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Bulk Shopping
Shopping with a future: bulk shopping

A supermarket without packaging

An environmentally conscious lifestyle and a healthy diet are causing consumers to rethink. For a lot of consumers, less is more: the aim is to reduce packaging waste and to know the origin of food. Supermarket without packaging, is this the future?

Bulk Shopping
Plastic packaging? Certainly not at the corner shop of the future like Holis Market in Linz.

The store is bright and friendly. It smells of fresh strawberries. A customer slowly strolls down the aisle. Fresh fruits and vegetables sourced from the region are stashed on either side. Oil and vinegar in large bottles, in addition to grain, rice, and legumes in large glass containers called bulk bins. She fills half a litre of olive oil from the container into the bottle she has brought with her. She proceeds to the deli counter, where packaging is provided only on request. Soft cheese, wrapped in paper. Plastic packaging? Certainly not at the corner shop of the future.

Aim: to reduce food waste

Bulk Shopping is the name of the trend from the USA for buying food and consumable items without packaging. Businesses in Europe are looking increasingly at this concept. Sustainability plays an important role for the customers. "Our customers are lot of young people, lot of older people, vegetarians, people who want to eat in a more thoughtful way and who are environmentally aware. In general, it’s very mixed,” says Franz Seher, Managing Director of the “packaging-free” Holis Market in Linz, Austria.

His motto is clear: pre-cycling instead of recycling. This means preventing packaging waste before it accumulates. Even shower gel and washing powder can be bought in refillable containers. Food waste is reduced through individually customised quantities of products.

In 2014, global production of plastic was around 311 million tonnes, an increase of more than 38%. It was 225 million tonnes in 2004. The increase in production in Europe has been low since 2004. Every European produces on average 552kg of waster every year, the majority of which is non-returnable food packaging. Bulk shop owners want to create consumer awareness.

Good for farmers – good for the region

Most of the products in bulk shops come from the region – mostly within a radius of 100 kilometres. This is how the retailers support zero waste movement and also local farmers.

Bulk shops can barely compete with supermarket chains because organic ranges of meat, cheese, milk, and other fresh food cost significantly more. Besides, discount chains and supermarkets have cheaper products and offer more choice. Even large companies are increasingly looking at organic products. "I am hoping people will be able to identify who sell these products for reasons of image, and those who work with passionate conviction, trying to protect the environment and people's rights in the name of solidarity economy", says Alessandra Mazzotta, owner of a bulk shop in Italy.

Bulk Shopping
Food waste is reduced through individually customised quantities of products. Photos: Wolfgang Lehner – Hausrugger Photography

New concepts to fight off the competition

Some products can be sold more cheaply than conventional supermarket: "We can offer wine and detergent more cheaply, for instance, as we save the cost of the packaging, the bottle". Nuts, grains, and other similar products can be bought in large quantities which is reflected in the price for the customer.

Most of the retailers with sustainable operations want to offer their concepts as franchise models in the future in order to remain competitive. They hope to gain broader access to the market and soon become competition to others.

The bulk shop also has a checkout after you end your purchase. However, you won't find a conveyor belt ending at a checkout till with scanner, what you will find is weighing scales. When the customer entered the store, the bottle she had brought with her was weighed. The checkout operator weighs the filled containers again and deducts the weight of the empty container. The customer only pays for individual quantity of product, not for packaging. This benefits customers and nature. Whether this is how the supermarket of the future will look like or if this is just a trend remains to be seen.

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