When you walk by in.gredients on Manor Road, you might mistake it as someone having a fun gathering with on their front lawn. A woman tends to the garden as several others snack and talk at picnic tables. On one end of the property, a swarm of children buzz around a playground while their parents sit on a wooden bench, watching them and talking amongst themselves.
When in.gredients first opened in 2012, it instantly garnered a lot of attention as being one of the first businesses in Austin to adopt a bulk-only, package-free approach. But one look at in.gredients and you realize that it’s so much more than a grocery store with unconventional packaging standards; it’s a micro-community spearheading a lot of progressive change in how people interact with their food and more.
“It’s fun to be a community hub,” said Erica Howard, in.gredients’ assistant manager, “My son and my stepson both come here, and it’s kind of like growing up at a general store. Everyone knows their name and they know what it’s like to work hard and have a lot of fun.”
Erica first got involved at the store not as an employee or customer, but as a volunteer helping dig in the hugelkultur garden at the front of the property. The raised garden beds were planted on top of piles of tree limbs and wood, which recreate the effect of a forest by slowly decaying and becoming a sponge to hold moisture so that the beds require less watering over time.
Since then, Erica’s role at in.gredients has evolved and she is now responsible for helping uphold the store’s three core values of sustainability, community and locality. Beyond selling the produce grown out of the garden, in.gredients teams up and sells goods from several local vendors, from farmers to local businesses. The store was actually one of the first vendors to carry Lick’s wholesale pints.
“[I enjoy] working with the vendors, finding a new startup vendor and giving them their first account,” Erica said. “Especially the ones that are trying to do something really well in the right way, like sustainably and using fair labor practices and using quality ingredients. It’s fun to find those people who are really excited about they do.”
In fact, in.gredients sells a lot of the components that make up our ice cream, like Mill-King dairy and G&S Groves citrus fruits. The store also uses ingredients they carry to make premade foods for sale, from salads to samosas. All foods are seasonal, non-GMO and sustainably cultivated using organic practices.
“We really only have room for one of everything, so we try to find one or maybe two options for a product that really tastes good and is beneficial,” Erica said. “We don’t have a supplement section – our food is the supplement section.”
The store’s community engagement goes far beyond their shelves. As part of Soul-y Austin Business District incubator, in.gredients has formed a steering committee and is trying to get other businesses involved to tackle several important issues in their area. Erica said one of the first challenges they want to address is the walkability of Manor Road.
“It is a very hard street to navigate on foot,” Erica said. “There are a lot of really neat businesses but not a lot of feeling of connecting us without a car.”
The store also tries to serve as an example of a different model of grocery store – one that’s had zero food waste since its first day and throws less into the landfill per month than the average American does per day. in.gredients takes part in the Austin Zero Waste Alliance, an organization that hopes to see the city reach zero waste by 2040. The store and the city have worked together over the years to develop an idea of how that goal can be realized.
“We definitely try to let them know about what we’re doing and they’re happy to see a business that’s implementing things that they’re gradually phasing in over time,” Erica said.
Though in.gredients opened as a package-free grocery store, it now carries some products with minimal and recyclable packaging. Erica said the culture of convenience was too powerful for most customers to adopt what in.gredients was trying to do, but the attempt resulted in a few success stories. The shop had required coffee vendors to deliver their beans in reusable buckets, and now Third Coast Coffee uses that delivery method throughout their entire wholesale program.
“Packaging has a lot of perks. It tells you what [the product] is and gives you a beautiful graphic. It helps you remember how to cook it when you come home and helps you preserve it,” Erica said. “We decided to get it into the conversation of packaging rather than push it to the side.”
The store also partners with a different non-profit organization every six months, spreading awareness and regularly donating to a cause. This month’s partner is Allies Against Slavery, an Austin organization working to make a slave-free city.
In the end, Erica said she hopes to see people’s grocery experience become more of a community experience. By the looks of it – from the friends eating al fresco to the girl squealing as she flies down the slide in her Disney princess dress – it’s pretty clear that in.gredients knows what it takes to make that happen.