My colleague Julie’s blog about the rise and rise of Aldi and Rodolfo’s blog about what we can learn from Mercadona in Spain highlight just what can be achieved when we challenge existing models and how this could change the face of UK grocery retailing.
So it was really interesting to see the UK’s first social supermarket, Community Shop, open this Monday in the former South Yorkshire mining town, Goldthorpe. It’s a new concept to the UK but well established on the continent where the first social supermarket opened in France in the 1980s. So what is a social supermarket?
It’s not a food bank – you have to pay. It’s not a discounter – only the most socially deprived are able to shop there (in the case of Goldthorpe shop, the first tranche of members were 500 households drawn from 50 eligible roads). So what role does a social supermarket fulfil? It’s there to sit between discounters and food banks, an outlet for food and household products that, while in date and perfectly edible/safe, fail to be seen as fit for sale for largely cosmetic reasons – packaging a bit squiffy, branding a bit naff, product under/over weight stated on the pack. The manufacturer/retailer gets to offload unwanted goods without impairing it’s brand image on it’s own turf or paying landfill tax. The consumer gets to buy the produce at up to 70% below standard retail prices.
And how’s it been received? The working poor are a bit disgruntled – when will they get some help? And there’s social stigma attached to shopping there. But it beats the stigma of the foodbank. And it means those in living in poverty who don’t qualify for food bank assistance, don’t have to choose between heating and eating. And for suppliers, it makes sound business sense, it saves them money and it’s highly sustainable – Asda, The Co-op, Morrisons, M&S, Ocado and Tesco are all signed up, negotiations with Waitrose and Sainsbury’s are underway.
On the continent there are now 800 social supermarkets in France, 80 in Austria, 70 in Belgium and 23 in Switzerland. How will this pan out here I wonder? Will this grow to be a standard feature in every deprived area? Assuming the pilot works, the plan is to role it out to 20 shops nationwide. We’ll be watching keenly to understand the impact of the scheme and whether the last remaining retailers sign up.