Can Supermarkets Be a Social Enterprise?

Posted by on August 1, 2013 in CSR, Entrepreneurship, Europe

Retailer-Dec12By Sangeeta Haindl

During the ‘60s in the U.K., supermarkets started to expand rapidly by selling more products in even larger stores. Now they have exploded across the country; there are nearly 8,000 stores with a total turnover of £107 billion. The four biggest chains in the U.K. are Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury and Morrison’s, who argue that overall, they have been good for consumers by keeping food prices low and increasing choice. Yet critics say that this has been at the expense of suppliers, the environment, crop diversity and the impact of out-of-town supermarket developments on town centres.

Today, sales in traditional British supermarkets are under pressure as increasing numbers of consumers transfer their spending on food to smaller convenience stores and online shopping, which raises the question if it is time to consider an alternative to these profit-driven corporations? Well, two sisters, Amy and Ruth Anslow think it is, and have spent the past two years creating a new type of supermarket that is ethical, sustainable and affordable. It is called hiSbe, which stands for ‘how it Should be’ and is located in Brighton.

hiSbe’s is a social enterprise with a purpose to give people access to food that’s more affordable, fairly sourced and more sustainable. Amy Anslow says, “The profits go back into the business rather than the shareholders. It frees us up to trade in a different way, so we are not having to make a large surplus to support shareholders.” Funding too, for this enterprise has been innovative, and the sisters raised part of the money from online crowd-funding platform Buzzbnk. In return for donations, supporters received the equivalent amount plus 20 per cent in vouchers that they can use in store when it opens this September.

The store is based on eight principles: go local, choose seasonal, protect nature, support ethical, think welfare, save fish, end waste and avoid processed. Brands will be stocked as long as they are highly rated by the Ethical Consumer Index and all stock will be as local as possible. If it’s not local, then it will make sure it’s British, and if that’s not possible, then it will make sure it’s fairly traded from abroad. hiSbe will pay staff above the living wage and suppliers a fair price. It wants to break the perception that you have to have money to be able to afford good food as food poverty is a crisis in this country: Britain’s “hidden hunger” is affecting half a million people who are turning to food banks.

So, hiSbe is creating a model for how supermarkets could be. Its main challenges will be to be priced competitively and to see if it can operate on a scale to challenge supermarkets. Right now, our choice is monolithic supermarkets that sit between producers and consumers, extracting the bulk of the value out of supply chains, squeezing suppliers and cajoling consumers into buying ever more.

Photo Credit: hiSbe

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