Pioneering the possible: in.gredients is a collaborative effort between business, community, and consumers with the goal of eliminating food-related waste while supporting local businesses and farmers.
Over 700,000 tons of garbage is placed in American landfills on a daily basis, of which single-use packaging makes up nearly 40%. So far, for any individual customer there does not seem to be a way to legally or socially-acceptably eliminate this waste of material – in every sense of the word –from grocery shopping.
For years, the Lane brothers as well as two business partners kept looking for ways to live more sustainably. After realizing that waste is actually just a human invention, they each started home gardens, they composted, recycled, and more importantly re-used as much as possible, weeding out unnecessary waste. While they were able to reduce their households’ waste by more than 50%, they could not overcome one major hurdle: groceries.
The team’s goal is no less than to “revolutionize grocery shopping as we know it”. Reducing waste by ditching packaging altogether is only one aspect of the ambitious project. Customers will be allowed – or rather encouraged – to bring their own reusable containers to pack their groceries. Moreover, the community-oriented store only offers local, organic products and hosts events such as cooking and gardening classes to promote sustainability.
When it comes to the product range, in.gredients resembles an ordinary supermarket. They stock fresh produce, grains, baking supplies, oils, dairy, meat, beer and wine, as well as household cleaners. The difference is the absence of packaging, as well as the limited choice when it comes to different brands. As the team puts it: “We are a grocery store in scope and corner store in scale. We carry everything from meat to wine to produce in a small, efficient space.”
Products are chosen following very strict guidelines: Suppliers must abstain from genetically-modified seeds, and locality or at least independent ownership is a must.
As products are displayed in bulk, customers are asked to bring their own reusable containers (or to buy one of the reusable and compostable containers on offer in-store). The first time a container is brought to the store, it is weighed and labeled with a permanent mark indicating its tare weight. Customers are then free to stock up on groceries in any quantity they need, and the filled container is again weighed at the check-out.
Two years into the realization of their project, the five from Austin had to admit that the initial enthusiasm that had allowed to raise over $ 15,000 in seed capital had slightly faded. While the feedback from near and far was still positive, the numbers were not looking good.
The main shortcomings the team names are all related to consumer habits. First of all, they claim that is time is maybe not yet right for pursuing a package-free grocery store so vigorously. Second, branding bulk products is difficult, and some sought-after products are just not feasible for the package-free idea. Third, visualizing quantities is a big issue: Tea priced at $45.00/lb seems very expensive at first – and most customers do not take the time and effort to break it down to about $ 0.20 per cup.
Rather than give up and lament the impossibility of a perfect package free grocery model, in.gredients narrowed their focus to the three core aspects of their initial idea: zero waste, local food, and community. They evaluated all products in their bulk section and made room for some new offerings.
While the in.gredients team is out there to fix a lot of things – packaging waste, education, health, the local food economy – they do not consider themselves or their store the fix-all. Nevertheless, their aim is to show people that shopping sustainably is possible and practical. They hope that by education consumers, those will gain the power and will to change the world.
They already average less landfill per month than an American averages per day.
Furthermore, they give back to the community by raising awareness for a new local non-profit partner every six months. During this time period, they raise awareness about the organization with in store donations and fundraising events. In addition, for every reusable container a customer fills at in.gredients, $ 0.05 are donated.