A Supermarket For the People and By the People

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by WOW Talks on 02 August 2011

David Barrie Talks to WOW Talks about The People’s Supermarket

How can you or the world that surrounds you help you become a more sustainable person? David Barrie, award-winning documentary producer, designer and director of urban renewal and citizen involvement programmes, came to ask this question at the last WOW Talks.

In 2010, he dreamed up The People’s Supermarket, connecting city folk with farmers in a social enterprise that is sustainable, community-focused and ecologically sound. The result, as they celebrate their first birthday this year, is a flourishing commercial environment that encourages the neighborhood to come together.

As Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, would say, the urbanite members of the Supermarket become co-producers of the food they purchase, eliminating the corporate middleman.

Food prices have been skyrocketing in the UK at alarmingly fast rates. According to the British Retail Consortium, they have risen a whopping 4.9% since last May. Commodities traders, who speculate on food prices, exacerbate the problem.

By the time the product arrives at the desk of supermarket buyers, its relative cost is already inflated. But that’s not the end of the line. A retail price must be set, with ample room for profit margins and bonuses for shareholders. Consumers are the clear losers in this equation.

David Barrie and his co-founders at The People’s Supermarket have tacked this problem head-on, in a small, humble, grass-roots fashion. The People’s Supermarket is not looking to mushroom into a chain, and does not have stockholders.

It is a people-centred supermarket in which members receive a discount at the till in exchange for a small annual fee and four hours per month of labour. Food prices are kept as low as possible, by sourcing locally and keeping energy costs down. Instead of waiting until a food reaches its sell-by date and then chucking it in the bin, delicious prepared foods are made by in-store chefs.

With fresh affordable food and a sustainable spirit, The People’s Supermarket not only makes a difference to its members’ weekly shop, but their structure sets an example for using one’s wallet as an agent for social change.

By Sarah Coursey