Re-‘Filler’ up! Prospect Heights entrepreneur dreams of waste-free grocery

Re-‘Filler’ up! Prospect Heights entrepreneur dreams of waste-free grocery
Photo by Jason Speakman

An eco-savvy Prospect Heights resident who claims she only creates enough trash to fill one garbage can a month is on a mission to help Brooklynites lighten their loads by opening a store where customers use their own containers to get groceries home.

Sarah Metz recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for a brick-and-mortar store called the Fillery that will sell foods in a way rarely seen since the days of “Little House on the Prairie,” when quality packaging consisted of a burlap sack, and oats didn’t come in a fancy disposable tube with a handsome Quaker on it.

“Package-free shopping is such an easy way for an individual to help address a huge problem,” she said. “By reducing packaging waste you’re also making the effort to reduce food waste.”

Items for sale will include nuts, grains, dry fruits, olive oil, chocolates, and household cleaners, all stored in huge containers that customers will scoop out into their own jugs, crocks, jars, or sacks — just like they did in the halcyon days of yesteryear. Patrons can also pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from regional farms — also just like they did in the halcyon days of yesteryear.

But how will it keep shoppers from throwing stuff away?

Giving patrons the ability to take just what they need will save on wasted food — unlike the Costco-sized packages of produce that end up in a landfill, like 40 percent of food sold in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

For those who wander into the store empty handed, the Fillery will sell reusable containers such as spice and mason jars, and will have free paper bags so people can start their collection of Earth-friendly packaging.

But convincing people to buy food without the flashy packaging that is designed to lure in customers and help them make decisions is challenging, says the manager of the country’s first package-free store — which had to eventually introduce packaged foods to its aisles to keep itself afloat.

“When you take away a few key things that help hone in on those decisions, you’re making it harder for the customer to make choices,” said Joshua Blaine, who manages eco-conscious grocer “In.gredients” in Austin, Texas.

He said the package-free philosophy is big in Europe, where people are more interested in cooking with whole ingredients instead of throwing ready-made fixings into their recipes.

“In.gredients” still offers bulk foods and Blaine said he dreams of stocking package-free aisles someday, but it wasn’t a sustainable model for the Texas store since it is located in an area where people have to drive to get their groceries, instead of picking them up quickly and frequently on the way home — something folks would be able to do in Brooklyn.

“Thinking about being in Brooklyn, if it’s in a high-density neighborhood that could work,” he said.

High-density, and forward thinking — Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) is trying to pass a bill that would charge 10 cents for every plastic bag needed to get your groceries home.

Metz, who also has grants from a business competition and an investor to help fund the store, has to raise $12,000 by April 1 to meet her Kickstarter goal. And she is optimistic the crowdfunding campaign will get Brooklynites talking about going waste-free.

“It’s about getting the conversation going,” she said, “I really do hope a wide range of people embrace it.”

It wouldn’t be the first store in Brooklyn to offer food and other goodies by the pound. Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights, as well as Perelandra on Remsen Street, have been successfully serving it up that way for years.

And Metz — who was mentored by one of the Sahadi’s owners — has noticed.

“Sahadi’s has been a very successful business for decades, especially in bulk foods,” said Metz.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill