The People’s Supermarket – For the people, by the people

March 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm 5 comments

By Sophie Byrne

I thought my housemate and I were ahead of the game with this find… but seeing as David Cameron has already cottoned on and there has been a Channel 4 series about the store I am feeling decidedly out of the loop. However, The People’s Supermarket is very cool  and definitely deserves a blog.

Started by chef Arthur Potts Dawson and ex-M&S Commercial Executive Kate Bull, The People’s Supermarket is a food cooperative that aims to bring reasonably priced, “independently produced food and a more sustainable, communitarian form of grocery shopping” to UK cities. The shop adapts the pioneering approach to volunteering of Park Slope Food Coop — a similar store in New York, that makes a $32 million a year profit from sales in one store, staffed mainly by volunteers.

The People’s Supermarket is in Central London, in a retail space that was last occupied by another independent food shop that was driven out of business when three different supermarket chains opened shops within 10 minutes walk of the site. The People’s Supermarket is hoping to avoid this all too familiar fate of local, independent shops through its cooperative membership model. Members pay £25  a year to join and must then commit four hours a month to help run the shop. Because the workforce is all volunteers, the supermarket saves on staff costs, which is then reflected in the prices. The model requires 400 people to fill monthly rotas. Members receive benefits such as discounts at the till and get a say in how the business is run.

The People’s Supermarket also aims to buy locally sourced produce, minimise wastage (by creating prepared dishes from the food coming up to sell-by dates and composting other waste material), to provide training and development opportunities to people within the community and to ‘highlight the possibilities of consumer power and challenge the status quo’.

Potts Dawson

The founders are motivated by their personal experiences in the food and retail industry. Arthur Potts Dawson (left) is a chef and restaurant owner, who was shocked by the amount of food wasted in London restaurants. He has since started a chain of restaurants that compost all their biodegradable food waste, which is used to nourish the vegetables in the restaurants’ garden. In comparison to most London restaurant’s twice daily rubbish collections, Potts Dawson’s have one a month. The successful chef has now turned his sights on big supermarkets. Kate Bulls is a retailer who became disillusioned by the way the retail industry functions and treats its staff. She has said of M&S “I was getting disillusioned with retail because it seemed to be less and less about shops and understanding customers as individuals and more about making a profit at any cost.”

If you live or work near Bloomsbury and have four hours a month available, you can become a member of this great venture here.


Entry filed under: Big society, Cooperatives and Mutuals, Green Next Practice, Social Innnovation, Sustainability, Third Sector Innovation.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R  |  March 30, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Dear Sophie,
    Perhaps True Food Co-op in Reading deserves a blog, they’ve been doing exactly this for over 6 years; only difference is they haven’t had a Channel 4 series and a celebrity chef. Not all innovation takes place in London … there are many similar ventures all around the country, take a look at

  • 2. Sophie Byrne  |  March 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you for your comment. Of course not all innovation takes place in London, far from it! So thank you for pointing non-Londoners in the direction of such a great website. Are you involved in the running of the True Food Co-op?

    I am looking forward to checking out the stores in Yorkshire when I move there later in the year!

  • 3. r  |  March 31, 2011 at 5:57 am

    The London comment was mostly in jest. I am a member of TFC, along with a few hundred others. If you want to talk to someone directly I’m happy to put you in touch with the appropriate person.

  • 4. James Rulen  |  April 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    The idea seems great really, but taking a closer look at the area “The People Supermarket” is located I couldn’t help but noticing that Lamb`s Conduit Street is a posh street in Central London, Yes, there are a few council states around, but why wasn`t this placed in Hackney Central? or even Elephant and Castle, where people REALLY need an option to the big supermarkets, I stopped buy at the People`s and I was surprised with the range of products they sell, to be honest what it seemed was that Arthur wanted to promote himself and the Tv producers found a street that was “just” reality show material, the shelves of the people supermarket are stocked with almost high end products, things that I would find in a grocery shop (have you been to The Grocery?) “The People`s Supermarket” really for the people? I think I would truly believe in his intentions if there weren’t any Tv involved..was the American one on Tv? I was really exited with the whole thing, ready to be a volunteer (even thought live far away from it) but getting there I felt a bit cheated by Arthur.
    Have you taken a closer look at the area? have you spoken the the local shops?
    Kind Regards

  • 5. Elisabeth  |  May 17, 2011 at 9:29 am

    True Food in Reading has been doing it for years as has Unicorn Grocery in Manchester.

    All of these coops (and Park Slope in New York) are wonderful inspiring models – we hope to do ditto in Bristol following the Tesco fiasco in Stokes Croft…


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