"We run from one crisis to the next"

Instead of a soft rustling, you can hear the clinking of the shopping baskets here. Because in the unpackaged shop in Laim there is no pasta made out of plastic bags, no beans out of aluminum cans and no cucumbers wrapped in cling film. Here the customers fill their groceries themselves – preferably in glass containers they have brought with them. The unpacked shop on Willibaldstraße in the west of Munich has been around since June 2020 – it is organized as a cooperative and was the first of its kind in Munich. Now a cooperative in the north of Munich wants to follow suit and open another shop where packaging-free shopping is possible is. A good, sustainable idea at first glance – but does the concept also work in times of energy crisis and inflation?

We run from one crisis to the next,” says Evi Piehlmeier. The mathematician sits on the board of the unpackaged shop in Laim and knows that retailers, especially organic and unpackaged shops, are currently facing problems. Because the costs are too high in many places and the turnover is too low. What is the most money spent on? “Personnel,” says Piehlmeier – but the purchase of the goods has also become more expensive, many suppliers have increased the minimum order quantity, and now you still have to arm yourself for the rising energy prices. The motto now is: cut internal costs. Piehlmeier explains, for example, that it is no longer just an external company that cleans the shop, but that a lot of things are also done by the volunteers themselves.

The mathematician is not surprised that retail sales are falling: “Where do people look first again? When shopping for food.” According to Piehlmeier, owner-managed unpackaged shops in particular are suffering from this and have to close in many places. According to the German Unpacked Association, which has 322 shops among its members, 35 businesses have closed this year – mostly for economic reasons. In 2021 there were only 13. The advantage of the Laimer Unverpackt shop is that it is organized as a cooperative, says Piehlmeier. More than 540 members now own at least one share and thus support packaging-free shopping in the west of Munich. “If the butter here is ten cents more expensive than at Alnatura, I still buy it here because it’s my shop,” says Piehlmeier. Many others in the district also have this awareness and would continue to shop in bulk stores despite rising prices.

Unpackaged shops: In the unpackaged shop, beans are first filled into jars, then weighed and paid for at the checkout.

In the unpacked shop, beans are first filled into jars, then weighed and paid for at the checkout.

(Photo: Alessandra Schellnegger)

Bulk shops: If you don’t have containers with you, you can use free disposable glasses for shopping.

If you don’t have a container with you, you can use free disposable glasses for shopping.

(Photo: Alessandra Schellnegger)

Unpackaged shops: In addition to groceries, the unpackaged shop in Laim also sells detergents and cleaning agents.

In addition to groceries, the unpacked shop in Laim also sells detergents and cleaning agents.

(Photo: Alessandra Schellnegger)

Sustainability when shopping is also important to a group of citizens in the north of Munich. And because there is still no unpackaged shop in Moosach , another cooperative was founded there in March 2022 with the aim of opening one. The members are currently looking for a suitable shop and are recruiting additional supporters. An official entry in the register of cooperatives does not yet exist, says Benedikt Häuser. He is on the board of directors of the newly planned unpackaged store. A share costs 150 euros – so far around 50 people have signed at least one, some even more. In total, the cooperative from the north of Munich currently has around 15,000 euros at its disposal, says Häuser. Not enough to actually open a shop. Because: deposit, furniture and goods filling – all this has to be paid for.

“The desired goal, also in consultation with the other shops, is somewhere around 60 to 70,000 euros, so that you have enough reserves,” says Häuser. By “other shops” he means the Laimer unpacked shop. The cooperative in the west of Munich gave the newcomers tips on starting a business and business plans, among other things. “We don’t see ourselves as competition, we think it would be great if there was a bulk store in every part of the city, says Evi Piehlmeier from Laim.

According to the German Unpacked Association, there are currently seven shops in Munich where packaging-free shopping is possible. If a suitable location is found, there would be the second Munich unpackaged shop in Moosach, which is organized as a cooperative. Is this a new trend in the industry? The association says that the discourse on the cooperative organizational and legal form is lively in their community. Existing projects would also exchange views on whether a change in legal form made sense – for example, economic crises could be better cushioned by cooperatives.

Unpackaged shops: Unpackaged often also means "organic" and "regional".

Unpackaged often also means “organic” and “regional”.

(Photo: Alessandra Schellnegger)

Evi Piehlmeier from the Laimer unpackaged shop sees it similarly. Although the bureaucracy of a cooperative eats up a lot of time, she thinks the corporate form for bulk stores is the right one. As a cooperative, the shop on Willibaldstrasse does not aim to make a profit, says Piehlmeier: “We don’t want to be in the black, that’s all we want.” If the worst-case scenario were to happen and the shop had to close, members with a share would not lose a large sum of money. Despite the energy crisis and rising food costs, she is optimistic about the future. The Unpacked Association also reports that they are convinced of the concept regardless of the current situation – because unpacked often also means “organic” and “regional.”

The current situation for the newly founded cooperative in the north of Munich is more difficult to assess. “We now have a business plan, which is of course subject to a certain degree of uncertainty,” says Benedikt Häuser. He can’t predict how shopping behavior will change in six months – especially because the Moosacher unpackaged store doesn’t even exist yet. However, the cooperative did not question the project itself.

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