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Naked Groceries: Startup Creates Zero-Waste Store

Photo: Patrick Lane Photography

A package-free, zero-waste grocery store where customers bring their own, reusable containers to fill with local and organic goods? It sounds like a dream for environmentalists, but it’s a real-life business venture for brothers and co-founders Christian and Joseph Lane.

Their store, in.gredients, based in Austin, Texas, comes by its commitment to local food and sustainable practices naturally – Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods .

But in.gredients is taking the concept further; by giving customers the option to bring in their own containers, or buy them in the store, encouraging a package-free, zero-waste mentality for grocery shoppers. The startup was funded in part by a crowdfundingcampaign on IndieGoGo, online fundraising campaign, which helped raise more than $15,000.

The Lane brothers are no strangers to the realities of starting a business — they currently run a technology consulting firm — but the move into a retail venture offers new challenges as well as a chance to address environmental concerns. We spoke with Christian Lane, one of the co-founders, about how in.gredients got its start, and its scheduled opening later this spring.

Where did the idea come from?

My brother and I started taking about the number of empty beer and wine bottles being thrown away. Since so much energy is wasted turning glass bottles into glass bottles again, we thought about creating a "refill station." But we soon decided to target packaging waste more directly. Since a majority of packaging you see in a typical grocery store is unnecessary, we decided we would open a waste-free grocery store.

Where did the funding first come from?

Photo: Patrick Lane Photography

As far as the capital, it is all investor money and loans — we are guaranteeing loans. When we had this idea, we had it as far as the business plan. Then we decided to crowdsource the funding and put together the IndieGoGo campaign. The campaign recognized in.gredients as the number one Food Campaign of 2011. [Through that effort we] received $15,455 in funding. Our business, [Brothers Lane, LLC] contributes some funds and we are selling shares of the store as a private placement offering.

Do you need to know a significant amount of information about the grocery industry?

There are some industry-specific things [about the grocery business], but a lot of it is method. Our approach is not to come from a grocery-intense background, but to break the mold, do things differently. We did however, retain services of a local consultant that has 30 years or so experience in the natural food and organic business to give us feedback, to see where we were on and off and to see where we were headed with things.

What demographics are you attracting?

This has an appeal to a good number of people. What we anticipate is the 25- to 34-year-old who has an interest in cooking, as well as people that are into the more organic and natural foods. Austin is the right place because it is a progressive city.

Photo: Patrick Lane Photography

The concept is built around the idea that people will bring their own containers, or buy them in the store. What makes you sure this idea will succeed?

We felt strongly about this business plan and so we shared it with our friends and family. But they are not going to tell you that you have a bad idea. We needed to get an outside sense of our plan; instead of using a focus group we did crowdfunding. So a big part of that validation came from IndieGoGo. We thought, ‘If this doesn’t work then what we had was a bad idea.’ [Since then] We have had about 300 people [contacting us through social media] volunteer to help.

What's next?

We're excited to open in April. Once we fine-tune things at our first location, we'll start planning new in.gredients locations. Our local-centric, microgrocer model is sustainable in scale and conducive for community development, so we hope to bring it to more and more neighborhoods as we grow.

Follow Jessica Naziri on Twitter @jessicanaziri