Food waste and food poverty are rightly in the news again, thanks to the recently published report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain. While there are different views about how to tackle the problems the report highlights, there is surely consensus that we can all do more, at every stage of the supply chain.
The Company Shop Group particularly welcomes the report’s emphasis that food poverty can’t be solved by food alone. At the pilot of our Community Shop social supermarket, at Goldthorpe, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, we found while ensuring people don’t go hungry is vital, it is the additional personal development support on offer to people that has really been transformative.
The Company Shop model has evolved over more than 40 years, but the concept has always been simple. We recognise the value in surplus food and intervene quickly to stop that food becoming waste, using well-oiled logistics to redistribute it so it reaches people’s plates while it is still great to eat.
“One in five of our members… have already found employment”
We have been doing this behind factory gates for decades across our network of staff shops on manufacturing sites - but the Community Shop idea now takes the model into local communities. We are proud to be opening the UK’s first full-scale social supermarket in West Norwood, London, marking the beginning of a national rollout programme.
Open to 750 members, the first London store is backed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and is being championed across the supply chain. We are already looking at further locations, and plan to open 20 stores across the country.
Although this is the first scaled-up store in the UK, the concept of a social supermarket isn’t new in Europe. On the Continent, social supermarkets are getting surplus food at low cost to people that need it most.
But while the model stops there abroad, our model goes one step further. We get that cheap food - at up to 70% below retail price - to our members, but then use the revenue we raise from selling that food to provide additional programmes of free, professional support tailored to our members’ needs.
From building self-confidence, to employability skills and home budgeting, we are easing pressure on family budgets through a cheaper weekly shop, while helping to address the issues that are pushing members towards food poverty in the first place.
It’s this circular economy that makes Company Shop’s social supermarkets both innovative and sustainable. They deliver value for members; help retailers to tackle their surpluses proactively and responsibly; and also reduce the environmental impact of food waste.
The Goldthorpe pilot has shown the model works, and its impact is already being felt far beyond the aisles of the store. We are delighted to see one in five of those members who have completed our training have already found employment, while more than three-quarters have reported themselves to feel more positive about their futures.
John Marren is founder and chairman of Company Shop Group