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Shopping without packaging at ‘Freikost Deinet’ in Bonn

Vegan gummy bears from a dispenser, solid shampoo bars and muesli at the push of a button: ‘Freikost Deinet’ in Bonn does away with packaging for goods which even organic supermarkets display and sell in plastic bottles and cartons. The approach saves waste, spares the environment – and is finding growing support across Germany.

With the average German carrying home a new plastic bag full of supermarket groceries every five days, the country generates 16 million tonnes of packaging waste every year. But do we really need to buy slices of cheese on a bed of polystyrene? Can’t cucumbers do without a second skin made of plastic? And is it necessary to use a different plastic bag for every shopping trip?

Hilke Deinet thinks not. Since 2014, the geography graduate with a background in hotel management and her food analyst husband Tim have been selling traditional organic produce and over 300 fairly traded and ecologically manufactured products in loose quantities at her store in the Bonn suburb of Duisdorf. Their product range includes fruit and vegetables, cheese and cereals from the region’s organic farmers, in addition to fairly traded coffee from East Africa, bars of hair soap and solid shampoo.

Shoppers at ‘Freikost Deinet’ arrive at the store carrying old egg boxes, empty flour sacks, glass jars and even galvanized buckets. They fill up their own grinders with pepper and other spices in-store. Sometimes they even dispense pasta or cereals from one of the 100 wall-mounted food dispensers straight into a saucepan. ‘Our customers are very resourceful in that respect,’ says Hilke Deinet. But for those lacking imagination, a paper bag is never far away.

The idea behind ‘Freikost Deinet’

Hilke Deinet developed her business idea on a study trip to Australia in 2005, where she came across concepts similar to stores already operating in England, France and the US. ‘After that, the idea just kept buzzing around inside my head.’ On returning to Germany, she set out to buy produce with as little packaging as possible: ‘But I often failed.’ So ‘Freikost Deinet’, the organic store she opened in May 2014, was an attempt to address that problem.

Buying only what you need

Shopping for unpackaged groceries supplied by regional producers not only reduces plastic waste, it also eliminates emissions resulting from long-distance transportation. But there are also many other benefits. ‘People can come to us with their recipe books and buy just the required amount of each ingredient,’ says Hilke Deinet. And single people are not forced to buy family-sized packs, with contents that are likely to go to spoil over time.

Another key factor for Hilke Deinet is that the products in her store must appeal to customers on grounds of taste or other positive attributes, because there is no brand labelling to dazzle them. By talking with customers, she stimulates an interest in quality and quantity that we are in danger of losing in a society currently dominated by advertising, junk food and throw-away consumerism: ‘I suppose we try to educate people a little.’ It also gives Hilke Deinet an opportunity to explain why a handmade loaf of bread carrying the Demeter label ‘will always be a little more expensive than a loaf from the traditional organic sector.’

In general, Hilke Deinet’s prices are a pleasant surprise – although they obviously cannot match the discount supermarkets, which are able to squeeze the prices they pay the producers and import the cheapest products available from faraway markets. ‘We sell our packaged goods at the same price as any standard organic store,’ Hilke Deinet explains. ‘And where we do without packaging, we pass on an average saving of as much as one euro per kilo.’

Picture gallery: ‘Freikost Deinet’ sells more than just loose fruit and vegetables

  • Freikost Deinet – portrait Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    ‘We are an organic store offering a full range of products,’ says Hilke Deinet. ‘Which is why we offer unpackaged goods only when that is reasonable and possible.’ But as a glimpse inside ‘Freikost Deinet’s’ retail space in Bonn-Duisdorf shows, ‘reasonable and possible’ seems to be most of the time. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – food dispenser Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    At the core of the zero-packaging concept is the food dispenser, used by ‘Freikost Deinet’ to dispense rice, pasta, cereals, muesli and even vegan gummy bears. The dispensers originate in the USA – the only market manufacturing them at present. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – scales Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    Alongside the dispensers is the grain mill, which enables customers to grind dispensed grains for personal use. Between the two is a set of scales, which are used first to weigh the empty containers brought by customers. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – tare weight Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    This empty weight is known as the tare weight. This value is subtracted from the overall weight to give the net weight to be paid for. Customers at the packaging-free organic store can also discover the net weight by looking underneath the containers on display. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – still life Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    For shoppers who forget to bring a container of their own, produce can be put in paper bags available around the store. Naturally these are made of recycled paper and promote a joint campaign among the region’s organic and health food traders. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – cheese Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    Particularly impressive is the range of soft, sliced and hard organic cheeses that fill two display counters. These are made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk and are supplied mostly by regional producers – as are her sliced sausage and hams, bread and eggs. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – board Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    As well as attaching importance to being rooted in the local community, the packaging-free organic store greatly values fairly traded products. And with a cryptic sense of humour, as shown by this sign for Spanish oranges direct from ‘free-range farmers’. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – leek Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    The main staple of the packaging-free organic store is seasonal fruit and vegetables. Every so often the produce is hand-sprayed with water to prevent it from drying out. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – reduction Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    Any individual items considered no longer at their best are sold at a reduced price. Unlike most supermarkets, however, packaging-free organic stores do not generate large volumes of produce past its ‘sell-by date’. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

  • Freikost Deinet – slogan Photo (c) Thomas Köster

    ‘Freikost Deinet’ is not just about making the world a better place by reducing waste: for all its idealism, it is a well thought-out concept with a proper strategy and business plan. Photo (c) Thomas Köster

Zero-packaging a growing trend

Germany’s first zero-packaging organic store opened in Kiel in early 2014 – followed a few months later by ‘Freikost Deinet’. Within the year, similar stores had sprung up in Dresden, Heidelberg, Mainz, Munich, Berlin, Schwäbisch Gmünd and Münster. So Germans can already talk of a nationwide trend towards unpackaged groceries. In Leipzig there are even plans for a zero-packaging supermarket – if the necessary initial capital can be sourced through crowdfunding.

But ‘Freikost Deinet’ is already well past that stage. Just a year after opening, loose produce is already proving very popular in Bonn-Duisdorf. ‘We sometimes get customers who are hesitant about using the food dispensers and to start with buy only fruit and vegetables,’ explains Hilke Deinet. ‘But they soon get over that.’

Without doubt, one of the reasons the store functions so well is that the Deinets grounded their vision of a world with less plastic by attending start-up seminars, drafting business plans and developing economic foresight. Slow-selling goods like vinegar and oil were quickly omitted from the product range. On the other hand, there were extra orders for bestsellers such as muesli. ‘We are organic in our heart, but also in our head,’ explains Hilke Deinet.

‘We have no desire to become a chain store.’

The concept is already giving rise to potential imitators. ‘Every so often someone comes into the shop asking for tips or advice,’ says Hilke Deinet. ‘We have even been asked why we don’t consider developing our concept into a franchise operation. But we have no desire to become a chain store.’ Their primary objective is to establish a firm foothold in the neighbourhood. ‘We have lots of plans. But first and foremost our place is right here – in the local community.’

December 2015

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30 December 2015

Oh, great idea, I love it.

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