Planning orders, money collection, bank statements, ordering produce, signing for deliveries and maintaining suppliers is a job in itself. This is make or break for buying groups – the best solution is a written agreement of jobs and compensation clearly laid out in advance and agreed by all.
“Thinking about how to organise the money and workload is one of the key aspects,” advises Phili, whose food buying group has now developed into a business called Naked Larder.
“You will need to decide does one person take responsibility (like in my case) or should a few people. Most importantly, then you need to decide how are people compensated for the time they put into the group.”
Tilly Jarvis agrees: “Even if you are setting up a very small food co-op, it is a good idea to create a plan in advance and Sustain’s Food Co-op action plan is a great place to start.”
Finding organic suppliers
“The best part of organising a food buying group is cheaper, more ethically sourced and often higher quality food,” explains Phili, who spent hours researching catalogues, comparing who stocked what, at what prices and in what sizes. Spreadsheets became her best friend!
For dry goods, you’ll need a wholesale organic supplier for your buying group such as Infinity, Suma, CLF or The Health Store. It will depend on your preferences and cost and you’ll need to calculate what will work best for you.
The most popular items for Naked Larder were rice, flour, jumbo oats, muesli and pasta.
If your group decides to offer other local organic products, you’ll need to find producers nearby. Your local farmers’ market is a good place to start – you could also ask if they’d supply a big order at a discount. Other great resources for this are The Organic Directory and Sustain’s Guide to Sourcing Organic Food.
Choosing a venue
Depending on the size, if it’s just a few families in your group, a living room or garage will work as a premises. For example, Phili’s garage provided a great start to her buying group. The garage was great for pick up and storage of deliveries, and her living room became the space for meetings and socials.
If you intend to grow, you could use venues that are free like community centres or local clubs. Partnering with your local council, community groups, or even resident associations could also be a way of expanding members and opening up other venue options. It is also important to think of it as a delivery site – all your supplies and orders will be delivered here.
The benefit of having a small food buying group is that you do not require any equipment to operate. This is because any produce is either ordered in whole packs or divided up by number and so does not need weighing out. If you do decide to weigh things out, you’ll need to factor in a set of scales as a basic requirement, as Phili did for Naked Larder.
Lastly, while some buying groups stick to just food, others campaign on organic issues, go on farm visits and enjoy arranging community events. Your organic food buying group can be what you want it to be. By cutting costs, choosing less food miles, reducing plastic packaging, it will be good for you and your family, good for your community, and good for the planet.
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- Sustain’s Food Buying Group and Co-op Toolkit.
- The Open Food Network’s tool offers an online platform for communities creating local food buying groups and co-ops.
- UK Government official guide to community buying groups.