Who knows if in.gredients, which is billing itself as "the first package-free and zero waste grocery store in the United States," will be a success? No matter how things turn out, one thing that's clear -- the concept scheduled to open sometime this year in East Austin, TX is significantly different than other options in the marketplace.
Christian Lane, co-founder of in.gredients, told RetailWire that the concept grew from an initial bar-like idea to offer beer and wine from kegs to consumers who brought their own containers. He mentioned the growing popularity of growler refills among beer connoisseurs.
"From there, we started looking at different aspects of pre-cycling as the driving concept -- how we could dispense other foods. The obvious one was bulk foods. From there we started looking at how we could do things with produce and local farmers and ranchers to find ways we could reduce the waste and also facilitate the ability of the consumer to be a zero waste consumer," said Mr. Lane.
The in.gredients concept taps into a number of market trends and needs, said Mr. Lane. These include sustainability, natural/organics, local, foodies, low prices, ethnic consumers and food deserts.
While the first four items on the trends/needs list are fairly evident straight off, the others are less so.
"Being green saves you green," said Mr. Lane. "Bulk is typically 30 percent less expensive than its packaged counterpart, so there are some savings there."
The plan is to open in what Mr. Lane called "micro grocery store" sites, typically one to two thousand square feet. By keeping store size small, in.gredients will be able to tightly edit its selection and keep costs down.
"The reason for that, too, is we want to take this into more neighborhoods. The concept of the neighborhood grocer has just kind of gone away. We want to encourage walking and biking; a more community based approach like grocers we used to have before the moms and pops got taken out by the large grocery chains. To that extent, we're using this to push into more neighborhoods with that community-type appeal," he said.
More neighborhoods include underserved areas, notably those with large minority populations, such as East Austin.
"We're Mexican American. Part of this whole model is an older way to facilitate doing things. In Mexico, you go to a taquería with a towel or cloth and that's what they wrap your tacos in and you walk away with," Mr. Lane told RetailWire. "To an extent, we've lost that sense of market that you find in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. When you go to the markets, it's open air. It's all the grains and the beans and other items open and available and you buy them that way."
While store size is small, Mr. Lane believes that consumers will be able to do most if not all their grocery shopping, with assistance from in.gredients, in the company's store.
"It only takes a handful of ingredients to make quality meals. We've been reading some of the books from Michael Pollan and Rachel Botsman's What's Mine if Yours: How Collaborative Consumption iis Changing the Way We Live. All of these question how we look at food, the environment and consumption," said Mr. Lane. "One of the biggest takeaways for us is if you want to eat right, stay away from the middle of the grocery store. If we just refine ... curate ... all the different pieces of the recipe equation and keep it simple, we think we've got a good way of getting people better foods."
How much of an issue will costs associated with product packaging become for consumers in the years ahead?