In May, Locavore Grocery, Scotland’s first social enterprise supermarket, officially opened its doors to offer an alternative to mainstream supermarket supply chains and build a more sustainable food network. Jane Wolfe finds out more
Run by Soil Association licensee Locavore Community Interest Company (CIC), Locavore Grocery is a new 6000sq ft supermarket in Govanhill, Glasgow, designed to give the multiples a run for their money while at the same time educating customers about the local food systems and the importance of local and organic foods.
“It started off six years ago as an idea to provide local, organic, sustainable food to people within the Southside of Glasgow, with a tiny shop selling just a handful of products,” explains Eilidh Sinclair, the store’s zero waste coordinator. “The basis of the shop was veg box deliveries, with everything sourced as locally as possible, which is why initially there were so few products. It has now grown to become the first social enterprise organic supermarket within Scotland and the first fully organic café in the country, which is amazing.”
“With the opening of the big store (our third) came a lot more space,” says Sinclair, “so we were able to provide more lines to enable customers to come here and do their full shop. We wanted to provide an alternative to your Tesco Metro or your Sainsbury’s Local.”
Locavore Grocery is currently about 90% organic and the store offers a wide range of categories, providing fresh fruit and veg grown within Glasgow and further afield on the CIC own growing sites; dry goods such as pulses, dried fruits and nuts, herbs and spices and pasta; and a variety of store cupboard essentials. It also has a deli centre with cheese and meat, takeaway food and coffees. In addition, there are refill areas for household, beauty and condiments like oils and vinegars, and the store features an organic milk vending machine – the first of its kind in Scotland.
The basis of the shop was veg box deliveries, with everything sourced as locally as possible, which is why initially there were so few products. It has now grown to become the first social enterprise organic supermarket within Scotland and the first fully organic café in the country, which is amazing
However, growth to this extent has brought its own dilemmas. “We can’t provide everything local; we had to go further afield to provide different varieties of products, so that’s an interesting issue we are dealing with – local versus the global,” adds Sinclair. “But we think thoroughly about every product in every line we have, we don’t source things without educating ourselves on the supplier and the product – we really want to know the story of where it comes from so everything gets very thoroughly vetted before it comes in. We have quite strict guidelines on that.”
Zero packaging is important for the store, so it encourages customers to bring their own packaging, but also provides brown paper bags and sells jars. “We are putting on a programme of engaging and positive events around waste and reducing waste, and we hope to use the space within the shop as a community hub and bring people together,” says Sinclair.
She adds: “Within the first month we were three times busier than we had anticipated, so that was amazing – it took a little getting used to! At first we were worried that it might be the initial excitement of a new shop, and a new kind of shop, but the momentum has continued which is really positive. Our customer base is so supportive and understand that we are trying to do a good thing.
“We set out to primarily serve the local community, but having spoken to our customers it is clear that people are coming from all over the city to refill their products and fill up their bags. Looking out at the café and into the shop it’s a very random mixture of people and that’s great, that’s what we want.”
For us this is a massive step in our journey towards building a more sustainable food system. A larger store with more footfall means we can grow the market for our local, organic and ethical producers. It also gives people the opportunity to purchase affordable food that is so better for the environment and the local economy
With a team numbering around 45 – from drivers to packing teams and shop staff – the organization itself isn’t just the shop and café, but comprises a number of different strands. There are three growing sites across Glasgow which provide the shop and the veg bags with produce (Locavore currently delivers about 800 veg bags across the country each week); a wholesale arm which provides cafes, restaurants and stores with organic products; and a charity arm – the Good Food Fund – which puts money directly into getting fresh fruit and veg out to those in need via food banks and charities. Profits from the enterprises are ploughed back into the CIC.
Reuben Chesters, managing director of Locavore, concludes: “For us this is a massive step in our journey towards building a more sustainable food system. A larger store with more footfall means we can grow the market for our local, organic and ethical producers. It also gives people the opportunity to purchase affordable food that is so better for the environment and the local economy.”
“We’re always trying to do more,” says Reuben. “At the moment, the economy benefits supermarket shareholders, not suppliers, employees or society, and bizarrely, Government policy supports that. We’ve got to a point where people can’t afford proper food. Our goals instead are social goals.”
Photos courtesy of Michael McGurk