We've written before about how waste is the ultimate profit killer in the food service industry. That's not only true of consumable food waste, like mis-makes, re-makes, or otherwise uneaten served portions at restaurants, but also of wasteful, unnecessary packaging.
According to accounting giant Ernst & Young, in 2012 the global economy spent an estimated $400 billion on packaging, and 51% of that expenditure was on packaging for the food service industry. That's over $204 billion dollars. On packaging.
Think about that number for a moment and let it sink in. That's a lot of wasted material. It's also a lot of profit down the proverbial drain.
Luckily, one of the new trends in food service is a move away from using ludicrous amounts of packaging in bringing foods to market. One market in particular— Original Unverpakt (in English, "Original Unpacked") in Germany— thinks it has found an answer.
A grocery market free of wasteful disposable packaging.
When Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski began brainstorming on ways to reduce landfill waste, they hit upon the idea for Unverpakt— a minimalist grocery in which customers filled their own containers with food from large, bulk storage bins.
They started working on their business plan in late 2012. By early 2014, their plan was ready, but they needed funding, so they took to a German crowdfunding site, startnext.de, to gather the 45,000 € they would need to open the market.
As of press time, pledges to their funding drive have exceeded 108,000 €, and the two women are well on the way to launching their concept.
It looks like it should be a pricy health food store, but it's not.
As discussed on the PFSK blog back in May, one might think, from looking at the prototype store, that Unverpakt would sell only expensive organic food. But that's not necessarily the case.
One of the ideas behind the venture was that shoppers of any income level would be able to find affordable options there. So even though much of the food is organically-grown and locally sourced (the two entrepreneurs make a concerted effort to source as many locally grown or locally-made products as they can, in a further effort to reduce waste by cutting down on transport fuel and other environmentally-impacting, avoidable factors), some of their offerings are produced by traditional, cheaper agribusiness models.
The key to the venture's success is that it reduces cost all around by reducing the impact on resources. Although American shoppers might initially find such a concept difficult to adapt to, bringing containers from home to fill, it's not by any means an insurmountable challenge. It would just take a bit of reconditioning of consumer behaviors.
Moreover, the outpouring of support for Unverpakt would seem to indicate that, at least in Germany, there exists a robust, environmentally-conscientious consumer market that would be willing to support the idea.
A lighter version could focus on reducing packaging, in lieu of eliminating it.
Instead of requiring buyers to bring all their own containers— which, truth be told, might result in shoppers buying smaller amounts and having to make more trips to the store, or discourage impulse stop-and-shops by busy commuters who may have forgotten to bring their food containers with them— an Americanized version could instead stock small, recyclable paper bags and and cardboard boxes, for which a consumer would be charged the cost of the bag or box to use.
Consumers who do bring their own containers would of course avoid this cost or could be further incentivized to remember to bring their own bags and plastic containers by giving shoppers who do so a nominal discount on their overall bill.
Either way, Unverpakt is a worthy concept that adroitly addresses a major problem that we, in the food industry face— the costly over-packaging of our food. New trends in food service do excite us. And this idea has us über-excited.
Sehr gut, Unverpakt, sehr gut. Jetzt ist die richtige Zeit fur dieser Idee!