In.gredients, a new Austin food startup, promises to change the way we shop for food. When the company’s founders announced its plan to eliminate wasteful packaging, foodies and the media celebrated the merits of the new enterprise, hopeful that in.gredients customers would arrive at the new store with reusable and recycled bags and containers. The founders announced they would provide package-free food that would begin the march towards a zero-waste food system. Major media outlets such as The New York Times and CNN piled on with accolades for the company, long before the business opened its doors.
Now that the doors are wide open, the company’s big vision seems smaller than advertised. While the beautiful repurposed Austin cottage sells some of Austin’s finest artisanal and local food (bread from Easy Tiger, quiches from Cake & Spoon), the building only contains three rows of bulk bins, hardly half of the bulk bin space in Central Market. After purchasing half a dozen eggs (egg cartons provided) and some peanut butter (plastic tubs provide), I left the store wishing that the founders would begin negotiations with one of the empty warehouses on the fringes of East Austin. In.gredients should return to and embrace that original mission to think bigger and bolder.
If you want to disrupt the food system by building a zero-waste outlet, you need lots of bulk, in the sort of space occupied by Home Depot or Costo. Maybe a package-less Costco, filled with local, healthy bulk food items. Disruptions require boldness, audacity, and the willingness to go all-in with an idea that could overwhelm the package-intensive weak areas of our food system.
The founders of in.gredients are probably not in negotiations with the owners of a large warehouse but they could be inspired by some early examples of bulk food storage that defy the unattractive optics of industrial warehouses, such as the King’s Cross grain depot in London during the 19th century.
London’s grain supply entered the City through rail depots positioned around the periphery, bringing food in bulk from all directions outside London. The train from northern England delivered grain into the King’s Cross rail terminus where Lewis Cubitt built a wheat storage facility in 1851-2. Trains rumbled down from Lincolnshire after the annual wheat harvest, supplied the grain depot at the King’s Cross rail terminus, and departed for London bakeries aboard urban canal boats. Up to 60,000 sacks of grain moved from rail to canal and to the roads in London, lifted up and moved from one conveyance to another by an impressive hydraulic lifting system, a modern innovation of the Victorian period. Acting like our modern “food hubs,” these 19th century bulk food storage buildings appeared in other European cities.
(You can learn more about granaries here: http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/granaries/granaries.htm) Seems that the founders of in.gredients could find inspiring structures from these early granaries. Founders, Lane brothers, Christian, Joseph, Patrick, and Brian Nunnery, Christopher Pepe.