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Q&A: Christian Lane, Package-Free Grocer

Q&A: Christian Lane, Package-Free Grocer

christianlane_bw_headshot_casual.jpgIn an effort to reduce waste and operate more efficiently, supermarkets big and small have cut down on packaging in their stores. Some, like Wal-Mart, are pushing their suppliers towards smaller containers while others, like Mom’s Organic Market in Maryland, are trying to do away with them altogether. But none have gone so far as in.gredients, a tiny 1,000 square-foot supermarket opening this Fall in Austin, Texas, where customers will buy all their products from bulk bins, dispensers and produce stands (a few products come in recyclable packaging to meet safety standards). I talked to co-founder Christian Lane this week about this new package-free, zero-waste concept he and his two brothers developed.

So how did you and your brothers come up with this idea?

It’s grown and developed over time. As kids, our mom bought a lot of bulk, and our grandmother, who went through the Great Depression, reused and mended a lot of things. They had a big impact on us, and so we’ve always been thinking about different ways to reduce waste, whether it’s waste from food or from packaging. We wanted to start a bar where people brought their own growlers, but we decided on this instead.

What’s the product mix going to be like at in.gredients?

We’re going to go with local and seasonal products as much as possible, everything from produce to meats, dairy and baking supplies. There are items like coffee that we don’t grow here, of course, but we’ll definitely source from local coffee roasters here. It’ll be a good mix of everything you see at a regular grocery store, but at a convenience-store scale.

Will customers have to bring their own bags and containers or will those be provided?

We definitely want to encourage customers to bring in their own bags and boxes to refill. That way we can reduce the amount of waste in our stores and going into customers' homes. That said, we’ll have a selection of containers people can buy, as well as compostable options that people can use. The point isn’t to be punitive.

You're bucking the grocery format, but what about typical grocery promotions like impulse buys and buy-one-get-one?

There will be promotions and things of that nature. But we don’t intend on having the interface, heavy-hard marketing kind of stuff. We’ll have products at checkout, but they won’t be traditional impulse-buy type items.

What about classes and activities outside the regular grocery experience?

We have space outside for outdoor eating, a playscape, a place for composting, recycling, rainwater collections and things like that. We’ll have classes on gardening and composting. We’re trying to educate and collaborate with the community as much as we can.

You guys have gotten a lot of national media attention over this concept. Why is it resonating so much with people?

So many consumers today are in tune with the environmental implications of our buying habits, and they’re in tune with the personal and cultural implications of what we’re eating. We had a hunch people were ready for this, and we’ve been amazed at how viral it’s gone.