As North Americans grudgingly adjust to bringing their own bags to grocery stores, a German grocer is requiring customers come armed with glass jars and reusable containers – and they’re happy to oblige.
Original Unverpackt (Original Unpackaged, in English) is a zero-waste grocery store that opened its flagship location in Berlin in the summer of 2014. Fruits and vegetables are bereft of any plastic wrappings, while grains and cereals, for instance, have shed their individual packaging and are kept in gravity containers (think breakfast buffet cereal dispensers). Soaps, oils, detergent and other liquids are also kept in large containers.
The store is gloriously, astoundingly free of the flashy plastic packaging that defines most everything you buy in a typical grocery store.
Of course, this also means pricing works a little differently. Containers are weighed and marked on entry to the store. When you weigh your items at checkout, the initial weight of the container is deducted, so you’re only paying for what you eat.
Forget your containers? Grabbing something on the way home? No problem. The store has reusable containers available and can provide recycled paper bags if necessary.
From Popcorn to Mouthwash
Original Unverpackt lists its products on its website. It’s got everything from popcorn to mouthwash, quinoa to something Google translates as “Nibble Crunchy.” Primarily buying local products allows the store to cut down on packaging used in the supply chain, which also reduces prices.
What’s not clear from their website is if the store sells meat or fish. And, based on the list, whether it’s intended to be a one-stop shop, in the way that a big-box grocery store is. Is the idea to cut down on waste by getting essentials from Original Unverpackt, or is it meant to replace all other food shopping? Its seems it would be difficult to replicate something like a carton of ice cream or a post-workout protein bar in a bulk, package-free setting while still maintaining health and safety standards.
The concept attracted worldwide attention, but it’s not the first attempt of its kind. Texas store in.gredients tried out a similar “weigh and pay” model, but according to its website, it is shifting away from package free and only keeping its most popular bulk items. It identified three major challenges of package-free: certain popular products, such as chips, only come in packages; flashy and informative advertising helps attract people to unfamiliar products; and “visualizing quantities” can be challenging. As it explains, “When a customer sees tea priced at $45.00/lb the initial thought is, ‘Wow! That’s expensive,’ but a pound of tea makes approximately 226 servings of tea, so it comes out to only $0.20/cup for high quality tea.”
Unpackaged, a store in Hackney, England, that was attached to a bar and restaurant, folded after a year, according to a 2013 article. A site that appears to be linked to that initiative says an “exciting collaborative project” will be launching this month.
Widespread media coverage of Original Unverpackt took place before or immediately after its 2014 opening, so it’s unclear how the store has been received – although it was given a warm reception. Innovate Development has reached out to the store’s owners, Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski, and will update this article when more information becomes available.
The video below is in German, but the concepts will be clear to anyone.