Thinking Out Of The Box: A Packaging-Free Grocery Store! ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thinking Out Of The Box: A Packaging-Free Grocery Store!

Yesterday morning, I was thinking about what it would be like if the Berkeley Bowl expanded its bulk foods section to fill the entire store. I fantasized about filling up glass jugs with cold, creamy milk, transferring speckled brown eggs from a refrigerated shelf to a plastic egg carrier, carefully wrapping a stick of butter in waxed paper, pouring flour into a burlap sack...

So imagine my surprise when my husband called me over to his computer last night to show me this short article about Unpackaged, a London grocery store that (as the name might imply) sells its goods unpackaged. A simple yet brilliant idea!
Window of Unpackaged Grocery Store

Here is what Unpackaged has to say about itself:

Unpackaged was founded in 2006 by Catherine Conway in the belief that there is a better way to sell food. We want to make it easy for our customers to do the right thing – the right thing for themselves and for the environment.We started on a market stall and now have a shop at 42 Amwell St, London, EC1R 1XT. 

You can read more about them here or browse their list of products here.
Produce at Unpackaged Grocery Store
It seems pretty straightforward: You bring your containers from home (they're willing to fill anything and everything - and, of course, they weigh the heavy containers first so you don't end up paying for their weight), fill 'em up, weigh 'em, pay for everything, take it home, and repeat once you've run out. Reminds me a little of the co-op my family belonged to when I was little but with no membership requirements.
Unpackaged Bulk Bins

My question is why we don't have one (or several thousand) of these stores here in the U.S.? I could see this working very well in the Bay Area or NYC to start. Reusing your plastic bags is a good first step but this type of business innovation would speed things up considerably. Just imagine, unpacking your groceries without having to feel guilty about all the wasteful packaging. In addition, buying in bulk tends to be cheaper since you're not paying for the design and production of all that packaging.

Since Elephant Pharmacy closed (ah, the sadness), there is even a very nice, centrally-located retail space available in the Gourmet Ghetto here in Berkeley. Could be a perfect fit for the neighborhood!

Please share on Facebook and Twitter -- let's try to get the idea out there.

A few more posts you might like:


Chelsea said...

Eve, we should go into business together and just open one of these ourselves. Can you imagine the joy it would bring to No.Berkeley to have this place in the old Elephant spot!? (And imagine the hard work for us!) :-)

Eve Fox said...

ha! After we talked about it and I was thinking about the Elephant Pharm spot, I actually did think of you as the perfect business partner :) though I think you're going to have your hands full for a little while with baby number 2.

Nick said...

There is a place sort of like that in Ann Arbor -- By The Pound. Doesn't have fresh produce, but just imagine it as a much larger bulk section of from a food co-op.

This idea definitely needs to catch on.

Heidi Renee said...

It's not nearly as sexy and doesn't got fresh items - but the Canadian chain "Bulk Barn" is a fabulous way to get everything from spices to peanut butter - all unpackaged. Coast to coast they are in every major city up here.

Eve Fox said...

Helen and Nick, very encouraging to hear about these stores!

Why is the Bay Area so far behind the curve on this, I wonder? Normally, this area tends to take the lead on sustainable food innovations... (though Nick, now I am remembering that we talked about how surprising it was to both of us that there weren't any real coops out here.)

Barbara Hunter said...

I just shared this on my FB, and I have recently been thinking about the same concept. I am so ready for something different, tired of feeling that no matter how hard I try to recycle, reuse, etc., that I am still being wasteful. I am ready for a much simpler life!

Eve Fox said...

Just learned via Good mag that Austin, TX is getting its own version called In.gredients! How great!