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Hungry for more: scaling up community food enterprises for public benefit

Hungry for more: scaling up community food enterprises for public benefit

7-12th October is Social Enterprise UK’s #BuySocial week– a time when we should all be increasing our awareness of the brilliant social enterprises out there, and buying more from them when we can. In the food space this is particularly true, and a push to buy our food more socially could have a huge impact.

In May I travelled to Bolivia and Peru through a Churchill Fellowship, to explore how community-owned food businesses can be successfully scaled up for public benefit.

The full report can be found here

Some of the our most pressing problems today relate to food production and consumption. In the UK, half of adults are overweight and obese, healthy food is three times more expensive than unhealthy food, about of a third of the food we produce goes to waste, and current food production us unstainable and causing climate change.

Community food enterprises are organisations that are run by communities for their benefit and are primarily involved in at least one part of growing, harvesting, processing, distributing, selling and serving food. They may also be involved in the sustainable disposal of waste food. Those involved are likely to be committed to local food as a way of ensuring quality and sustainability in the food chain.

On my fellowship I interviewed 10 community food enterprises in the UK and 20 in Bolivia and Peru, as well as 8 finance and support providers in the UK and 11 in Bolivia and Peru. I explored the people behind these enterprises, the communities they serve and the challenges they face in growth.

I found exciting examples of enterprises tackling food problems in the UK. For example, Sutton community farm produces better food whilst improving community cohesion, HISBEsupermarket improves access to ethical and sustainably sourced food, Snact produces healthier affordable snacks from fruit that would have gone to waste, and Our Kitchen provides nutritious and affordable ready meals to low income households.

But such enterprises tend to be small and only 2% turn over more than £1 million, which limits their social impact and financial viability.

I discovered similar barriers to scale across all the enterprises I spoke to in the UK and in South America: access to markets, leadership and governance, access to patient capital and support, the challenge of retaining a community focus and access to land.

In Bolivia and Peru found several examples of community food enterprises which are successfully growing without losing their community focus, and which combine good leadership, the right finance and support, and an absolute dedication to quality and to finding the right buyers.

Having studied the secrets of their growth I concluded that the following top three actions are needed to improve and grow community food enterprises in the UK:

1) The Buy Social movement should be sufficiently resourced to emulate the Fairtrade movement, connect the ecosystem better and get social enterprise products into supermarkets and companies.

2) A program of support should be set up to help community food enterprises have better leverage over food buyers, especially supermarkets – or to help them partner with them to develop better food products. Programmes such as Social Investment Scotland’s retail academy with Asda should be replicated.

3) Supermarkets should be showing the way, building on the Ethical Consumer ranking of the ethical and environmental record of 22 supermarkets. Best in class supermarkets like HISBE should be replicated across the country. The Cooperative supermarket should “go social” again and source only fair trade organic and local food as well as promoting the Buy Social campaign.

The full report can be found here

I will be presenting my findings at the RSA (the Steps at Rawthmells cafe), at 2pm on Tuesday 12th November. If you are interested in attending please email Heywoodjoanna@gmail.com

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