Side view of the Skhaftin bus, with baskets of vegetables hung outside

7 May 2021

In Johannesburg, a zero-waste grocery bus saves money as well as packaging

The Skhaftin bus, named for a South African word for lunchbox, is a converted school bus that sells dried foods like rice, beans, porridge, spices and sugar, as well as fresh produce from a local farm, all at reasonable prices. People bring their own containers and fill them from bulk bins.

Skhaftin started driving through Johannesburg's Inner City in March — a WhatsApp group lets customers know when the bus will be visiting their part of town. Zero waste options already existed for eco-minded residents of the city's wealthier areas, but the concept is equally suited to people with few rands to spend. Selling by the gram lets customers purchase smaller amounts when money is tight, buying what they need that day or week.

Repurposed buses bringing groceries to under-served neighborhoods isn't new: for more inspiration, check out Boston's Fresh Truck and Chicago's Fresh Moves, which both focus on fruit and vegetables, and the Twin Cities Mobile Market. And supermarkets on wheels were once a familiar sight in the Netherlands (remaining trucks mainly serve rural areas and saw a jump in sales during pandemic lockdowns).

With their specific focus on zero waste, bulk food buses like Skhaftin, Vrac'ment Bon in Belgium and the Bulk Food Truck in L.A. (coming soon!) should do well in other countries, too, attracting consumers on a budget as well as those looking to reduce their packaging footprint.

Related: Refillable bottles of cleaning & personal care products, delivered by bike in Amsterdam

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