Selling groceries, beverages, household products and cosmetics, Original Unverpackt (Originally Unpackaged) opened its doors in Berlin in September. The store is located in Wiener Strasse near Görlitzer Bahnhof, in the middle of one of Kreuzberg’s trendiest and busiest areas. The self-service supermarket has a novel retail concept: products are sold in loose and in bulk, without individual packaging. Customers have to bring their own bags, containers and bottles and can purchase exactly the quantity of product that they want.

Original Unverpackt’s portfolio includes both dried and fresh groceries, fruit, vegetables and beverages, as well as household cleaners and cosmetics. The store currently offers some 350 products.

At the moment, there is no meat counter as Germany has very strict hygiene regulations for the sale of fresh meat products.

Eventually, however, it is looking to expand into products that are difficult to sell without packaging, like meat or yoghurt.

Dried groceries like cereals, pulses, chocolate, flour and sugar are stored in large glass or plastic containers or in hanging containers with spouts that allow customers to fill the precise amount required into their bags and bottles. Liquids like vinegar, oil and soy sauce are stored in metal and glass containers equipped with taps. Spices are stored in smaller containers and can be extracted with a serving scoop.

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There is also a range of cotton and paper bags and re-usable containers available for purchase. To prevent paying for the weight of the container, customers’ containers are weighed on a pair of scales and a tag which lists the “empty weight” is attached. At the check-out the container is again weighed and its empty weight is subtracted from the total.

Local beauties

Original Unverpackt’s personal care selection includes shower lotion, shampoo and conditioner, a facial cleanser, toner and moisturising fluid. The products are manufactured by CremeKampagne, a small Berlin- based producer that specialises in freshly made natural cosmetics. Customers can buy special refillable dispensers, bottles and atomisers for the cosmetics, or they can bring their own bottles.

Germany is an ideal location for the supermarket. The country is eco-aware, especially where waste recycling and supermarket packaging are concerned. For example, free plastic bags in supermarkets were discontinued in the 1970s. If customers want to use a plastic bag, they have to pay a small fee. As a result, Germans are used to bringing their own plastic or cotton bags when doing their grocery shopping.

Despite an elaborate recycling system in place that sees retailers and distributors responsible for the recycling of their packaging, German supermarkets and drugstore still sell their products in plastic or paper packaging and in standardised pack sizes. Food is also often sealed in with an extra layer of plastic or cardboard and personal care manufacturers are also accused of using excessive packaging.

Crowd funding

Original Unverpackt was the result of a crowd funding campaign and therefore was a major topic of discussion in the German media before it had even opened its doors. The store has also sparked a lively debate on packaging and consumer waste, and although the product choice is by necessity limited, consumer response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Original Unverpackt does not mean to go into competition with Germany’s many supermarkets. Instead, it wants to offer customers a retail alternative – a different route to responsible and sustainable consumption. However, if the concept is successful and the store chain expands across Germany, it might prompt customers and perhaps even manufacturers to rethink their established consumption patterns.

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