The UK’s first “social supermarket” opened in London last week — the first in a project aimed at reducing food waste as well as supporting low-income households. Surplus food from some of Britain’s largest supermarkets (such as Asda, Tesco and M&S) is being resold at highly discounted prices to food-insecure locals at the country’s first Community Shop in Lambeth.
London Mayor Boris Johnson applauded the new “social supermarket”: “This is a sterling example of social enterprise and private organisations working together to create positive outcomes. We hope this is the first in a chain of outlets in the capital that will provide access to affordable food for people struggling to make ends meet whilst providing help back into work."
It’s estimated that over 3.5 million tons of food is wasted in distribution and retail every year. With over 10% of this deemed suitable to eat — and only considered “waste” due to damaged packaging or mislabelling — the Community Shop program could be a vital diversion for food that would otherwise end up in landfill.
The store also provides equally important social benefits, too, by reducing food poverty and supporting local families and communities. Community Shop works on a membership basis with 750 members who all live locally and are on income support. With redistribution from a range of supermarkets, locals can buy items from leading brands (such as Innocent, Nestlé and Muller) and can now afford a more nutritious diet.
Members also have the option to enroll in a specialised self-development program called the Success Plan, to develop self-confidence and job prospects. It’s estimated that the Community Shop’s 20 stores will directly benefit 20,000 people across the UK, with successive benefits for over 50,000 family members.
"Community Shop is tackling the problem of surplus food, whilst giving it real social purpose,” said Company Shop Group chairman John Marren. “Not only do we offer high-quality low-cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services because they are motivated to do better. Members can shop for good food at great prices, which eases pressure on their family budgets, and they will also access tailored, professional development programmes, to kick-start positive change in their own lives.
“The support we have had from retailers and brands, from Lambeth Council, Rosie Boycott, the London Food Board, the GLA and of course from the Mayor of London, has been fantastic and demonstrates the real need and support for a project like this in London and beyond,” Marren added.
Forum for the Future's founder-director Sir Jonathon Porritt said: "This is now a tried and tested business model, bringing significant benefits to local communities, to the food companies involved, and to the huge number of citizens now able to benefit from this highly creative way of avoiding waste in the food chain."
This makes Company Shop the UK’s largest redistributor of ‘excess’ food, making it a vital part of the solution to minimising food wastage and developing a more sustainable supply chain.
Food waste has become one of the top issues of concern across the world; in the US alone, almost two-thirds of shoppers (63 percent) say they are more concerned about food waste than other issues. Programs to tackle the issue have been launched across both Europe and the US — including the Daily Table, similar in concept to the Community Shop — with a focus on driving a change in consumer engagement and community action on the issue.