In.gredients — Possibly the Coolest Grocery Store Ever
04/27/2018 Update: Sadly, in.gredients closed it’s doors today. But please read on, as this company was a great example of the first zero waste grocery store in the United States.
I’ve been dying to visit In.gredients since before the store even opened for business, and I profiled the company in my book Plastic-Free based on a telephone interview and articles I had read about a new packaging-free grocery store opening up in Austin, TX. So almost immediately after arriving in Austin yesterday afternoon, I headed over to this mythical zero waste grocery store to see if it was as awesome in real life as it had been described to me back when it was still in the planning stages. And you know what? It’s better.
From the outside, In.gredients looks like a cozy little house.
Out front is a porch and long picnic tables where folks hang out, eat food, and use their laptops. (There’s free WiFi.)
Stepping inside, I was greeted by Erica, who gave me a little tour.
First, she showed me the most amazing, high tech tare system I’ve ever seen: a scale attached to a computer, monitor, and label printer. The best part is that it’s located right inside the front door, so there’s no mistake that In.gredients wants you to use your own containers.
You set your container on the scale (I happened to have a Lunchbots container with me), press the button on the screen, and the weight appears.
Next, a sticker prints out with the tare weight and a bar code.
Apply the sticker to your container, and then fill it with one of the many bulk items in the store.
In.gredients even provides funnels of different sizes for easier filling.
Write the item’s code on the container with a grease pencil (which can be washed off easily.)
Then, when you check out, the cashier enters the code, weighs your container, scans the bar code, and the system automatically deducts the weight of your container.
And what can you put in your containers? Oh, so many things… herbs, spices, teas, nuts, grains, beans, pasta, oils and other “wet” foods, personal care products, soaps and other cleaners… lots and lots of things…
And you can fill your reusable cloth bags with lots of fresh, local produce.
In.gredients also sells tasty beverages… on tap. Beer, wine, kombucha, soda… just have them fill up a returnable jug or bottle.
You can take food and beverages to go, or stay and eat some of the delicious prepared foods. They’ll be served to you on a durable plate, and you’ll get a real glass for your drink.
I tried a couple slices of thin crust East Side Pizza, and oh. em. gee. This is what every pizza should taste like. I had Olivia (pesto, eggplant, artichoke, garlic, feta, and kalamata, black, and green olives) and Marge (cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil). Olivia was so good I finished her before I thought to take a picture.
Now, don’t forget, I was sitting outside. And after my incident with the mosquitoes in Hawaii, I wanted to be careful. I asked if there were biting bugs in Austin. Oh yes, Erica told me. Definitely mosquitoes. But In.gredients has thoughtfully put out spray cans of natural bug repellant for patrons to use. And if you buy a can, you can save money and packaging by refilling it from the bulk container. Yes, they even sell bug spray in bulk.
So far, I’ve discussed all the things you can buy in bulk with your own bags and containers. But people ask me all the time… how does that stuff get delivered to the store? Does it come in disposable plastic bags? At most stores, the answer is usually yes. But In.gredients wants to change that. Because they source their products locally, they are able to encourage their vendors to deliver products in reusable, returnable containers. Erica showed me the back room, which was full of empty containers to be exchanged at the next delivery.
So, is In.gredients completely plastic and packaging-free? No. Erica estimates that about 80% of their products are available in bulk. But they do have some packaged local products that are not available without packaging. Meat, for example, since they don’t have a butcher counter. And dairy. Unfortunately, Austin doesn’t have a local dairy that bottles in returnable glass.
But take a look at this cheese case. You see cheeses wrapped in plastic. But what don’t you see?
You don’t see individually wrapped portions of cheese. They cut it for you when you order it, so you can have them put it in your own container without additional plastic wrap. Unfortunately, due to local regulations, they can’t put it in your container directly, so they’ll wrap it in paper.
And there’s a bit more plastic in the store. What if customers forget to bring their bags or containers or come the first time and don’t know the procedure? Well, there are a variety of reusable bags and containers they can purchase…
But there are also some plastic bags and containers, although the containers are not free like in most stores and customers are encouraged to reuse them.
The philosophy is not to punish or shame people but to try to educate them and let them know what they could do next time.
A few months ago, I met In.gredients owner Christian Lane at the Think Beyond Plastics Innovation competition.
To me, the coolest thing he said during his presentation was, “It’s important to educate customers.” That’s actually quite revolutionary these days because most businesses I speak to tell me they can’t make their product or packaging greener because their customers don’t want it. I feel like In.gredients might be making some small concessions by offering a few plastic bags and containers, but their overall focus is to wean people off those things.
In the interest of educating In.gredients’s customers about reducing plastic, I’ll be giving a talk at the store this Tuesday evening. I’m so excited. This has been a dream of mine for a long time. Hope some of you can come.
I discovered your blog 5 minutes ago and think it’s amazing! Good initiative!
I’m from Belgium (Antwerp) and next month there will open a packaging-free shop in Antwerp. Here’s the facebook-link (Dutch):
Wow! That sounds exciting. It’s too bad I live in the boonies…it’s really beautiful here, and quiet, but you do have to travel a bit to get some organic food, and it’s pretty pricey, and the nearest Whole Foods is about 90 minutes away, and I’ve never been there so I have no idea what their stance on plastic is…sigh!!! But I’m doing what I can, slowly…
For those in Sydney, Australia there is a co-op in Enmore (Alfalfa House) which also has most of its goods available without packaging. Alfalfa House is great for buying whole foods in bulk too! Unfortunately no cafe, but I’ll enjoy the pizza vicariously =).
This is so inspiring! So exciting to see something like this is possible. Anything is possible! Thanks for sharing this and so many other options.
This is wonderful! Keep up the great work. You are an inspiration!
This store is on my list of things to see in Austin in a few weeks when I visit my daughter there. I’m hoping they will branch out and open one in the North Dallas area soon.
Oh my gosh, that place looks so awesome. I got the same reaction I get looking at baby animals, actually.
Wow, that store looks in.credible! (harhar) I wish we had one in Ohio!
Alison Saeger Panik Emily Saeger Evans
@Fiveacorns Would taking your own funnels & bags be enough to solve the problem? Maybe they put the nuts and a separate part if the store & provide nuts only funnels.
spark_msk Beth…start a petition
We definitely need more businesses like this. The bulk stores out here could learn from them. Instead of starting a petition to get in.gredients to come out here, how about petitioning Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, even Rainbow Grocery, to emulate what they have done. Or better yet, start a business out here!
I want one! I am going to find out more about the tare machine and give the information to a local grocer and our local co-op market.
Looks so cool but for people with serious food allergies it looks terrifying. Nuts in bulk and shared funnels? The potential for cross contamination is epic – even with safeguards. I’d want to shop there but don’t think I could.
Check out In.gredients’s response to a similar question below: https://myplasticfreelife.com/2013/10/in-gredients-possibly-the-coolest-grocery-store-ever/#comment-68504
your contact page is reading an error…
Thanks for letting me know. I’ll look into it right now!
Beth, please bring them to the Bay Area!!
love it…. a shop like this is dream of mine too.. hopefully their inspiration will spark and spread like wild fire
LiveGreenMom That does look cool!
How I wish this could exist in NJ.
I wish we had a store like this in New Jersey too!
Puts the Bay Area to shame! If only….. Did you try to talk them into opening a shop in the EBay :-) They’d be incredibly successful.
They are just starting up. I know eventually they would like to franchise, but right now, they are a very small business and need to be stable and viable in their Austin location before expanding. But others could learn from them and start local businesses in their area.
Yep, that’s my hometown for you!
They are lovely.
Looks brilliant! Wish we had somewhere like this near where I live!
Amazing! I’m green with envy but so glad you were able to visit. Living vicariously… :)
Wow. Brilliant! I would seriously shop there as much as I possibly could!
Have been wanting to go since before they opened too! Hopefully one day I will make it there to check it out ;)
Yes, I profiled Unpackaged in my book too! Would love to visit that shop if I ever make it back to England.
I wish we had one of these where I live!
This place sounds like a dream! … seriously, this is what I dream about.
Best of luck to in.gredients and I hope more business are inspired to do the same.
@C Noujaim thanks for the question! At in.gredients, we put GF stuff bulk bins above non-GF items, we store our GF back stock separate from everything else (in sealed containers), and we always stock GF first and take care to clean all utensils. We are always open to suggestions on how to insure safety and avoid cross-contamination, so thank you for inquiring!
PlasticfreeBeth PlasticPollutes Thanks for the swell write-up – we’re looking forward to hosting you tomorrow night!
I have one question. This looks wonderful, but I worry about cross-contamination in terms of gluten… how do they avoid that? Do they have a separate section for gluten products? Refill those separately? (as opposed to oh, the whole wheat berries need refilling and also the rice.. if they refilled the rice first it would be safe, but if the berries were first, then there could be contamination of the rice). That is what also worries me about the reuseable barrels..although if they have gluten-free barrels, they could easily color-code them, so they only have gluten-free stuff in them.
That’s a good question. I’ll ask someone from In.gredients to respond.