Gympie farmers going plastic bag free

The NRA have been travelling across Queensland over the past few months, from the Gold Coast to Port Douglas, helping retailers manage the plastic bag ban transition.

While in Gympie, the NRA heard about a popular local grocery store and café run by a family of farmers who have gone to great lengths to remove plastic bags from their business.

The NRA met with Sharla Watson and Trena Waugh, owner-operators of Farmer and Sun (grocery store) and Cafe by Farmer and Sun, for a quick Q & A.

Q. What is your business doing in terms of moving away from plastic bags?
In our grocery store, Farmer and Sun, we have replaced all single use plastic bags available to customers to put produce in to (for example, loose apples, oranges, potatoes etc), with brown paper bags. Instead of plastic carry bags, we only use paper bags, recycled boxes and we also sell reusable bags.

Our Cafe uses all paper take away containers, including take away coffee cups. Since 1 July 2017 we offer smoothies in a mason jar for an extra 50c so you can take your smoothie home with you. Customers can also return their mason jar and refill it, receiving a discount. We also sell Keep Cups, made in Melbourne, so we offer a 50c discount on all coffees purchased when using a Keep Cup.

Q. What did your business do previously?
Previously we had the rolls of plastic bags for produce and plastic carry bags at the register.

Q. Can you briefly outline the transition process?
As a family of farmers, supporting local and reducing waste has always been important to us – so the decision was easy.

The transition was a little difficult, obviously gauging when to use up all the plastic and make the switch to paper. We contacted our packaging supplier, who was more than happy to get on board with the switch.

In terms of our customers, some were quite against our decision to make the switch, so we spent a fair bit of time explaining to customers the reasoning behind our decision. Over time they’ve all adjusted and now it’s something our customers are quite proud to support.

Q. Why has your business decided to do this?
As a family, we care about the environment, having grown up on a farm and providing for ourselves with our fruit and vegetables so damage to the environment and waste is a huge factor to us.

Q. Is the change supported by staff?
Yes. We have quite an extensive range of staff working for us now, and each and every one of them is on board. Some of our staff were the initial reason we considered the change! It’s great to have a committed and interested team behind us at Farmer and Sun.

Q. What kinds of reactions have you had from your customers?
Most positive, some negative. When we initially made the switch, we had a fair bit of negative feedback from customers, as our previously plastic packaged goods (such as beans), weren’t visible, as they were packaged in a brown paper bag.

We’re not new to business so we expected some resistance to change, but our customers have adapted and are now not only accepting, but supportive of our decision.

Q. How do you expect the changes to impact your business financially?
When making the decision to switch, we made sure our packaging supplier got the most competitive prices possible. Obviously paper costs more than plastic, so financially it has affected us. But we are committed to our decision and are happy to absorb this cost.

By offering reusable bags for sale and encouraging customers to bring their own bags (and Keep Cups in the café) we have also been able to reduce the quantity of packaging we give out – which has financial advantages.

The other thing is that making a stand, and marketing it, has given us a real point of difference which has improved our popularity and visibility in the area.

Q. Is there any advice you can offer for other retailers?
We introduced ‘plastic free July’ to launch the change, and offered a 5% discount for the full month if customers brought their own bags (to save the use of our paper bags for packaging their orders at the register). It was a simple and cost-effective incentive to help customers to get on board.

Sharla Watson was awarded The Gympie Times Marketing Excellence Award and the Kilkivan Meats Young Gun Woman of Excellence at the 2016 Gympie Women in Business awards. Sharla was also recently awarded Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2017 Gympie Business Awards.

Farmer and Sun and Café by Farmer and Sun is located at Southside Town Centre in Gympie. Find out more about their business at:


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