Dessie Maliaka

Dessie Maliaka

Green e-commerce startup Sustainably Stocked is using its home city of Halifax to dial in its marketing and logistics strategies with the goal of later expanding to other Canadian cities.

Co-founders Dessie Maliaka and Adam Olsen sell kitchen staples like almonds, salt and sugar in reusable glass or compostable paper containers to reduce plastic waste.

Maliaka said in an interview that, growing up in South Africa, she saw firsthand the harmful effects of plastic pollution. Olsen, meanwhile, was shocked by the amount of plastic garbage he saw on beaches during a trip to East Asia. When the two began debating what type of business to start, their experiences inspired them to focus on plastic waste as a key area of concern.

“One of the things we noticed very early on in our discussions was how pervasive problems can be in first-world countries like Canada, where those issues aren’t really obvious to us... like plastic pollution,” Maliaka said. “We’re in a very beautiful part of the world, and we don’t get all the huge issues that come with the way we consume as a society... but it’s still a very big problem.”

The Stocked online store allows visitors to place food orders and have the products delivered to their doors. Eventually, the founders hope to merge the online ordering features of retailers like Amazon with the crowd-sourced delivery-driver model of Uber Eats and its competitors.

The food can be delivered either in reusable glass jars or in paper bags, depending on whether the customer already has storage containers.

“We’re really trying to enable people to lean into the ‘use and reuse’ model, rather than the ‘use and throw away’ model,” said Maliaka.

She added that she and Olsen are working on a strategy for protecting the paper bags in inclement weather, which may include drop-boxes on customers' properties.

But she said that delivery routes are carefully planned to avoid fuel wastage, and a side effect is that customers know when their orders will be delivered with a greater degree of precision than is the case with most e-commerce platforms. The result is that buyers can often take paper bags inside before they get wet or suffer other damage.

Maliaka said that because Stocked is in the early stages of growth, they don’t yet employ contractors to complete deliveries. But they recently hired their first employee, an experienced marketer who has also invested in the business.

As the company eventually expands into other cities, Maliaka and Olsen plan to hire site managers to adapt their business model for each new market, such as by developing local supply chains in each region.

“People are interested in pumping money back into their local communities,” said Maliaka. “We’re going to do the best we can to make sure that we’re keeping a consistent range of products as we start growing across Canada... and to our ability, source those locally from people in the provinces.”

Stocked previously competed in the finals of the 2020 Volta Cohort startup competition, but was not among the five startups that won $25,000 each.

Maliaka and Olsen are now eyeing participation in Toronto’s Next 36 virtual accelerator, which is targeted at students and recent graduates. Maliaka holds a 2018 MBA from the University of Toronto, and Olsen graduated from Saint Mary’s University with an undergraduate degree in commerce and marketing in 2016.

“The mindset that we’re trying to get everyone to believe is that they do have an effect,” said Maliaka. “And while you might not see the effects of how we live and how you consume on the earth, they are definitely there, so they’re definitely not something that we should be ignoring until it's almost too late to reverse the consequences.”