Wednesday, 19 January 2011

the people's supermarket...

Staying with the foodie theme from my last post, I thought I would talk a little about what could be the future of shopping.

Independant shops? Hopefully. Farmers Markets? I should hope so. Growing your own? Practical for some, but not others. Urban farms? They are coming, but not just yet.

So, what could be the immediate future from our food shopping experiences?


Yep. You heard me right. Supermarkets, but not as we know it.

We have become conditioned to shop for everything at one place - cramming our little cages on wheels with essentials every week before we drive home to consume (or throw away...but that is another post). The supermarket is just the way most of us do our shopping. Fact.

Even though many of us try to grow our own, support our local producers and frequent our farmers markets, many of us still use the supermarket model as our main shopping experience.

So if you can't beat the supermarkets, why not join them.

And this is what a few enterprising souls have begun.

Park Slope in New York is a 25yr old co-operative with around 6000 members, who give up 2hrs 45mins per month to work in the supermarket (cashier, cleaner, shelf replenishment etc) in return for wonderfully sourced, local, often organic produce at hugely reduced rates. With (little) wages to pay, the community are actively pocketing the mark-up savings in the lower prices available. If you do not do your shift, you have to make up with double the time next shift, and if you continue to flaunt the rules, sorry, you are out.

This can sound a little harsh, but this kind of model can ONLY work with full communication and trust between all members. Sounds great to me.

It also looked great to Arthur Potts Dawson (who also set up the London eco restaurant Acorn House), who has taken this seed idea and translated it into London's first version of the American model, in Holborn, called The People's Supermarket.

The basic premise is the same - pay your £25 membership, sign up to your 4 hour shift and you are a member - AND part owner - of the People's Supermarket. This entitles you to hugely reduced core produce (large lovely loaf £1.85 to 'regular' shoppers, £1 to members) and 10% reduction on your overall bill.

But being a part owner of the supermarket also means that you are entitled to a say in what is stocked, where from, and how the whole kit and caboodle is run. An ideal situation really - cheaper stuff, a nod to the 'big society' and a say in keeping that local raspberry yoghurt you have come to love as well as the larger decisions.

Not everyone will like the idea of working four hours to qualify for the benefits, but (having worked for a big supermarket to pay my way through university) it can be fun.

And in a time of gloom, surely a few more pennies in the bank, a few more local bits in your belly and a few new friends in your phone can only be a good thing?

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