Sunday, September 21, 2008

The future is here: Four Worlds Packaging System

I have spent over two years focusing on the substance of the Four Worlds Bakery product; but until recently, I have put very little attention into packaging. The substance counts big time, but proper outside packaging is necessary in creating a successful product for any market. This week, we are launching the first big leap into a new bakery packaging system. I am writing this to give the details, illuminate the big picture and to invite your efforts to make this work.

The Big Picture. It will take extra effort from all of us to make this work. Although this is just a small step in solving many of our societal problems, this micro-effort is a large symbolic step for the future of business practice: our success will be an inspiration and model for other such efforts in the future. As our economy changes, so must our business and consumer practices. Creating waste no longer makes sense in the emerging economy. But we have to give up some conveniences and put forth some effort; and invest in a long-term waste reduction program. So I invite you to be part of this small effort.

The bakery is making a very large initial financial investment into this system (I had to put up $1200 just to print and buy the bags; and I had to buy labels, tags, washable containers, extra labor in managing the system, new shelves to physically store the bags, etc.), but in the long-term, we save big money in packaging costs. This means increased margins for the bakery products and reduces the likelihood of price increases with inflationary pressures; and might even result in price decreases while other bakeries will be raising prices. As the price of disposables go up, our costs will not be as affected. Our goal is to prove that eliminating waste is not only morally right, it makes financial sense. But we have to break out of the micro-consumer lens of seeing every transaction in isolation; we have to look at the big picture. And we have to be willing to look at and confront the costs of the waste we create with every purchase. This system is such an opportunity because you will have to do your own math and decide what makes sense for you.

The packaging system...the details. The system is quite simple. You pay a one-time $10, non-refundable, fee to get into the system; you opt-in to the system via the online order form, the next time you order. We tag 3 reusable logo-printed bags (pictured) for your exclusive use and we will pack your orders in your bags only. The bakery will technically own the bags, but will grant you exclusive use of the bags tagged with your name. The bags are made of 100% recycled materials; are 100% recyclable, washable, large enough for big orders and small enough for single loaf orders, and reusable. And, most importantly, due to it's white color, they are "flour proof."

Babka will be packed in washable, reusable plastic containers, instead of disposable plastic bags. Every time you pickup an order, you return one of your tagged reusable bags (washed or cleaned if necessary) and washable babka containers at the pickup site. If we go to pack your next order and we don't have a bag for you (due to you not returning your bag), we will charge you $5 for a new bag, which will be tagged with your name on it; so then you will have an extra bag in the system as a cushion for the next time you forget to return a bag. We will wash and sanitize the babka containers before reuse; and label them so you don't accidentally mix them into your other dishes at home. If a bag is damaged or unusable because of our transportation system, we will replace it. The $.25 fee for plastic bread bags will still apply.

You can opt-out of the system and request disposable paper bags, but we will charge you a $1 packaging fee plus another $.25 if you choose optional plastic bagging for the bread. The $1 packaging fee is waived for first time customers.

Croissant containers, for now, are still disposable. We have factored the costs of these containers into the cost of the croissant, but it doesn't work for orders of less than four croissant units. So we charge a $.50 fee for the container if you order less than 4 croissant.

The thinking behind this system.
  1. Financial. Part of my plan in not increasing prices to reduce costs in as many areas as possible without giving up quality in the actual bread products. So one of my targets is the use of disposable bags and packaging. After crunching the numbers, the long term savings are pretty clear. But it will take effort from all of us to realize these savings; we have to give up some convenience.
  2. Moral. Using disposable products reflects a mindset that fails to consider how our everyday actions will affect future generations who have no say in what we do today. While the use of some disposable products might make sense, many such conveniences are just wasteful and not sustainable in the long-term; and are an utter inefficient use of the our communal earth's resources.
  3. Vision. This bakery is so much bigger than just making good bread and pastry. It's about sustainability; a model for business where the consumer is connected to and provides essential feedback for what direction the business will take in the future. It's a cooperative effort to build and maintain our local community and connect with one another; and to become more aware of the blessings in everyday life.
  4. Connection. This is yet another opportunity to connect the baker with the consumer; a never-ending loop of energy exchange which is the essential underlying element that makes Four Worlds Bakery unique. All the outer manifestations (ie great bread) are merely a reflection of this goal of heightening our awareness of this connection.

An invitation. Please consider joining us in this effort by opting into the new packaging system. And realize it's so much more than a $10 fee and an promise to return the bags. This is an investment for your communal future; and a more satisfying way to live. We can be the change we seek. We just have to put forth some effort.


Stephanie said...

I just signed up for the bag system. I think it is a fantastic idea. Once people move beyond little things as inconveniences we can really focus on the future and on sustainability. It is really great to see a smaller business thinking about sustainability even if it means that you won't see the savings for a while. Great job Michael!

Michelle said...

But the non-refundable nature of the initial $10 is problematic, in my opinion. You accurately call it a "fee," that is true. But I don't see how the rationales for the system support a non-refundable fee model rather than the more typical refundable investment that most co-ops institute. You are asking me as a customer to invest in your business in a thoughtful and future-oriented way and to consider the ways in which that investment is good not only for your business (which benefits me as well), but also for the planet. That's all well and good. And I understand that you are asking customers to accept your commitment to pass along the packaging savings in the form of lower and/or more stable pricing into the future. But what if I invest my $10 and then have to move next month? Or discover my kid is gluten-sensitive? Or just decide I don't like your bread anymore? That becomes problematic. In any co-op that I have joined, the initial investment is refundable. The co-operative venture has the benefit of the participant's capital for as long as that person is part of the venture, but does not seek to keep it beyond that point. I also find it somewhat contrary to the rationale for the system for you to have purchased a large number of 4WB branded bags rather than providing customers the opportunity to supply and tag their own bags for reuse. I have bags of my own that I could have put to use. I am sure you considered that and rejected it for various reasons - - - probably in part out of concern that the bags might not have been suitable for the products. I understand that, yet it seems to me that such a system would have increased overhead to a somewhat lesser degree and might have made it more palatable for you to have made an initial investment in the bag system refundable. So, in a nutshell, I love having the option to use reusable bags, but I guess I think that the execution is a bit flawed.