England has several major supermarkets, where nearly everyone does the most of their weekly shop. However, times have changed and although we would all like to support small indie stores, many have gone bust (often due to the influx of cheap supermarkets), and often of course, people these days have budget issues, so cannot afford to order their food from a swanky online delivery company. So what’s to do? How we can make a difference?
Although most zero waste shops are small, The Clean Kilo (Birmingham) is England’s largest zero-waste supermarket and a good example of what can be done on a larger scale. Read up on the real cost of major supermarkets.
Unicorn Grocery, Manchester (image)
The answer is in looking at alternatives to conventional supermarkets, and giving them your support. No-one is suggesting that if you are a on a tiny budget, to switch from Aldi to an organic grocery store (in fact, changing what you buy from cheaper supermarkets makes a huge indent into what they offer). But if you can afford to, here are a few more affordable alternative options to Wholefoods Market! You will likely find these very interesting and inspirational.
Buy Loose Goods from Zero Waste Shops
Earth. Food. Love (Devon)
Most towns now have at least one zero waste shop. These work a bit like the old-fashioned scoop shops, where all loose goods (nuts, seeds, rice, pasta, lentils etc) are in glass-fronted dispensers. Just pour out what you need into your own container (or one at the store) then weigh it at the counter, and pay (not for the packaging). Most scales use a system that ensures you are not paying for the container itself, just the weight of the food itself (most supermarkets can add up to a third on the price for packaging). While you’re there, most zero waste shops also sell reusable staples (like toothbrushes and refill cleaning liquids), saving you further money on expensive disposables.
The shop pictured above was set up by a former Manchester United footballer and his wife (he says he never thought that before age 30, he would be a shopkeeper!) The success of his zero waste shop has led him to co-founding ReRooted, which delivers plant milks in glass bottles, to customers nationwide.
Dizzie offers plastic-free groceries with refill options. Just order and then return the posts, they wash them and fill them up again to return to you. You get a free refill kit with your first order.
Support Independent Supermarkets
There aren’t many as yet, but some places boast their own independent supermarkets. Unicorn Grocery (Manchester) was once voted the best retail shop in England by BBC Radio 4. It’s a plant-based workers co-operative where staff are paid more than major supermarkets, and prices rival them too, as profits are lower. The packaging is all eco-friendly and many of the food comes from its own farm. The grocery also planted England’s first living roof on a commercial building that supports habitat of the endangered black redstart bird. Download their free Grow Your Own Grocery guide to start your own!
- Brighton supermarket Kindly is all-vegan (you can also shop online for delivery by electric van, and choose goods ‘made in Brighton’ for zero food miles’). The founder (a former web developer wanted to use his success to do something to help) launched in the middle of the pandemic, to put put planet before profit. It already has a loyalty scheme for customers, with a dream to open a Kindly next door to every supermarket chain!
- Infinity Foods is another successful workers co-op in Brighton, with a thriving wholesale business that supplies indie health shops nationwide. It has zero waste dispensers and home delivery, and also offers natural beauty, cleaning and laundry products, which work out cheaper due to refill stations.
- HISBE (Brighton) stands for ‘how it should be!’ This is a community interest company set up by two sisters. Everything is locally-sourced, even the bread and filling for sandwiches. It has a ‘vision to smash the out-of-date supermarket business model and reinvent a new chain powered by people, community spirit and social enterprise’. It caters to all diets with a good selection of plant-based foods.
- The Peoples Supermarket (London) was set up by chef Arthur Potts (Mick Jagger’s nephew!). It offers local food for local people, and volunteers offer 4 hours a month, to get cheap prices. He is passionate about reducing food waste, saying it’s criminal for supermarkets to throw away unsold food. The next step is to cook up food waste, to serve up ready-meals in store. Also in London, Made Up Kitchen began as a way to distribute food waste, and has now blossomed into a local social supermarket.
- Goodery Grocery (Norfolk & Suffolk) is a locally owned supermarket, with its own market garden. You can find local producers, food cupboard staples in zero waste packaging, build your own veg box and order refills.
- The Bridge at Leigh (near Wigan) was set up to help JAM (just about managing) families and anyone who is having to choose between heating and eating. Volunteers, a £2 annual membership and using up food waste, helps to keep prices low. And it also helps customers with finding supported accommodation and offering clothes to help people get interviews for jobs.
The Best Online Indie Supermarkets
If ordering home delivery, be aware that many foods are toxic to pets (including vegan meats and cheeses). So use a letterbox guard, or have items delivered to a safe garage/porch. Keep ice packs out of reach of pets/children (recycle plastic packaging with household waste or supermarket recycling bins).
- Forrist is an online plant-based supermarket that sells pantry essentials, zero waste beauty/laundry items and sustainable kitchen goods. When you send back 50 packaging pouches, you get a free glass jar in return. You can schedule collection for local goods or get free shipping nationwide over £75 (free standard delivery on first order).
- Good Sixty is a nice idea. It works like an online supermarket, but instead delivers food from all your local indie food shops, in one order. Often delivered in electric vans, you may just one delivery fee, rather than driving around to several indie stores in one day. Each £1 spent with a local indie food producer has 60% greater economic benefit than spending at a large supermarket (hence the company name). Some of the retailers also offer a click-and-collect service.
- Good Club offers 500 ethical foods at supermarket prices, delivered carbon-neutral to your door. Everything is delivered in reusable packaging (just leave your empties outside for replacement). You can also order a free zero waste starter kit, with your first order.
- Yumbles sells good food from indie stores, each one delivers direct. The company taste-tests everything themselves before adding small-batch and socially responsible food makers. The companies prepare orders just for you, lots of nice vegan and allergy options here.
- Nature’s Health Box is an online store to buy all your basics (grains, beans, spices, herbs etc). There are regular discounts and goods are sent in biodegradable packaging from the seaside city of Brighton.
- Set up a SUMA Food Group in your community, using an administrator and someone with a big garage to store the delivery. Then you all order organic food together at wholesale prices, and it’s divided up and paid for, on arrival. All they ask in return, is to pop the kettle on, ready for the lorry driver!
- Green Bay Supermarket is a major online supermarket, selling only vegan items. You can get many regular store discounts and sale bargains, though at present, some items may have palm oil, so it’s best to avoid these to protect orangutans and other endangered creatures.
- The Food Market is a major online supermarket that works with small businesses, selling items you won’t find in major supermarkets. There are thousands of small indie brands to choose from, and filters to let you choose food that is vegan, diabetic-friendly and organic etc.
- Bother is a new online supermarket that sends in sustainable packaging and you can filter goods by vegan or clearance, to reduce food waste. The founder wants people to shop online for bulky heavy goods, and then still support local indies for fresh regular foods.
Inspirational Supermarkets from Abroad
- New Seasons Market is a small chain of indie supermarkets in western USA and Canada, which does things differently. Each store is different (some have yoga classes, one has a coffee van staffed by ex-prisoners), most have bioswales to drain off rainwater, to avoid pollution and floods). There are 10% weekly discounts for seniors and military personnel, and Neighbour Rewards offer bonus points when you bring reusable water bottles and coffee cups. The stores have got rid of single-use still water bottles, straws and utensils, and offers reusable takeout containers, and deliver locally by zero-emission transport. Some even use their premises as car-sharing depots.
- Portland Food Co-op is a thriving worker-owned supermarket in Maine, USA. It sells produce from over 300 local farmers, and profits are used to care for its staff. It also donates leftover food to local charities, and composts all its waste. People on low incomes (food stamps accepted) get discounts for bulk orders, and they receive dividends, if the store earns surplus income.