Monday, 30 August 2010

Wholefood co-ops

I had wanted to set up a food co-op or a buying group for years. A couple of years ago I had a go on my own.I was confident that enough of my family and friends would join in to make a success of it. I contacted a local wholefoods company and explained what I wanted to do. They sent me a form. The form asked for a company name and a VAT number. I got back in touch with them and said "I'm not a company, just a buying group and I don't have a VAT number". They said I still needed a company name and a VAT number.

This was too high a hurdle for me to overcome alone, my enthusiasm faltered and, defeated, I gave up.

My family and I continued to run our informal buying group- with them buying bread flour in 16kg sacks from Downham Mill and I buying rice 15kg at a time and swapping what we needed. From time to time we'd add a new item to our range- like when I discovered the wonderful Bintree bird seeds who grow birdseed in Norfolk and sell it at a price which competes with the stuff imported from China (which is nearly all of it).

Then the Transition Circles formed and I found myself part of TN Strangers (We don't come from Norwich, you see). In one of our early meetings we talked about the practical things we could do to reduce the carbon footprint of the food we eat. I can't remember who suggested it, but the idea of a buying group came up, and this time there was more than just me to struggle with the system. Then it turned out one of us already had an account with Rainbow.

We're still in the early stages, still encountering difficulties and trying to work out how best to organise it: how often to order, how to fairly share the burden of collecting and paying for the food- and how to use that 2kg of dried chickpeas I only bought to make the order up to the minimum amount.

Fighting with these minor complexities is certainly worth it. Thanks to the buying group I can get tins of organic tomatoes for 60p. I used to buy my tomatoes- well, let's say they came with blue stripes on. And after reading the chapter on tomatoes in Felicity Lawrence's excellent Eat Your Heart Out I had decided that was no longer acceptable to me. But spending 99p on a tin of tomatoes didn't suit me very well either.

If you're tempted to set up a buying group I'm sure us Strangers would be more than happy to show you the ropes- and Tully might even share his wonderful spreadsheet which takes all the pain out of the maths!


  1. LOL! How long did you have to wait until someone found and revived you, Elena? Lucky it wasn't the A140!

    Have you tried (do you like) making hummus with the chickpeas? It doesn't last two seconds when we make it.

    Hmmm. Distribution.

    Greetings from a fellow Stranger!


  2. It's easy to lose the will to live on the low-carbon road . . .however have you tried Old Dehli chickpeas? Sweet, spicy and sour, with fresh ginger, red onion, lemon,coriander and green chilli tossed in the last 5 mins. It will get you on your feet in no time! Also strangely good with coconut. Bon appetit! Charlotte

  3. Hello,

    I was reading your blog. I work at Rainbow Wholefoods. I assume that it was our form that you comment about above. We do have space for company name and VAT registration on our paperwork but we welcome non registered customers (we have loads of them) and Buying Groups are welcome too (there are loads of them too).
    We are local, dedicated to wholefood and have worked with lots of buying groups so can help get through some of the difficulties. Please get in touch with me 01603 630484 if you need any help. There is some paperwork but it really isn't that bad.