Report: Scotland’s first social enterprise supermarket

Since May, the first social enterprise supermarket in Scotland has provided an alternative to shoppers who are put off by bloated chains that offer up plastic-hugging, poorly sourced and often poor quality groceries.

It’s the next stage of owner Reuben Chesters’ organic trajectory that began with community gardening projects in the south side of Glasgow.  Thomas Barrett reports.

‘Spending in a conventional supermarket is like a sieve, you put your money in there and it all disappears,’ says Reuben.

‘It’s never coming back again to the area.’

Locavore opened in 2011 as a small shop with a tiny selection of fresh and organic products. Their manifesto was simple, to create a more localised food chain that treats the environment and society more fairly. To complement the shop they’d organise cookery workshops and community gardening to provide more than just calories to their customers.

‘Then we started a Veg Box scheme delivering organic vegetables to people before we moved to a slightly larger location for 5 years.’

To support their growth they also raised a massive £225,00 via crowdfunding and Lovacore now employs 48 staff at its current location, on Victoria Road in Glasgow. They all help to grow and sell locally sourced organic fruit, veg, meat and even eco household cleaning products.

Even though they’ve grown exponentially in recent years, Reuben says Lovacore will always be about building sustainable food networks. They own three farms in the Glasgow area which helps to provide produce for the store, with several yields a year.

‘The Veg Box scheme gave us opportunities to take on land and we took on a couple of acres outside Glasgow, really near our shop,’ he says.

In 2014 one of the sites proved controversial, as the land was used to rear six Gloucester Old Spot pigs for human consumption. Some families in the area, who enjoyed petting the animals, were outraged, and an online campaign was even mounted to save the pigs.

Speaking to the Scottish Daily Record at the time, Reuben explained that he wanted to encourage people to think more about where their meat comes from.

‘There are thousands of pigs slaughtered all across Scotland every day that have never seen daylight, are fed a soya bean mix which causes deforestation – just to make cheap sausages in supermarkets,’ he said.

They also launched a ‘Grow the Growers’ project which regularly brings in around 10 people with an interest in growing food for sale. They give them a plot of land, help them choose crops, teach them how to grow, before buying the produce back from them.

‘Then next season they’ll take the next step to become food producers.’ Says Reuben.

Back to school

It’s not just about encouraging to make informed choices about what they eat, Reuben believes that economically, businesses with an environmental mission can be viable in today’s competitive climate.

‘The economic case is huge,’ he says.

‘Earlier on we had issues balancing our social purpose with our trading but we found a balance we are happy with.’

‘Just the growth in our turnover reflects that. We make a significant contribution [to the local area].’

‘They say in say a chain store such as Tesco or Sainsburys that if you spend £1, 14p stays in the local economy. The only thing that sticks is the wages,’

To ensure more of that £1 stays in the local economy, Reuben says they choose local suppliers who share Locavore’s community-driven ethos.

One example is they use a social enterprise bakery called Freedom Bakery that works with people that come out of prison.

‘We provide a really big regular order for them, that money is staying within a few miles of where we are and has lots of social benefits,’ he says.

‘They also use organic flour from a mill less than 50 miles from here,’ he adds.

Plastic not-so-fantastic

2018 will be looked back on as the year where the penny finally dropped regarding plastic waste.

The public is more aware than ever of the damage that single-use plastics are doing to the oceans, with images from BBC’s The Blue Planet seemingly waking up an entire country overnight.

In April – Tesco, Aldi, Asda, among others, signed a ‘plastic pact’, which pledged to remove single-use plastics by 2025, but for many consumers, the supermarket giants have been part of the problem for too long.

They want alternatives, and Locavore was recently supported by £100,000 from Zero Waste Scotland’s Waste Reduction Implementation Fund.

‘Everything has coincided nicely with David Attenborough and now more people are paying attention to us. It’s been massive.’

‘We have milk churns that take 50l and people buy or bring a bottle to fill them up which reduces prices.

‘We work directly with an organic family farm, they don’t need to buy packaging or label it, and that’s a saving which they’ve passed on to us, and we’ve passed that on to the customer which has dropped the price by 10p a litre.

It’s estimated that households and businesses in Scotland throw away over 630,000 tonnes of food waste every year, which they are hoping to combat in their own way with a Good Food Fund.

‘We take a mix of donations from our shop and veg box subscribers that would go to waste and get that out to those in need with local charities and night shelters’

Strength to strength

Scotland First Minister and local MP Nicola Sturgeon came to the opening of the supermarket, and Reuben has been pleased with how the public has responded to their new store.

‘The new shop is three times busier than we projected,’ he says.

‘We want to increase the local growing capacity, whether that’s buying or renting more land for ourselves or inspiring new growers.’

‘The greatest social impact we can make by having more of the market and being competitive with the status quo. If we can take trade away from the supermarket then use that market to create more social good and better local jobs then that’s achieving something.’

Even though there are both a Tesco and Sainsbury’s just metres up the road from their new space, Reuben says he doesn’t look at them and check what they’re doing, though he’s not sure he can say the same for them.

‘I’m sure they’ve been in for a little look. Someone walking in with an official looking suit and not buying anything!’

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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