Don’t Mess with Texas: Package-Free Grocery Store Raises Bar0

Laurie Stark | Wed Feb 8 2012 |

The city of Austin, Texas is on a mission: spearhead a zero-waste initiative and reduce the city’s landfill waste by 90 percent by the year 2040.

Although some might scoff at such a lofty goal, brothers and entrepreneurs Christian and Joseph Lane believe they can improve the local food economy and decrease landfill waste with their new business in.gredients—the first package-free and zero-waste grocery store in the United States.

The in.gredients model is simple: customers bring containers from home (or buy them in the store) and fill them with grains, spices, oils, coffees, teas, dairy, beer, wine, and household cleaners and pay for only how much they buy.

The store will be located in what’s traditionally been an urban food desert of Austin, bringing healthy and sustainable options to a community in need.

“We want to bring back the neighborhood grocer and get into areas where good food is missing,” says Christian.

Getting started

The startup was funded in part by a successful online fundraising campaign, raising over $15,000. And though the grand opening has been delayed due to construction, the team isn’t sitting still.

The store has already hosted several volunteer days, fueling participants with local coffee and tacos as they install radiant barriers and ship out prizes to people who donated to the campaign. They’ve also hosted a documentary screening, a costume party, and several other neighborhood events.

Americans use one billion non-biodegradable plastic bags every year and packaging accounts for five percent of the total weight of shoppers’ grocery baskets.

“We’ve enjoyed spending time meeting our neighbors and local community by hosting events and volunteer days at the unfinished store, which has been a lot of fun,” says in.gredients team member Brian Nunnery.

And though they’ve yet to open, the buzz is already deafening with writeups in The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Rolling Stone.

What’s more, the store’s social media accounts are already atwitter and the in.gredients blog is in full swing with alternative recipes for packaged food—like homemade chocolate syrup—as well as tips for a zero-waste kitchen, like how to make use of the stems and leaves of broccoli.

Why it matters

Americans use one billion non-biodegradable plastic bags every year and a recent study found that food packaging accounted for five percent of the total weight of shoppers’ grocery baskets. That’s one of the many reasons the Lane brothers are focused on promoting precycling—a model that focuses more on reducing and reusing, and less on the recycling.

“We care about the health of our customers and our local food economy,” Lane says. “We’re prioritizing ‘reduce, reuse, then recycle’. [...] We hope this can springboard new ideas [to] make grocery shopping even more sustainable.”

Scalable solutions

The store’s team says the response has been tremendous. With sustainability already a major goal for Austin, patronizing a package-free grocery makes sense for many of the city residents. And it doesn’t stop there.

People around the country are already asking about franchising opportunities, seeking advice for starting their own package-free store, and asking when a branch of in.gredients will open in their city.

The team says there are several expansion models they are considering and have designed their business model to be scalable.

“We’ll get there,” Lane said. “We’re thankful for the kudos we’ve received. Clearly, Americans are ready for a store like in.gredients.”

in.gredients won’t change the world—you will.

Lane says that people who want to create a store like in.gredients and are wondering where to start should give the team a call.

“in.gredients has been a great learning process for us, our vendors, and our future customers,” says Lane. “Planning and executing a store like ours helps educate everyone involved on ways to reduce waste and promote sustainability.”

A step in the right direction

The in.gredients team says their store isn’t the magic bullet that will save the world. Though the store will source locally as much as possible, the system won’t always be perfect. And while they will strive to carry the widest selection of products they can, many of us are accustomed to a wider selection of food than is reasonable in a given season, climate, and geographic location.

“If we help lessen our dependence on oil and rock the packaging industry’s boat a bit, great,” says the team on their website, “but that’s icing on the cake. in.gredients won’t change the world—you will.”

Illustration by Jing Wei