Zero-packaging food retail concept launched by Singaporean start-up

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

One way to remove the need for packaging is to have food displayed in self-serve bins with pull dispensers (left), and customers can use recyclable containers.
One way to remove the need for packaging is to have food displayed in self-serve bins with pull dispensers (left), and customers can use recyclable containers.
A new social enterprise, UnPackt, is bringing the food waste fight to the Singaporean heartlands by opening a zero packaging food store.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) had announced that 815,200 tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2017 but only 6% of it was recycled.

Meanwhile, the NEA has found that a reusable bag can replace the use of 125 single-use plastic bags in a year.

Figures like these and related environmental issues have prompted the brainchild of Florence Tay and Jeff Lam.

UnPackt is currently just a two-person operation, attempting a zero waste and zero packaging store.

The store recently opened, on May 5, but its official launch will be in the first week of June.

How it works

At UnPackt, customers are encouraged to bring their own bags or containers as this zero-waste store does not use plastic bags or packaging.

The store’s products will be priced lower than in usual stores as the founders want the cost savings of the packaging to go back into the pockets of customers.

Tay explained that savings from the packaging and the possibility of purchasing smaller quantities could add up to be quite significant to the customer.

She said Lam, who lives on his own, used to buy pre-packed pasta in 500g packs for about S$4, but had to deal with food waste. In UnPackt, he could get 100g of pasta at a time for only S$0.67.

“The reality of pricing is that you’re able to see the immediate benefit,” ​said Tay.

“If you go from the eco angle, people can’t see the benefit straightaway.

“With this strategy, people can immediately see the benefit as well as it’s eco-friendly and helps to reduce pollution.”

Nonetheless, should customers not have a container or bag, they could borrow a recycled container for free.

Tay said a second option would be to purchase a new recyclable container for about $3 onward, depending on the size. It would be available only upon request, and would not be made immediately apparent. She said this is to help customers to inculcate the habit to recycle and to reduce the buying of new containers.

Food for health

Even for a start, the range of food UnPackt carries is quite comprehensive, including staples such as rice and pasta, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), beans (mung beans, chick peas, lentils, soy, adzuki, black turtle beans), seeds (sunflower seeds, chia, quinoa, bulgur), olive oil, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, and natural food powders such as matcha powder, golden ginger powder and raw maca root powder.

According to Tay, they had observed a trend that consumers are looking for more healthy options in food, including in organic food and superfoods and are willing to pay a bit more for them.

“We stock a selection of such products for them,”​ she said.

They source all their food products from local Singaporean suppliers.

“We spent some time looking for those who would be able to supply us in large batches without using smaller packaging,” ​said Tay.

In the store, the food will be displayed in self-serve gravity bins with pull dispensers.

Tay said there will be three simple stations for customers. The first is to weigh the container, while the second would be to fill the container with the food item of choice.

At the final station, the total weight would be taken to determine the weight of the food, and then the price as well. The customer will then proceed to payment.

UnPackt will bring in fresh fruit and vegetables on the weekends “when most people do their grocery shopping”​.

True eco-store

The new store will be about 1,200 sq. ft., which Tay says is about the size of an average neighbourhood convenience shop. It will be located near the Upper Thomson and Ang Mo Kio area.

Next, the duo plan to introduce food delivery services, hopefully island-wide, by the second half of 2018.

On top of that, they also have plans to open more stores around Singapore in the future.

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