Marlborough’s 'no packaging' pioneer celebrates one year of trading

Written by Sarah Martin on .

'Packaging Not Included' founder Hayley Lambert & assistant Katharine Graham'Packaging Not Included' founder Hayley Lambert & assistant Katharine GrahamHaving first opened its doors on 23 February 2019, this Sunday marks the first anniversary of Packaging Not Included and this little gem of a shop has much to celebrate. 
Essentially a packaging-free organic grocery specialising in long shelf-life products, the store now includes an array of fresh vegetables and fruit, a wide range of natural toiletries and home cleaning products - a stock list that has more than doubled over the past twelve months.

Tucked away behind Marlborough High Street, among the other independent retailers of Hughenden Yard, space is limited, but founder, Hayley Lambert is a master of maximisation, displaying her ever-increasing selection without upsetting the aesthetics or overwhelming her customers. 

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention and the inspiration behind Hayley’s decision to embark on this adventure was her conviction that it was a business that Marlborough needed. The seed for the shop was sown when Hayley was on the hunt for nuts to buy in bulk for baking biscuits and she could only find them in small, expensive packets in the supermarket. 

An online search led her to Devon’s Earth.Food.Love and she was captivated by the concept of selling product to people who brought their own containers to the shop.

Happy birthday indeed!Happy birthday indeed!Having graduated from music school in London, Hayley and her husband Ed (also a musician) moved to the area in 2011 when Hayley landed a teaching job at Marlborough College. Neither has a background in retail and Hayley originally dismissed the thought of opening the shop as unrealistic, but the idea had taken hold and she became increasingly excited the more she contemplated it. 

With approval of her government Start Up Loan and help from Earth.Food.Love, who guide and mentor others in setting up similar ventures, Hayley got to work locating premises, suppliers, shop fittings, etc and acquiring the knowledge she needed to launch her new business just four months later.

Packaging Not Included - or PNI - is now very much on the Marlborough map, having established a large following of loyal locals, and it also welcomes regular shoppers from as far afield as Newbury and Devizes. 

The past year has not been without its challenges, however, the main one being managing orders to achieve the right quantities and avoid running out of items or overstocking, particularly of the fresh produce. True to their zero waste ethos, Hayley and Ed found themselves consuming a lot of ageing vegetables in the early days, and making gallons of soup! 

A recent addition to the inventory, and one Hayley is particularly excited about, is a cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil that is lightly infused with garlic. It is produced by a family company in Greece who transport it by sail power and reuse their transport containers.

Freshly ground peanut butter remains PNI’s biggest seller, with the machine proving a big hit with children. And, while the shop inspires a healthy lifestyle and cooking from scratch, there are plenty of treats, from a range of raw chocolates to another top seller, the dried mango cheeks. 

A self-confessed foodie, Hayley is always on hand with cooking tips and recipe ideas, as well as handy hints for removing limescale or getting the dishwasher ultra clean - using only natural products.

Supermarkets have been extremely slow to respond to consumer demand for reduced packaging and an end to single-use plastic. Waitrose is ahead of the pack, trialling a refill station in a few of its Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire branches, but there is no confirmed plan for rollout in Marlborough. 

Asked if such a strategy would worry Hayley, she said she would welcome the move and hopes that packaging-free shopping will become mainstream. However, she also stressed that it needs to extend to supermarket supply chains and would like to see them striving to reduce packaging waste, food waste and carbon emissions, while paying fairer prices to farmers and producers.

While the PNI way of shopping requires a bit of effort and planning, to bring the correct containers and weigh them before filling, it soon becomes second nature and allows for a very organised kitchen. 

There are so many beautiful and ingenious storage solutions on the market that can simply be transported to the shop for refilling and it can be immensely satisfying having nothing to wheel out on bin day. For those who are less organised or just passing by, brown paper bags are available for produce and Hayley invites donations of bottles and jars that she washes and offers for re-use by customers who don’t bring their own. 

While PNI’s main focus is zero waste - which extends to the supply side, with goods delivered in reusable containers - Hayley also insists that everything sold in the shop is fair trade, ethical and primarily organic, and that none of her stock has been airfreighted. She takes great pleasure in stocking the products of small, ethical companies that can’t be found in high street chains.

A similar business in Canterbury, Unboxed Kent, opened a small, tucked away shop in 2018 and relocated to larger premises in the High Street the following year. Packaging Not Included may soon feel the pressure to follow suit, but Hayley is tight-lipped about future plans, just saying: “Watch this space!”

Packaging Not Included will be serving birthday cake during their usual Sunday opening hours of 11.00am to 4.00pm tomorrow, and there will be live jazz at Movida Café next door from 2.00 to 4.00pm.