Original Unverpackt (originally unpackaged) is Berlin’s first supermarket to sell only goods without one-way retail packaging. With their concept, the store’s two founders, Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski, are attracting a growing crowd – and global interest.

Berlin’s Kreuzberg district has always played host to a broad spectrum of alternative ways of life. And while some of these could only thrive in this particular ecosystem, others have the potential to tackle urban challenges in other metropolises. Take Original Unverpackt, a small supermarket that has banished all one-way packaging from its shelves. Groceries are simply transferred to the shoppers’ own jars or bottles/canning jars available from the store – from olive oil, spices, and algae-flavored tofu to cleaning supplies and personal care items. Here, singles no longer come home with family-sized goods, but only buy what they need – creating less plastic or food waste on the way.

smart magazine: Original Unverpackt might be the only German supermarket that regularly makes it into the US media. What separates you from the competition?

Sara Wolf: We are Germany’s first ever supermarket without any one-way packaging. What sets our concept apart is that we really try to avoid all waste, from the product’s manufacturing to the customer’s home, i. e. across the entire supply chain.

smart magazine: So, is it all about more eco-friendly packaging, or do you also swear by sustainable products?

“Unpackaged groceries cause significantly less waste – and food waste.”
Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf: Naturally, we also expect our products to be sustainable. Most of them are fair trade, organic, and – where possible – also from local producers. This can be hard to guarantee for overseas bananas, but proves easy to ascertain when it comes to “Rosenrot & Feengrün” jam from the Spree Forest or organic honey from Berlin.

smart magazine: Rice, nuts, or pulses are available from large dispensers, allowing your customers to draw just what they need. Even olive oil is available on tap. Are absolutely all of your groceries unpackaged?

Sara Wolf: Yes, because we believe that one-way packaging – and the currently prevalent shopping model – are simply no longer timely or sustainable. We don’t have endless shelves crammed with an oversupply of goods or overdone, frilly packaging. Unpackaged groceries cause significantly less waste – and food waste – since everyone can buy just the right amount.

original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine
original unverpackt smart magazine

smart magazine: On the other hand, packaging can be a very practical and hygienic solution.

Sara Wolf: Plastic packaging is very practical, but also very troublesome. Not only because it adds to your garbage pile, but also because it is incredibly polluting to the environment. A very large chunk of it ends up in the oceans via the waterways. I believe that everyone understands that that’s a serious problem. Furthermore, plastic packaging contains several ingredients, like softening agents or toxins, that end up in our own food. That is, we directly ingest it through our food. This makes the assumed hygiene aspect of traditional packaging a superficial argument.

smart magazine: Who shops at your store?

Sara Wolf: Our customer base is very diverse. Most of the people who shop at Original Unverpackt are very normal; people from all social strata and districts – progressive Kreuzbergers as well as the rather conservative Wilmersdorfers. In the end, I think the problem of rising affluence-related waste is something that speaks to us all.

Watch our video “One fine day in Berlin” featuring Original Unverpackt, Ralf Steeg, and Philipp Geist.

All the images, incl. the header image: Markus Altmann