OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Original Unverpackt

The Grocery Store With Zero Packaging

Photo of Milena Glimbovski
23 17

Written by

In Short

Original Unverpackt has redesigned the grocery shopping experience by removing packaging from their stores. Customers bring their own bottles and containers to fill up on what they need. With large dispensers lined up on the walls, customers can find all they need: shampoo, sauces, spices, tea, pasta, baking goods, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and more. Customers can choose the exact amount they want as everything is charged by weight. In addition to this, Original Unverpackt has online delivery with a near-plastic free supply chain. 


The Problem

When it comes to groceries, everybody has gotten used to this terribly wasteful part of life — so much so that it’s often forgotten about. Small individually packaged items are everywhere. The issue is that big grocery chains have designed all parts of their system to serve profits and convenience, not reduction in waste or sustainability. But with groceries being such an essential and frequent activity that is a part of everybody’s lives, even a small improvement can have dramatic effects at a large scale. 


The Solution

Original Unverpackt is grocery store that removes packaging and replaces it with containers that are reused over and over again. Customers are able to purchase the exact quantity of product that they desire and can afford as they are the ones who dispense it into their own container. As the packaging is removed from the experience, and items are purchased in larger quantities, products in-store are more competitively priced. This breaks the usual standard of sustainable products being more expensive. 



The Original Unverpackt store is currently located in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, Germany. 


Here is an example of the store experience: 

 

  • Step 1: Customer goes to Original Unverpackt looking to buy shampoo. She arrives with a bottle that she has from home and has used for years. 
  • Step 2: The customer weighs the bottle on a machine which automatically dispenses a small sticker stating the weight of the container. 
  • Step 3: The customer goes to the soya sauce station and fills up her bottle as much as she wants — a tiny bit or completely full. 
  • Step 4: The cashier weighs the bottle and automatically deducts the bottle weight from the label tag, then charges the customer based on the just weight of the shampoo. Customer pays. 

 

Example of some products available in store: cereals, musli, oats, sauces, oil, pasta, wheat, flour, spices, teas, toothpaste tablets, shampoo, conditioner, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and more. 



What if you forget to bring your container?

Reusable containers and bottles are available for purchase in store. As they are specifically Original Unverpackt containers, they do not need to go through Step 2 (weighing the container) and can be used directly in the store. 

 

Suppliers:

Original Unverpackt supports as many local and organic businesses as possible as it minimises environmental impact. Throughout the supply chain, the aim is to always be zero plastic and to also reduce as much material waste as possible, even with paper. Currently, its supply chain is near-zero plastic with the exception to gummy bears that arrive in bulk packaged plastic. 

Local suppliers, especially the small ones are very happy to be able to sell, so they don’t worry so much about branding. These are also our favourite partners because they can adjust their supply chain to our philosophy much easier. Since Germany is very strict on labeling, it is very clear who made a product and where, so it is very clear to customers how things are sourced.

 

Online shop:

Original Unverpackt currently has online shop for non-food products across Germany. There is zero plastic used for the delivery service and boxes are upcycled. 

 

Online course:

Original Unverpackt runs an online course program where they teach with online videos how to open your own package-free shop. They offer the course in German and English. This is part of broadening the package-free movement through expertise sharing. It is also an exercise in building the brand of Original Unverpackt as a leader in the space and creating awareness. 

 

The Ethos of the Company:

Original Unverpackt’s strives to help the general public understand that reducing their waste and living sustainably is simple. We try to offer easy solutions and communicate it in their language. We make it sexy so that we’re not just preaching to the choir of already sustainably-oriented individuals. We are aiming to reach the mainstream audience. 

We have two main USPs.

  1. People prefer to shop at Original Unverpackt because of the entire experience we have designed around groceries. We always make decisions through a sustainability lens and care about all the little details. It’s not just a shop for us — it’s an idea that helps push an entire lifestyle. A few months ago, another zero waste shop opened up in Berlin and customers tried it out and came back to us. They said, “‘It’s not the same, they don’t quite get it.” That was quite an affirmation for us. It’s not about being the first, but by having great execution that matches the circular economy values we embody. 
  2. People know the brand and trust it. We focus not just on sustainability, but on the business mechanisms that can scale our impact. That means our brand and marketing. We have a very good way of communication, online and offline, and support the local sustainability community. We are active players locally, educate as much as we can, and help others. We even hold tours at our shop for anybody who wants to learn (students, startups, big firms, etc.) — and there have been a lot. From a local school to the marketing teams of the big (but not so sustainable) brands. We really work hard to spread the word and build a brand people trust.

 

Press:

We opened up 2014 and were not the first zero waste shop in the world, but the loudest. We managed to get the PR machine rolling and had newspapers, TV shows, blogs from all over the world, from New Zealand to Japan, America, Brazil report about us. 

Here is an example from the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/16/berlin-duo-supermarket-no-packaging-food-waste 

This inspired a lot of people to open up their own zero waste shops. After Original Unverpackt’s inception, more than 50 shops opened in Germany alone that were inspired by us. We showed that it is possible. We also helped many of these shops by giving talks, workshops, and online courses. 


The Future:

We are still continuing our work in helping the greater sustainability and zero waste movement to grow. Innovation is not just about being the first or trendy idea, but by having exceptional execution and consistent commitment to the vision for many many years to come. 

We have always had a deep focus on building the brand, not just the business model. This is because to expand and scale our impact, either through franchising or education, it takes more than just operations. We pride ourselves on holding true sustainable values and take circular economy principles to the core of what we do. This is why we have loyal customers and a community that believes and trusts us. Ultimately, we're not just pushing ourselves but the greater movement as well. This is what Original Unverpackt is about. 

Here is a quick video: https://www.facebook.com/buzzfeedbringme/videos/1604246066276882/?hc_ref=ARQXKfpfqfVunNzp4GzQUUKd-kl4x_D7bDMVWZsYc3ZiGMf0oz2M40zqwl-5X62Q1co 

Idea Title

Original Unverpackt

Company / Organization Name

Website

http://original-unverpackt.de

Where are you / your team located?

Our office is at CRCLR — a circular economy driven space in Berlin, Germany.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

As the products in store don’t have packaging in the first place, it removes it from the equation. By designing the experience for people to use and re-use their own containers, there are less disposables in the system.

For example with 'shampoo sachets'. Although the family may not be able to buy in bulk due to financial constraints, they simply can dispense the small volume they require each time. They can use the same container over and over again so there’s no negative financial impact.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

All

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Our retails grocery store concept is replicable in any urban centre. There simply needs to be adjustments made to the local supply chain and ensuring the store staff is trained to properly.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

1. Franchising. We are working on a social franchising model, this means we are focusing on both profit as well as impact. From day one, we have focused on crafting a brand and have already created a lot of brand trust with our community. We are well set up to start franchising. There will be multiple models within the franchise system to suit the various retail types.

2. Education. Expanding our online courses.

3. New Products. Developing new products in sustainable materials.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Operating Concept / Startup: You have fulfilled the stages of testing, undertaken a full scale roll-out, and are currently operating this concept/idea as a business.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

With expanding the retail business and possibly using a social franchise model, there are many complexities that we require assistance on. This includes retail management, finding new suppliers, finding potential franchisees, logistics management, new product development — to name a few.

Rolling out our concept and promoting the online courses to countries beyond our capabilities. That way we can empower others to create change at an accelerated rate. We would need help with this as well.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

In the beginning, Milena saw there were lots of alternatives for sustainable living in the market, but not at the most crucial and basic of everyday life: groceries. Because no solution satisfied Milena, she decided to create it.

OpenIDEO Chapter member connected with founder, Milena Glimbovski, and encouraged her to submit Original Unverpackt to the challenge.

Tell us about your work experience

Milena has been running the retail operation Original Unverpackt for close to 3 years, and she originally was a graphics designer and studied communication science.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Registered in Germany as a GmbH, which is the equivalent of a limited liability company (LLC).

23 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Vanessa
Team

Hi Milena,
Great idea!
I'm interested to hear about the success of your current operating rhythm and what lessons you have learnt...
- What does your typical customer segment look like? younger or mature aged?
- Do most customers come in to the area with the intention of coming to the store, and are prepared with their own containers? or are most customers purchasing plastic containers in store?
- Do you find a cost to your in-store containers prevents customers from purchasing more? or are these containers very affordable? Have you considered long term how you would continue supplying containers (ie. are these just store bought based on demand? or are they only recycled?)
- You mentioned expanding your brand to other countries and that they would require your help.. what countries do you envision this concept would work best in next? and how would you help these new entrepreneurs establish local supply partnerships in their chosen region?

Cheers,
Vanessa S

View all comments