Back in the 1980s, weigh-your-own shops were a common sight on Britain’s high streets.
This type of store had all but disappeared by the early 1990s, but as a new breed of environmentally-conscious shopper came to the fore in the noughties it seemed like the perfect time for someone to launch a high-end zero packaging grocery store.
That someone was Catherine Conway, who in 2006 set up ‘Unpackaged’ on a stall in Broadway Market in London.
“I used to go to a health food shop locally to refill my Ecover household cleaners but still had to buy all my dry goods in packaging that I immediately threw away when I got home and put them into jars,” she recalls.
“It seemed silly that I couldn’t refill all my food in the same way as the cleaners, so I started thinking that perhaps I could develop a system that people could refill.”
A year after setting up the stall, Conway opened a shop in Islington. Then, in December last year, Unpackaged moved to a larger unit in Hackney.
Although the operation may have scaled up, the modus operandi hasn’t changed. Customers visit the store with their own reusable containers, which are weighed at the counter the first time they visit the store. They then choose the product they want, fill their containers with the amounts they require and pay for the additional weight.
Conway estimates that savings on individual items can be as high as 50p thanks to the absence of packaging.
“It’s very hard to quantify how much consumers can save overall as the cost of each product’s packaging can differ wildly depending on the product. However, as a rule of thumb, we believe that the average family can save £470 per year by cutting out packaging,” says Conway.