Food coops come in all shapes and sizes. St Hilda’s East Community Centre’s Food Coop is a pop-up shop where wholesale food is ordered in, then put out for display and purchase for individuals who attend the shop when it is open once a week. The Food Coop has been running at St Hilda’s for 20 years.
Yolande Barsley, Food Coop Project Coordinator, shares what the key ingredients are for a pop-up shop like St Hildas:
Food Coops can be set up on a temporary basis in a space that is used for other purposes at other times such as community centres, schools, church halls or workplaces.
It’s important to use a space that is accessible, visible and provides shelter during poor weather conditions. For example, if it’s next to a busy high-street or a place where there’s lots of passers by. It’s good to have the option of outdoor space for the warmer months, as delivery outside maximises visibility and increases the number of shoppers.
It’s crucial to have sufficient storage space and a refrigerator to help manage surplus food, and keep sizable equipment such as the till, scales and shopping baskets.
Accessibility and convenience are important to people. People are most likely to use the food coop if they live or work nearby, or are in the area regularly for other reasons such as picking up their children from school or attending other activities. Food coops also work well in areas where there are few other options to buy affordable fruit and vegetables.
79% of people that use the Food Coop at St Hildas are local, living and/or working within a 15 minutes walk. An additional 18% are 15 minutes away by bike. St Hilda’s longest standing customers, that have shopped at the Food Coop for more than 2 years, live under 10 minutes away by foot or bike. The most regular ‘weekly’ customers are under 5 minutes away.
Opening hours should accommodate for things like school pickup time and coincide with other on-site activities. St Hilda’s the Food Coop is open between 11am – 3pm every Thursday, which enables users from projects such as our Crèche and Women’s Creative Collective to also benefit from using the Food Coop.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
At St Hilda’s we offer both non-organic and organic options for fruit and vegetables. On average over half our customers purchase something organic in their weekly shop and around one-third choose to buy additional wholesale Suma products.
Most importantly it’s important to have affordable options for people, so the Food Coop can support people who are struggling to make ends meet. It’s also important to make sure the food on offer is culturally appropriate to ensure the needs of local communities are met.
As well as a Project Coordinator, St Hilda’s have at least two volunteers a week. Without the support of volunteers the Food Co-op could not run. Volunteers help with all aspects of the hands-on delivery of the food coop.
The two main options a food coop can pursue to attempt to achieve economic sustainability are either to reduce costs, for example by relying more on volunteers and/or donated equipment; or by increasing profits, for example by supplying more commercial outlets, providing bulk deliveries and/or introducing sliding scale or pay-it-forward membership fees.