check out the Fair-Well catchment area—and welcomes orders from individuals as well as groups (you can jump in and add to your neighbor’s order). There are no minimums and the advance ordering is just so the truck is stocked—you can add or subtract on Charlie’s arrival. Delivery is included and pricing is intended to make the service as approachable as possible.

Charlie The Fair Well bulk food and supplies van London. Cofounder Claire decanting olive oil.
Above: Claire decants olive oil. Fair-Well’s own olive oil containers get collected, washed, and reused by their supplier.

“We have never claimed to be a ‘zero waste’ shop,” Claire writes on the Fair-Well site. “As a business, we have some waste and we are always transparent about this. For example, we buy our range of muesli, oats, rice, pulses, and grains in bulk, in 15-25 kg paper bags. Similarly, our dried fruits, pasta, and nuts come in 6-20 kg liner bags and cardboard boxes, which are collected by our council recycling scheme.”

Charlie, the Fair-Well bulk food and supplies truck, London. Team member Susan shown here.
Above: Fair-Well team member Susan puts together a delivery. Customers supply their own bins and containers, and are encouraged to make use of what they already have lying around—in their recycling bins, for instance.
Bulk food delivery from Fair-Well in London in the owner's own containers.
Above: A Fair-Well delivery.
Bulk food delivery from Fair-Well in London in the customer's own containers.
Above: The company refills customers’ own containers of all sorts, and doesn’t offer backup options: “You can reuse what you have at home, which could be Tupperware, jars, empty bottles…,” they write. “If we were to offer paper bags, we feel we would simply be moving rather than solving the problem.”
Fair-Well in London reused jars as food storage.
Above: Pantry inspiration from Fair-Well. Follow the company @fair_well_london.

In the US, find nationwide lists of stores offering bulk shopping at Litterless and Bea Johnson’s  Zero Waste Home.

For more on reducing household waste, see:

N.B.: This post was first published on Remodelista on Oct. 3, 2022.

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