June 28, 2011 -- That environmentally friendly canvas shopping bag you proudly lug to the grocery store is about to get a lot more full, if you do your shopping in Austin, Texas.
You'll need to fill it with your own reusable containers, because cereal boxes and beer bottles will be a thing of the past at In.gredients, a new-age grocery store opening in Austin later this year.
The company behind the idea says the concept is to create a shopping experience that forgoes any kind of packaging and instead lets customers buy as much or as little as they need by filling their own containers.
"Essentially it's a very simple model, a throwback to old times," said In.gredients co-founder Joseph Lane of Brothers Lane, LLC, which consists of Lane, his two brothers, and a friend of the family. "We were looking at a way of using these old methods to make it more convenient and easier for customers to participate in a zero waste lifestyle."
The vision for a package-less grocery store, the first in the United States, involves customers shopping with their own containers, therefore purchasing the exact amounts that they need to take home.
Lane, whose team has backgrounds in IT management and business process consulting, said that the idea came after they began to think back to their childhoods and were looking for a new business venture that promotes environmental sustainability.
Their original plan was to sell just beer and wine, but their visions has now developed into a full-fledged grocery store that will offer local produce, grains, spices, baking ingredients, oils, coffees/teas, meats, dairy and household cleaners, as well as beer and wine.
"We put our creative heads on. It goes back to being kids -- you get this box of cereal and you don't want the box or the bag, you just want the cereal," said Lane.
Another component of the project, said Lane, is to follow a trend that he says is leaning toward Americans wanting to buy in bulk as opposed to traditional quantities. He believe that shopping this way will also be a cheaper option for shoppers.
"If you look at bulk foods, they are 35 percent cheaper than their packaged food equivalents. You're not paying for marketing, or additional packaging, and you can also buy as little or as much as you need," said Lane.
But Howard S. Schiffman, a professor of environmental conservation education at NYU, said that although the idea is a step in a good direction, the company may be overlooking the importance of packaging products. Though it may cost more, packaging does prevent foods from going bad. That allows retailers to keep inventories on the shelves for a longer period of time, saving the business the manpower and money that would otherwise be spent repeatedly restocking.
"It's overall a wonderful idea and might change thinking on sustainability, but there's something they need to keep an eye on," said Schiffman. "There's something we get from packaging, it can help keep things fresh and reduces spoilage."
"But if they can address that problem or sell in high volume, that might be something to compensate."