Austin, the birthplace of natural food behemoth Whole Foods, is leading the way in eco-friendly grocery shopping again with the opening of in.gredients, the first zero-waste, packaging-free grocery store in the nation.
Tentatively scheduled to open this fall, in.gredients will allow customers to buy as much or as little grocery and house products as they need as everything in the store is offered in bulk. Shoppers are also encouraged to bring their own containers to carry their goods; however, compostable containers are offered by the store if necessary. Empty containers are weighed first, filled, then weighed again at the cashiers before paying.
The concept of package-free coincides with the founding pillar of the Slow Food movement, which believes people should buy local produce from regional farmers and leave as little impact on the environment as possible. It isn’t necessarily a new concept; in fact it’s so old and removed from our culture that people seem to have forgotten that commerce used to be conducted this way — with people determining how much they need of something and buying it directly from a supplier.
However, Austin, which is rated 10th in the “Top 10 green cities” by Mother Nature Network, is trying to change the way citizens think about how the world runs and the impact our habits have on the environment.
In 2007, the Austin City Council passed a resolution that directed the city to begin taking action toward becoming a carbon neutral city by 2020. However, one of the key components to this plan rests outside the city’s reach — citizen participation. That’s where in.gredients steps in and makes environmentally conscious consuming easy and accessible.
The founders of Brothers Lane, LLC, which consists of brothers and UT business alumni Christian, Patrick and Joseph Lane, are the men behind the concept for in.gredients.
Originally, it was supposed to be a store that offered beer and wine in bulk.
“We’re entrepreneurs by nature and we’re constantly looking for ways to create more sustainable habits,” said Christian Lane, co-founder of in.gredients and Brothers Lane. “The more we looked into the bulk alcohol concept, we realized that we could do this, but include everything, not just alcohol.”
In.gredients sells the same produce and products — grains, meat, fruits and vegetables and cleaning products — as larger chain grocery stories such as H-E-B or Whole Foods. However, they are not expecting to compete with these chains, Lane said.
Rather than open next to a major chain grocer for competition, the store targets areas known as food deserts, where healthy, affordable food is hard to come by; it plans to open in East Austin, which has more taquerias per square mile than grocery stores.
“We want to bring back the neighborhood grocer and get into areas where good food is missing,” Lane said. “There are convenient stores filled with junk food, but not neighborhood grocery stores with good quality food.”
Along with his mission for it to be a neighborhood store, Lane said he hopes to build a sense of community through in.gredients by funding $15,000 of the store through crowd funding, which consists of donations from various people that are interested in a certain project or idea.
“Our business is throwing in a good chunk of money as well as some investors, but the crowd funding component gives us a sense of community ownership,” Lane said. “The things we’re going to fund with that money are the demonstration garden, rainwater harvesting and those kinds of things.”
The second and perhaps main goal of in.gredients is to become a zero-waste business by prioritizing the axiom “reduce, reuse, recycle” and integrating it as the foundation of their business model.
“We work with our vendors so that we can send back packaging to reuse them for shipping or we find ways to repurpose them,” Lane said. “If anything does go bad we compost it, but the step before composting is to use the food before it goes bad. We either give it away to some organization or make smoothies or prepare it before it spoils.”
Something people have a hard time believing, Lane said, is that healthy, organic food can actually be affordable. However, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that at least 90 percent of the price of something, such as bottled water, is for bottling, packaging, shipping and marketing.
“The per unit price actually ends up being more affordable,” Lane said. “Because you’re not paying for the packaging or the marketing, just the ingredients.”
By simply cutting out packaging, the store is already eliminating a huge chunk of the country’s waste. About 31 percent, almost 77 thousand tons, of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. is from containers and packaging, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Although in.gredients isn’t physically standing yet — the exact grand opening date and location have not been released yet — there is a noticeable tone of excitement in Lane’s voice as he considers the future.
“Ultimately, I think we’re going to do some good things,” Lane said. “And in the end that’s what we want to do, we want to do good.”
Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Green business