Inspired by a video of a grocery store overseas where people could purchase items in any amount they require, 36-year-old Florence Tay and 38-year-old Jeff Lam founded UnPackt.
The zero-packaging grocery store opened in Ang Mo Kio this May 2018 and stocks dried goods, spices, snacks, home cleaners and various lifestyle goods.
Unlike typical grocery stores, UnPackt’s products don’t come pre-packed in fixed amounts. Rather, the store operates on a weighing system.
Customers are encouraged to bring your own containers (BYOC) when shopping at UnPackt and upon entering the store, one of the owners will measure and mark down the weight of your containers.
Slipped your mind? No worries because you’re welcome to use one of the clean containers in the store. These are donated by other customers or sourced by the owners so it’d be nice if you could bring them back on your next visit!
After filling the containers with the desired amount of products you require, just proceed to the cashier to weigh the goods and make your payment.
Items are priced according to weight and there’s no minimum purchase required. In fact, there was an auntie who purchased just 10 cents worth of dried chilli, Florence shared.
Customers don’t have to feel conscious about purchasing small quantities because that’s the kind of service UnPackt hopes to provide – allowing people to determine and purchase the amount they require. “We don’t want to encourage consumerism,” she added.
When shopping in supermarkets, people tend to buy more than needed since items are only available in certain amounts. Leftovers chucked into the refrigerator or cupboards may end up being forgotten or spoilt due to the humid weather, a problem especially prevalent for singles or young families.
Thus, by shopping packaging-less, the ingredients are fresher and less waste, both in terms of food and plastic, is generated.
UnPackt is working towards becoming a social enterprise and in future, will hire single mums and seniors. But for now, the two founders are running the store themselves. So, shoppers can expect a rather intimate shopping experience as either is up to offer help or suggestions!
For instance, with her prior experience of working in the Singapore Heart Foundation, Florence supports a healthy living lifestyle and would be happy to suggest healthier choices that you could incorporate into your diet.
You might notice that all the food items in store are organic while browsing through them. This is because the duo wanted to provide healthier options wherever possible. Thus, you’ll find items like Dream Rice, a low GI-variation of white rice that is better for diabetics.
However, people may thus have a misconception that UnPackt is an “atas shop” and worry about their purchases being too pricey. Florence allayed these fears by explaining that if shoppers were to just pick up the quantities that they need, they end up paying less to get organic items than if they were to purchase pre-packaged options in supermarkets.
For reference, I brought home two jars of granola mix, a jar of coconut flakes and half a jar of oats and the total amounted to less than S$10.
Items available include staples like organic pasta or organic oats; spices like dried chilli and cinnamon sticks; dried fruits including berries, figs, goji berries; superfoods like chia seeds, turmeric powder, and more.
You can also pick up snacks like coconut flakes, nut mixes, granola and vegetable chips or old-school ones like ice gems and Khong Guan biscuits.
My favourite buy was the Hazelnut granola, which I polished off in days despite initially planning on saving it to garnish smoothie bowls. Oops.
UnPackt also stocks lifestyle products that make it easier for Singaporeans to live a more conscious, eco-friendly lifestyle.
For instance, you can find lotion bars, candle melts, metal straws, menstrual cups and more at the store. Though some items are packaged, the owners shared that it’s inevitable due to hygiene concerns.
But, there’s a recycling system in place – after customers are finished with the products, such as the lotion bars, they can bring back the clean metal tin and these will be sent back to the company so that they can reuse or recycle them.
As more people are switching from plastic straws to metal or bamboo ones, the next step can be to ditch other single-use plastics like zip-loc bags. The silicon ones available at UnPackt serve as a great alternative!
These Silicon Cook Bags (S$6.90) are leak-proof so you can even store liquids like soup and bubble tea. Or, as Florence suggests, they’re great companions for those who work in offices.
After using them to takeaway your lunch, simply wash them and leave them to dry. By the end of the day, they’re ready to be reused to dabao dinner or bread for the next day’s breakfast.
Lightweight and slim, these bags can be folded up when not in use to save space. Convenient and eco-friendly, umm yes please!
Eco-enzyme home cleaners are available at UnPackt and the beauty of the pro-rated weighing system is that you can purchase a small amount to bring home to try out without committing to a bulk purchase, just like a customer did.
She purchased about 100ml of one of the cleaning liquids to try out and was sold. The aforementioned customer then returned with a huge container to fill up with the cleanser afterwards.
Though they’re the founders of a zero-waste grocery store, Florence and Jeff admit that they still don’t lead zero-waste lifestyles. But, they hope that with UnPackt, it’ll make leading an eco-friendly lifestyle more accessible to everyone, including themselves!
I truly did find the system really advantageous for consumers; I’m already eyeing the silicon bag and granola mix for my next grocery trip. My only gripe is that I wish they’ll expand to the West please because man, we always seem to missing out on all the good stuff!
Prices: Starts from S$0.10, pro-rated based on the weight of your purchases