The People's Supermarket: how playing shop brings down prices
Its very difficult for independent food retailers to compete with the big multiples. Most of us shop at the supermarket which is most convenient, where the prices are cheapest or in a supermarket which is right for people like us. We like the idea of supporting small retailers, but most of us only pay lip service to buying food local and little.
The concept of a co-operative food movement isn't new, the Co-op Group in Manchester was formerly a membership movement and this model has been reinvented by The People's Supermarket based in Lambs Conduit Street, in Holborn. The supermarket isn't exclusively for members, but unlike the loyalty schemes of the big retailers you get a 10% discount off your bill at the point of purchase once you are a member. Membership costs £25 a year, but comes with one little proviso, you have to be prepared to don a yellow tee shirt and work in the supermarket (for free) for four hours over a four week period.
Because the supermarket's workforce is nearly all volunteers, staff costs are kept low and this translates into lower prices. Any profits that are earned, meanwhile, get put back into the store to bring down prices even further. Having spent an hour in the store, the staff members are passionate advocates. The range may not be quite what you would expect to find in Sainsbury's (but there is also less waste). Indeed the people's supermarket concept might even look a bit OTT, once you have gone from the people's carrots, to the people's bread to the people's milk.
Nevertheless, the People's Supermarket is offering something different, with real rewards for loyal customers. Whilst low prices do breed loyalty, its the fun of playing shop and being part of 'the Club', the camaraderie and the feeling of being part of something new and worthwhile that is also driving membership, which is coming from people of all ages and from different backgrounds, as Holborn is a mixed community, with social housing as well as prime Central London property.
Only time will tell whether its members get tired of playing shop, in the meantime, we are being told to 'try something new today' and new ways are needed to challenge the might of the big supermarkets and this is a formula which could easily be replicated elsewhere.
The concept of a co-operative food movement isn't new, the Co-op Group in Manchester was formerly a membership movement and this model has been reinvented by The People's Supermarket based in Lambs Conduit Street, in Holborn.