The other people’s supermarkets

I spent a very pleasant evening last night with my feet up (they’ve been poorly, not terribly poorly, but poorly enough for me to want to spend time with them up) in bed with a laptop watching The People’s Supermarket at the reccomendation of my friend D.

coop foodsIts clearly a fantastic programme for explaining what’s wrong with current supermarket practices and I really wish the shop well, we need more of this.  There’s one thing that sticks in my craw though – the claim that there is nothing else like it.  OK, nothing exactly – but I do want to sing the praises of those who have been leading the way on community ownership since the nineteenth century.

I’ve already posted once about the Coop, but its worth adding that the number 5 retailer is very different from the big 4. If youwork in the Coop you become a member and get a 10% discount on food.  Does that sound familiar? They’ve also gone a step further on the relationships with farmers; they are the farmer.

unicorn grocery by night

unicorn by night

Then there are the wholefood coops.  The first of these sprang out of the 1960s.  Two really notable cooperatives that go back to those (literally) heady times are Eighth Day (in Manchester which started in 1970, also has an excellent cafe) and Infinity Foods in Brighton (which goes back to 1971 and also does baking and wholesale). More recent additions include the magnificent multi-award winning Unicorn Foods (Chorlton, Manchester)  These organisations have much smaller cooperative groups and staff actually get paid.  Doing a quick search online it looks like there may be a fair few others scattered around the country.

My final mention goes to the community owned village shops.  I worked for a rural community council undertaking research on village shops in the early 1990s.  At that time it was becoming clear that village shops were failing, through no fault of their own. If villagers did their main shop elsewhere and if there was no trade coming in from outside, the shop would fail.  So, some plucky villages started taking the problem in their own hands and buying the shops themselves.  According to the Plunkett foundation there are now 250 of these community owned shops.

Then honourable mentions go to the cooperative food distributors (e.g Suma) the cooperative famers (e.g Organic Lea) and the cooperative box schemes (e.g. Windmill)…

Anyway, here’s to the other people’s supermarkets!

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