Ouni, Luxembourg’s first packaging-free shop in the Grand Duchy opens today! City Savvy’s Lara Nikolic went to chat to Anne Jacoby, one of its founders, just a few weeks before today’s grand opening.
The atmosphere is buzzing with volunteers and a real sense of community – people coming and going, greeting each other, kissing and hugging. There’s music, chatter and laughter, none of which stops during my interview with Anne, one of the seven founding members of Ouni.
˝It’s quite incredible because there are always people coming in, helping, sanding, varnishing, cleaning˝,
Let’s start with the most important question – will there be chocolate sold at Ouni?
Oh, there will be chocolate, certainly. Packaging-free chocolate! In fact, we will probably be selling chocolate from Tricentenaire with their metal packaging that you can always reuse.
What sparked my interest in Ouni was a post about the project, which seemed a while ago now.
It has taken some time, that is true, but it was altogether quite quick. It is a cooperative, which means we needed the time; in the end, it only took four months to put together 180,000 euros by selling the shares at 100 euros each. But then it took a few months to find a location. As soon as we found a place where most of our criteria were reunited, the rent was incredible. So we had to get to know the Luxembourgish real estate market and see what our possibilities were.
You’ve mentioned Ouni is a cooperative business. Can you explain the concept?
We’re still a competitor to other businesses but organisation-wise, we have the seven founding members of which six are on the board. We also have a General Assembly that meets at least once a year for decision-making. One big difference is that one person equals one vote, whether the person has bought one share or twenty. In other businesses, the number of votes you have, depends on the amount of shares you’ve bought. We also have the rule that a single person cannot buy more than 20% of our capital, so nobody can take over.
How do the founding members differ from other members?
Six of the seven founding members are on the board and at the moment we make all the decisions, this is where we have ˝more than the rest˝. This, however, can change in a General Assembly where other members can vote to join the board. But there is no real privilege in being a founder. The General Assembly is above everything; it takes the decisions on big changes. The board will make decisions on management issues and Caroline and I, who will be regularly employed at the shop, make decisions about the day-to-day activities.
Ouni has a very active facebook page, the team takes part in many fairs and expositions. So the question is, how much work has already been put into the project before the shop is even open?
We are organised in such a way that each of us is responsible for one, or a few, working groups. That way each of us can work relatively independently. Vanessa, for example, has gone to Paris recently to attend a conference about the environmental impact and is researching what effect Ouni actually has in terms of reducing waste. Patricia is responsible for the workshop group; she’s been meeting people who want to have workshops here, preparing contracts for them, looking for solutions to all the open questions. My main responsibility at the moment is opening the shop and all that involves. There’s Kasia, who is doing the website and writes our press releases. We all see it as fun and we all became friends in the process, having worked closely together since January. We’ve gone through a lot together and it’s not always been easy, but we’ve always found a way through.
Where does the idea for Ouni come from? Where does the need come from?
Well, the need… we have supermarkets offering products in three or four wrappings sometimes, with no alternative.
On average, a person in Luxembourg produces 650 kg of rubbish per year and a third of that at least, is packaging, which is horrendous! We simply think that this can be changed.
Why has packaging become such an important part of every product?
It’s easy – even oranges and bananas are now being packaged, which is the height of silliness. There are many reasons why a company would do that: it’s hygienic, there is room for marketing, it’s also where all the information about allergens and ingredients can be put. But we believe that all this legally-binding information can be printed on a label as well, and then stuck to the container. Let’s say you come to the shop with your tupperware. You go to the scales and weigh it, then stick the label on. It should stay on for a while and be resistant to the dishwasher so that you don’t have to weigh your container every time you come in. Next, you fill your box with whatever you came to the shop for and weigh it again. This time, the sticker that will be printed out, containing all the information about the product, comes off easily when you wash the container.
If I understand correctly, the person coming to your shop can either bring along the containers or buy them here.
Yes. But it will have its price so it’s a better idea to bring your own! We do want to produce things locally… we have bags from Luxembourg and from India and there’s a price difference. We will also have bottles and jars which will cost between 4 and 6 euros.
Talking about the price, organic produce usually carries a certain price tag.
Yup! We want to, however, transmit the price reduction we get, seeing as our items are not packaged, to the client. Normally that’s about 15% of the price… Let’s put it like that: most things will probably be cheaper here than high-quality food in other organic shops.
Ouni will also be a shop with locally produced goods…
We’re trying to find as many locally produced items as possible. We will start with Luxembourg and then we’ll be looking at the Grande Region, which means a 300-500km diameter. Of course, there will be products from far away as well, but coffee, for example, will still be roasted here, the oranges will be coming from a farm in Sicily, well known to a member of ours.
What kind of items will you be selling here? Can a person come in and do their weekly grocery shopping without supplementing from regular shops?
I would say, yes! We won’t be having meat or fish, so the vegetarians will be happy here. The problem with such products is not so much that they are perishable, it’s that you have to learn about the different cuts of meat, for example, and learn the trade. In the end, it’s just too expensive so we decided against it. However, you can buy everything you need for your daily life – fruit and vegetables, pasta, flour, beans, toothpaste and brush, soap, washing powder, toilet paper. Also, there will be a small hygiene corner. I have a lip balm, for instance, with refillable packaging. It’s from a Luxembourgish producer with his own bees.
Do you think it is possible to avoid packaging even while shopping in conventional shops?
Oh, I do think so. My family does not produce a lot of rubbish, now we cannot put it all in a jar as Bea Johnson (of Zero-Waste lifestyle fame) can, but it’s not much. Cooking your own food already avoids packaging since you then wash your pans and pots and don’t need to deal with any plastic that pre-prepared meals come in. Also, you can always buy fruit and vegetables which are not packaged.
Back to Ouni, how did the members meet?
One of the founding members, Patricia, wrote a Facebook post, saying ˝I’ve had it with all this packaging, who wants to open a packaging-free shop˝?
Just like that?
Well, it was the first thing that happened. Then the friends of her facebook friends saw it, who heard other people were also interested. That’s how three people who didn’t know each other got together – Patricia, Vanessa and Caroline.
Was she serious with the post or was it just an emotional outburst?
In the beginning, it was an emotional outburst but when she met all these people who said they actually wanted to do it, she said ˝Ok, we have the time, let’s go for it˝. None of them has any economic background and they started out with 1, 2, 3 Let’s go social, a training program organised through nyuko and supported by the Chambre de Commerce. They learnt how to do a business plan, plan the budget, ask themselves the right questions.
Is globalisation an evil word these days?
Well, it isn’t an evil word… we can’t do without it nowadays, that is quite clear. The negative side is that is very unfair and that the main part of the market is controlled by just a few companies. Ten, apparently. That is why the transition movement, started in England, had the idea of ˝Why are we going to the supermarkets putting our money in the pockets of multinational companies and not keeping it in our own neighbourhood? Why not keep the economy turning at home˝? In 2013 this networking started in Luxembourg as well. Anybody can join up and meet; I’ve heard about it and thought ˝why not˝ so I joined it in 2014.
You’ve mentioned workshops. You see Ouni not only as a shop but also as a cafe, a place of meeting, socialising and where learning takes place.
We are thinking about bringing up topics like making your own shampoo, using the leftovers in your kitchen in a sensible way, making wax wraps to use instead of plastic container; there are many ideas.
You are just heading into the grand opening. How do you see the development of the project, what are your next steps?
Well, it’s really exciting building it all up and we’ve been asked quite a few times if we are going to build another shop. At the moment, we are only looking at this one, also because… I’m not sure that you can take what we did and transplant it elsewhere. You need people prepared to buy shares because if you start taking loans from the bank, it becomes counterproductive. I suppose what we could do, if this is successful, is to open another shop in town. Or move to bigger premises and expand, I think this is more realistic.
Any final thoughts? Hopes for the future?
My big concern is that people continue coming in. I’m sure at the beginning everybody will come to see but I hope people will really stay and come into the shop to ensure that we really make a difference.
Ouni opens today, Monday 12 December!
All photos and images published with kind permission of Ouni.