Greater Greater Washington

Two stores pursue divergent futures for grocery shopping

Will grocery shopping in the future look the same as it does today? Two stores are pursuing very different visions of changing shopping, from a large multinational helping people buy with smartphones to a small store abolishing wasteful packaging.

International retail giant Tesco pioneered a system in Korea where they paste large, full-size posters of store shelves on the walls of subway stations. While waiting for a train, people can buy items using their smartphones.

This is a logical extension of online shopping we have today, such as Peapod, which works pretty well in DC. However, while we work to reduce wasteful disposable bag usage, services like Peapod generally deliver their items in very large numbers of plastic bags.

A new store in Austin, on the other hand, is going entirely packaging-free. People bring their own packaging, or can buy some at the store. While most stores sell produce without packaging and some offer bulk grains and nuts in bins, in.gredients will also sell items like beer and cleaning solvents in the same way.

Via Jonathan O'Connell and Consumerist.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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You seem to have posted the same youtube video twice.

by Lucre on Jun 28, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

Fixed, thanks.

by David Alpert on Jun 28, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

How do you tell how fresh things are from ingredients ?

Whats stopping someone from having a barrel of whatever set out until it is sold. At least with conventional products you have a sell by date or a discard by date; with some foods the date is 2 years after packaged while others it is a few weeks to months so how do you know when the stuff was brought to the store or made in its existing form.

How will know how long nuts, grain, cereal, water, prunes, potato chips, soda, etc have been there or are we going to do what tea companies do mix the old batch with the new batch.

What about sanitation issues that may arise from customers.

by kk on Jun 28, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

@kk, I agree 100% about the freshness/quality point. However, I do not think there will be as many sanitation issues as some people think. It would operate the same way that many bulk spices, coffee, or M&M bins to today. Modern bulk dispensers don't require someone to reach into the product with a scoop like the old ones. Usually, they have a knob or handle to dispense from a tube of some sort. Hands don't go anywhere near the actual ingredients.

by Sam on Jun 28, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

the korean store plan is pretty badass. i'm guessing their stores are a lot smaller than the average american store, though. to replicate a big supermarket (like wegman's) would require screens on the platform of every metro station we have :)

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jun 28, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

Forgot to mention

What about cleaners/medical supplies/chemicals such as Bleach, Ammonia, Rubbing Alcohol, Peroxide, Gauze and etc.

Are they going to have dark bottle or containers for products which cant be near much sunlight. How would sterile products be kept sterile such as with some Gauze's or other medical supplies.

Allergies I imagine you could spread allergens easier here than in a typical store.

You could have traces of peanuts on the milk dispenser and so forth. With nothing having typical packaging it increases the chance that you may bring home allergens even if you never touched or passed that food.

Absorbing of flavors

Many products are sealed air tight and some aren't. Since everything has to open how will you stop a container of water, soda, milk etc from absorbing the flavor of whatever is next to it. This happens in stores and homes all the time water will absorb the scents of what is around that's why it has a funny taste after being stored in a basement.

It sounds good on paper but there will be somethings that they can not sell or will have to take caution in. They will certainly have to wipe down almost the whole store daily

by kk on Jun 28, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

I don't know why this seems so difficult in the states but I've shopped in two grocery stores around the world, one in South Korea (5 years ago) and another in Stockholm 3 years ago) where all the items were tagged with an RFID, and there was no unloading the cart to scan, you simply pushed the cart loaded with groceries through a machine that resembled a metro fare gate, it scanned your cart and rang up your total all at once. You swipped your credit card and was out the door a minute later. Very slick...

Be really useful at a Costco or BJ's.

by freely on Jun 28, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

@kk

They also said they were going to sell beer and wine. I would think that would present issues with open container laws.

by Steven Yates on Jun 28, 2011 6:25 pm • linkreport

@freely, there was no unloading the cart to scan, you simply pushed the cart loaded with groceries through a machine that resembled a metro fare gate, it scanned your cart and rang up your total all at once. You swipped your credit card and was out the door a minute later.

It might be quicker, but who's doing the packing? I consider correct packing to be a part of what you're buying at the store. Cold with cold ... plastic bags around meats and the like ... 'not too heavy' ... i.e., all the things an experienced packer can do in minimal time. From the scenario you give, it sounds like you're left to do the packing once you get to your car. I'm not sure how convenient that is.

by Lance on Jun 28, 2011 7:08 pm • linkreport

@Lance, you just bring bags with you and bag as you shop and walk out.

@Freely, IIRC, Walmart was trying this, and I don't know what the status of the initiative is now, but naturally there was a privacy backlash, and also the expected backlash that if Walmart is doing it, then it must be bad.

by spookiness on Jun 28, 2011 9:34 pm • linkreport

@kk

They will only sell things that can be sold in bulk. Some things that need to will have minor recyclable packaging. I doubt they will be selling products that need to be "kept sterile."

http://in.gredients.com/products/

Co-ops all over the country already sell tons of things in bulk like this. I don't understand why this is such a hard concept.

by MLD on Jun 29, 2011 8:41 am • linkreport

It's not available in DC, but NYC's Freshdirect was pretty good about keeping packaging to a minimum. They only used bags and styrofoam for items that were delicate. Everything else arrived in extra-strength cardboard boxes, which the delivery crew would pick up the next time that they came to your building (or, which you could re-appropriate for the next time you had to move apartments).

by tom veil on Jun 29, 2011 9:02 am • linkreport

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