The Next Green Grocery Frontier: Zero Waste?

Brothers Christian and Joseph Lane are looking to promote healthy eating in Austin. Their other brother Patrick is missing from the photo, but also involved in founding the in.gredients grocery store.
Brothers Christian and Joseph Lane are looking to promote healthy eating in Austin. Their other brother Patrick is missing from the photo, but also involved in founding the in.gredients grocery store.

Austin, the birthplace of the largest chain of health food stores in the world, could be growing even greener.

The city already has eco-friendly organic food giant Whole Foods Market, along with the local Wheatsville Food Co-op and Colorado transplant Natural Grocers. Now a trio of brothers and their business partner are hoping to plant their own seed with in.gredients, the first “zero-waste, package-free” grocery store in the nation that will sell all of its goods in bulk.

In other words, don’t forget your Tupperware or empty jam jars.

In return, Christian, Joseph and Patrick Lane — the Brothers Lane, LLC — vow that most of their groceries will be locally produced and organically grown. Want to wash your clothes or slake your thirst? A goat milk soap company in Elgin can turn the leftover shavings into laundry detergent; a farm east of Dallas bottles organic milk.

The Brothers Lane, who are still in the fund-raising stage, say they are entering the market because Austin’s traditional “green” groceries do not go far enough. But many of their concepts are not new. Whole Foods did away with plastic bags on Earth Day 2008, giving shoppers the choice between recycled paper bags and reusable canvas bags. On Earth Day 2009, Natural Grocers went a step further, asking customers to bring in their own bags or use recycled boxes at checkout.  (The store donates a nickel to local nonprofits when a shopper brings a tote from home.) And the Wheatsville Co-op encourages members to shop with their own bags and containers, knocking off 5 cents for each one brought in. All three stores — and many other mainstream groceries — offer bulk food sections.

The novel idea is in.gredients’ “package-free” aspect, which Joseph Lane said sprouted after the brothers, who run two other businesses, became distressed at the level of waste from product packaging. According to the in.gredients page on indiegogo.com, a site that helps projects like the brothers’ launch financing campaigns, 40 percent of the 1.4 billion pounds of trash heading to landfills each day comes from packaging.

“If you go into a regular store, it’s very hard to find a product without packaging," Lane said. "Like your cereal — why does your cereal have to have a box around it? And that’s why bulk is growing.”

So far, there are no signs of an all-out green grocery war in Austin. But Dan Gillotte, general manager of Wheatsville Co-op, cautioned that opening a new grocery store is challenging, especially in a market like Austin. Still, “they might be able to find a niche and make a go of it,” Gillotte said.

So far the brothers, along with Chris Pepe, their business partner, say they have raised more than 60 percent of their goal, but that even without investors, they have the money to finance their dream. If it takes off, and their store draws local vendors to fill the bins with goods, and regular customers to empty them out, Lane said, expansions could be in order.

“We want people all over the place to rethink how they grocery shop,” he said.

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