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Vegan Bulk Store in Amsterdam: Little Plant Pantry

Posted on Mar 27, 2023 by

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Continuing the series of cool initiatives, today I’ll introduce you to Little Plant Pantry, a plant-based bulk shop with a small restaurant in Amsterdam. You’ll find this cosy place on a side street close to Leidseplein – Bosboom Toussaintstraat 45, and, once inside, you’ll be amazed by the multitude of containers and variety of products. The owners, Carolina and Pomi, welcome you with a smile and they can advise you if you need it. Pomi is always busy in the kitchen, preparing the menu of the day and yummy sweets (all vegan). After you are done with the shopping, you can order a coffee and chill for a while. I am a big fan of their coffee, which is served with homemade plant based milk. So delicious! The restaurant has just one big table, where you will often find cheery groups of people or just the one person having their coffee and reading a book.

Little Plant Pantry 01

If you’re a person trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, this place will seem like paradise. It would be amazing if we could have more places like this in every city.

When it first started, in 2019, Little Plant Pantry was all over the news as the first bulk shop in Amsterdam. All the hip people were visiting, in order to post on their channels about this amazing new initiative. Then the pandemic came and the shop barely survived those challenging times. The previous owners felt they couldn’t continue and decided to pass the ownership in 2022 to a new, enthusiast couple: Carolina and Pomi. They are both vegan and trying to live a sustainable life. The couple met in Switzerland in 2014, where they lived for three years. After that, they travelled the world for a while before settling down in Amsterdam, where they wanted to have their own business – something plant-based and sustainable. Taking over Little Plant Pantry was a lucky coincidence. It came to them at the right time.

I had a talk with Carolina to find out more about the shop. We talked over a coffee, at the bar, while Pomi was cooking and a group of young people was having lunch. I loved watching the flow of people coming in to fill containers with goodies, and the chill atmosphere of the place.

Little Plant Pantry 02

Little Plant Pantry is a shop that makes it easier for people to transition from a conventional life to a plastic-free life.

Tell me the story of how you became owners of the Little Plant Pantry.

C: We met the former owners in 2019, two months after they opened the shop. By that time, Pomi and I had a little company – “What’s Growing On”, growing micro greens. Pomi was the one caring for the micro greens and I was more in charge of the administration. Pomi found the Little Plant Pantry one day, by coincidence. He was just going around the neighbourhood and stumbled upon it.
He talked to Winter, the previous owner, who liked the idea of having micro greens in the shop, and we started collaborating. Later, we introduced also the kimchi, sauerkraut and different sauces. We worked together with Little Plant Pantry until 2021, when, in August, they offered us to take over the shop, because they couldn’t do it anymore. Going through the pandemic affected them on a personal and also on a financial level. We took over officially in February last year (2022), with Pomi in charge of the kitchen, because he’s a chef, and me in charge of administration and the shop – receiving customers, offering advice, etc. The start was hard for us as well, as we had to work to bring life back into the shop, but, in the end, we survived our first year. Now we have reached a good point and we are more in control of what we want to do with the shop.

So you had to take over the shop as it was and then develop your new ideas as well.

C: Yeah. Well, the concept is exactly the same, but we are expanding into new products and new events. For example, the cleaning products in bulk were not here, and we started bringing them because we want to offer people not just ingredients, but also everything they need for a sustainable life with minimal waste and plastic-free. We also organised workshops like soap-making and we hope to do more in the future.

Little Plant Pantry - Pomi in the kitchen

What will people find when they come to your shop?

C: They will find a lot of ingredients in bulk. 90% of ingredients are in bulk, and I encourage people to bring their own containers. If they don’t have, we offer containers for free, that other customers have previously left behind to be reused by others. The idea behind is to reuse as much as possible the things that already exist, instead of buying new pots and that kind of stuff. We also offer new containers for people who want to have brand new ones. They can buy them once and then reuse them, bringing them back to fill in with new products. The main idea is to reuse, refill, recycle. Little Plant Pantry is a shop that makes it easier for people to transition from a conventional life to a plastic-free life. We’re not perfect, we can’t offer all the products in the world, but we try to have at least the basic things that people can try.

Little Plant Pantry 04

Why did you want to become owners of this shop? What was the reason for you to do it?

C: Pomi and I wanted to have a business together. We knew that even before coming to Amsterdam, when we were backpacking around the world. We felt we were a good team and wanted something related with food, maybe a restaurant, probably because he’s a chef. And then, the possibility of taking over Little Plant Pantry came at a moment when we were moving towards a plastic-free life. We knew that if we did this, the shop would be a big part of our life, and this shop matched exactly with our values and goals. It felt like it came at the right time. So we decided, okay, if we had the chance to take over a shop that matches with our values, why not?

I also could notice that customers liked this shop and coming here made them feel part of a community, and I wanted to continue with that and offer even better things. I could see that the people care about the shop and it was important for them that this business continues. When we started our journey with Little Plant Pantry, many existing customers told us how glad they were that the shop came back to life and it has a future.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start living a plastic-free, minimal waste life? How should they start?

C: I think the first thing is to change your mindset. Every person is different and has a unique experience when they start a plastic-free life. The first thing is maybe to understand how much impact plastic and the non-sustainable products have on the planet, study a bit, so when they decide, they know exactly why they are doing it. Otherwise, it will not be a lasting change. And then start with the little things, like coming to our shop to see what options we have, get some advice and gradually replace the plastic products with non-plastic ones, start buying in bulk, etc.

Bring your own container and buy little things here and see if that works for you. For example, we have customers who come just for the cooked food and they are not interested in living a plastic-free life; they just like our food. We always advise them, especially the ones that come often, that it’s better if they bring their own container, trying to – I hope this doesn’t sound patronising – educate people. Because one customer said the other day: “Oh, yeah. Never thought about it, this is such a good idea”. So now he’s bringing his own pot. Sometimes you just have to say it, and people realise that it’s a good idea and start making small changes.

Another client came here one day and told us it was his second day of plastic-free life. He is now a regular, coming every week or every two weeks, with his own jars and bags. Other people entered here because they’ve seen the shop while passing by; they have never been thinking about plastic-free. And suddenly they are more interested in this lifestyle. As I said, every person starts the journey in their own way and it’s important that they are doing their best, not striving to be perfect.

“The main challenge though is to bring people to the shop, not just the people who already have this way of living, but to convince the others, who never thought of going plastic-free, minimal waste. We try to present the concepts to people who maybe are not interested and show them another way of shopping and living.”

Tell me about the challenges of running a bulk shop.

C: Constantly refilling of the containers is a lot of work [laughs], because we have to make sure that there is enough product at all times. Then there is the matter of keeping the pests away from the products, which requires constant work and paying attention to every minor change. The rest is basically making sure the suppliers bring all the orders in time.
The main challenge though is to bring people to the shop, not just the people who already have this way of living, but to convince the others, who never thought of going plastic-free, minimal waste. We try to present the concepts to people who maybe are not interested and show them another way of shopping and living.

Little Plant Pantry 05

Where do you source the products you have in the shop?

C: We work with small local producers like, for example, the people who supply the ciders, bread, the sambal, the empanadas. Then we have the wholesaler producers, which are Dutch companies, but of course they have to import from other countries too. You can’t grow lentils in the Netherlands. It’s very helpful to work with them because they are the ones selecting the producers. They know all the laws and regulations and they make sure that everything they import is in good order, so we don’t have to worry about that.

Which products are selling the most?

C: The best-selling products are the olive oils, the rice and then the nuts, flour, spices.

And which products are your favourites?

C: That is very hard to choose, but I think I’ll choose the home-made sweets, like the cheesecake and tiramisu.

How about the food that you serve in the restaurant? Do you have a fixed menu?

C: We have a menu that we change every two months or so. Now, actually, Pomi is working on the new menu. We do it like this because we have a small kitchen and if we changed every week, it would be crazy for us. We have to think about the cost of the ingredients and where do we source them. It’s not always very straight forward. For example, we used to have this company that would deliver fresh vegetables every week, plastic-free, but unfortunately they went bankrupt. It’s not easy for companies that are trying to do things differently. And it’s sad because we had organic vegetables for the restaurant and also for our clients. Now we have to look for alternatives and we might not find something so convenient; maybe we’ll need to get the different veggies from different sources.

Little Plant Pantry 06

What is your vision for the future of Little Plant Pantry?

C: We would like to have a bigger space first, so we can have larger containers for the products. Also, we hope to sell more through our online shop that delivers in the entire Netherlands.
And I want Little Plant Pantry to become a leader in the area of sustainability, to spread the word and educate more. I would like for us to attend the conferences and events in this domain, a thing we can’t do right now because it’s just the two of us working in the shop and we can’t afford to leave. Hopefully, in the future, we can hire more staff and then I can attend all the interesting events and do more on this area of promoting our shop and this way of life. I also like the interaction with people here in the shop, but if we want to grow I need to have the freedom to move more.

You can visit Little Plant Pantry from Wednesday to Sunday, or check out their website and online shop.

Little Plant Pantry

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for introducing us to Little Plant Pantry, the ultimate haven for sustainable living in Amsterdam! 🌿🌍 It’s heartwarming to hear about Carolina and Pomi’s journey, and how they’ve taken the reins of this wonderful initiative. Their passion for plant-based living and sustainability truly shines through.

    I can almost taste the delicious coffee served with homemade plant-based milk while imagining the cozy, communal atmosphere. The shop’s story, from its buzzworthy start to its resilience during the pandemic, is inspiring. Here’s to hoping more places like Little Plant Pantry sprout up in cities everywhere! 🌱

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