Austin’s Original, and America’s First, Zero-Waste Grocer
Words by: Jessica Devenyns
Take a moment and think about this: What really happens to all those wine and beer bottles that you carefully set aside to get recycled? Don’t know? Neither did the Lane brothers who found themselves pondering this exact conundrum in 2011 when they decided to open America’s first zero-waste grocer, in.gredients on Manor Road.
“They were looking at the lifecycle of a beer bottle and thinking about how absurd it is that we use it once, and then if we’re lucky it goes in a recycling bin and it goes halfway across the world to get melted down into raw material to maybe get shipped right back,” explains former general manager Josh Blaine, who now operates under the title of business development.
The integral inefficiencies of our supermarket packaging systems so frustrated Christian, Patrick, and Joseph Lane that they decided to change things. Almost immediately they found their solution. They realized that by simply reusing alcohol bottles, or eliminated them all together, they could provide cheaper, more sustainable options for not only the population consuming them but the environment too.
Blaine, who has been at this unconventional grocer since its inception, explains that it wasn’t long before the idea of reusable packaging for alcohol evolved into a larger question. According to him, the brothers wondered, “Well, what would happen if we did that to the whole grocery concept?” To answer their own question, they founded in.gredients as a way to test out the cultural consequences of promoting a package-free lifestyle. Blaine admits that although it sounded like an enterprise with a solid philosophical foundation, “We were very honest and upfront initially that it was an experiment.”
Indeed, an experiment it was and a difficult one at that. Unfortunately, the problem with opening the very first of something is that it’s difficult to get people to buy in. Blaine remembers, “We would literally watch our customers walk across the street to RBM and buy a 6-pack of beer after buying one or two items here.” He laments that this inability to completely convert people over to the idea of not purchasing groceries with packaging propelled in.gredients to reorient their approach.
Since 2014, “’Package-free’ is one sliver of a whole ethos that ‘zero-waste’ encapsulates.” However, Blaine says that they have come to realize that, “Our value is as much, if not more, about the physical space and the atmosphere and culture that we set than it is about the products that we offer.”
Undeniably, for the community, in.gredients has “become a place where people love to come, especially families, because we’ve got a playground where their kids can play and we’ve got quality food they can feed their kids and themselves and where they can socialize,” Blaine says with a smile.
The result of providing these services, however, is that it costs money—something in.gredients is hoping the community can help provide them with during their upcoming Indiegogo campaign. “Part of the reason we’re running a campaign now, and we’re in the situation we’re in now is because the first 18-20 months of being package-free and trying to do what Unpackaged was doing, was really challenging. There was a lot of trial and error,” Blaine admits.
Despite the initial bumpiness, however, Blaine says that he believes in.gredients is now on the trajectory path to success. He and the Lane brothers are confident that if they can get a boost from the community, they can continue to grow and provide the east side community with a more environmentally and culturally conscious way to interact with their food. The goal of the current crowd-funding campaign is $30,000.
In.gredients “allows us to pursue part of our mission, which is tricky in our industry, which is to make our high-quality food accessible to everybody in the community.” He adds that, “The biggest barrier to that is, of course, cost.” However, he says that their business model has allowed them to defray some of the weighty cost in making waste-free, healthy living accessible to a wider demographic and is the path that they hope to continue down.
At this point, he observed, the goal of in.gredients is working to change an entrenched consumer mindset. Blaine explains, “It’s all about habits. It really is. And it’s still cool to watch how we’re slowly changing consumer habits.” But to continue doing so, in.gredients needs your help.
The Indiegogo campaign runs from February 3 until March 5.