Quite a while back (a year or so?), I heard about a new grocery store coming to the east side that would have zero packaging, and like a lot of people was both intrigued and a bit perplexed. in.gredients finally opened up earlier this year, and when I moved I noticed it was not too far from my new house, but I confess I was a little intimidated by the idea of having to bring my own containers to the store with me. So when Slow Food Austin recently hosted a Slow Food Session at in.gredients, I decided to finally check it out. One of my childhood pals (who has not yet been given a name fit for a 1950s western, so I'll call her La Bandita just for the fun of it) met me there and we both were given a tour along with about 20 other people who showed up.
And here's how it works: as you enter the store, there is a Tare Station. You place your containers on the scale and print out a bar code sticker for each one and stick it on the bottom (or wherever you like). The stickers are dishwasher and oven safe so once you've tagged that particular container, it's good to go for any future visits. Once your containers are tagged, well, you shop... like you normally do.
They are a small neighborhood store, so their selection isn't as broad as an H.E.B., Whole Foods, or other mega grocery store, but they are small on purpose. It's part of their philosophy... the ease of a non-crowded store with no gigantic parking lot that you could even conceivably walk to if you are lucky enough to live that close (they intend to expand into other neighborhoods eventually). The selection they do have hits all the basic needs, however, so unless you are hunting for some super-specific specialty item, you'd probably be fine to pop in for some basics.
Their produce is all local and seasonal, and they rotate which farms they use to offer better variety. Prices are comparable to what you'd pay for local and organic produce elsewhere, even a little better in some cases.
They also offer meat and cheese. Texas requires a minimum square footage and a butcher in order to sell meat that is not frozen, so everything here is in a big freezer container. All the regional providers of free-range, natural meat—like Richardson Farms—are available. Cheese comes from the same local cheese makers you can buy at farmer's markets and Central Market—like Full Quiver Farm—as well as Antonelli's. They also have some ready-made food available from various retailers around town for a quick bite at one of their picnic tables outside or to take home and shove in your face if you're too busy that night to cook anything (like too many of my nights lately).
Bulk bins are self-explanatory. Spices, pantry staples, pasta, rice, nuts, oils, honey, and so on and so forth are all represented. I was happy to see they had Nature's Path gluten-free breakfast cereal (Panda Puffs, Gorilla Munch, etc.) available because we go through that stuff like crazy around here. They also have cleaning items from Nature's Gate and Dr. Bonner (heads up for fans of the insane labels), among other brands, which I loved. That is one area where I have never quite figured out how to reduce the containers I go through, and even though I recycle them there are a ton.
Once you have shopped to your heart's content, the containers are scanned at the counter, and the weight of your container is deducted from the bulk price of your items. Easy as that. So, I haven't shopped there yet, but I figure if I can train myself to keep a box of reusable grocery bags in my car, how hard can it be to throw some containers into that box? Then, even when I make an unplanned trip to the store on my way home from work, I'll be good to go. I'm going to give it a try.
And lastly, if you're in Austin I encourage you to sign up for Slow Food Austin's mailing list. They have tons of great events, some even free (I went to one other a little over a year ago). If you're not in Austin, check your area for Slow Food chapters; it's a pretty broad organization, and I'm sure there is cool stuff going on in other areas as well.