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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.