Name of organisation
Unicorn Grocery Coop
Type of organisation
Retail grocery store selling vegan products
Secure Employment, Equal Opportunities, Healthy consumption, fair and sustainable trade, solidarity, coo-operation, short food supply chains
Who is Unicorn Grocery?
Unicorn Grocery was established in 1996 by a small group of people committed to social change, who had a vision for the kind of shop that they wanted to shop in themselves. As a worker cooperative, it is owned, controlled and run by the staff members. There are currently 76 members, who are all company directors.
The business is built on 5 principles, that have remained unchanged for 25 years: Secure Employment, Equal Opportunity, Wholesome Healthy Consumption, Fair and Sustainable Trade, Solidarity in Co-operation.
They look to debunk the myth that ‘Organic = Luxury’. In practice, this means a commitment to organic produce, working directly with growers to achieve fair prices for consumers and growers; minimal packaging; and a cooperative structure. Across the whole business 30% of products are organic and over 90% of the produce is sourced directly, as locally as possible. All of thefruit and vegetables and drinks that are sold are certified organic.
Who do Unicorn Grocery work with and how do they do it?
The 76 members of Unicorn Grocery run the organisation together, basing their governance on the Sociocratic Circle Method. As the organisation grew in recent years, this method was identified as a way to accommodate growth and allow for future development.
In the context of fruit & vegetables, Unicorn Grocery works with numerous UK growers, sourcing from the growers closest to them first; then from the rest of the UK; and then from other countries. The Unicorn Grocery looks for opportunities to substitute imports with local UK produce, e.g., sourcing celery from Manchester instead of Spain when the opportunity arises.
For dry goods specifically, products are sourced through companies with a shared commitment to social justice. This can take the form of co-operative business ownership – like wholesalers Suma or Essential, other types of social enterprise – like Greater Manchester Tree Station, products carrying the FairTrade mark or initiatives that aim to move even further than Fairtrade – like Just Change from India and Kitchen Garden from Zimbabwe.
Unicorn Grocery also has a number of community initiatives, such as its 1% fund, from which it can make more substantial donations to co-operatives, community groups and activist movements. Its members are also keen to give educational talks, have visits or support people in getting involved in growing their own produce.
What are Union Grocery’s main challenges?
Initially, Unicorn Grocery found it difficult to access funding from ‘conventional’ sources. Banks and grant funders were unfamiliar with worker co-operatives, and unconvinced by the viability of the radical retail model they were proposing.
The business grew from small beginnings with two members in 1996 turning over £275K, to its current position of 76 members and a turnover of £8M. For fruit and vegetables, sales in 2014 were £1.7M in 2014, compared to £2.3M in 2019 and £2.2M in 2020.
At present, packing space is very limited, so the potential for taking on a new site just for packing and freeing up more retail space in the existing shop is under consideration.
The cooperative model has evolved as the organisation has grown.To accommodate the 76 members,strategic and policy sessions are held three times a year.The day to day running is undertaken by all members, but through structures of teams, team representatives and a process of transparency and information sharing.
What are the priorities for Unicorn Grocery?
The 5 business principles can be seen in more detail below.
Unicorn Grocery aims to provide secure employment for members and seeks above all to provide a livelihood and to give members some control over their working environment – with the responsibilities and rewards that involves.
Unicorn Grocery believe that all should have an equal opportunity to undertake paid work. Ignorance and prejudice should not be an obstacle to this. The ability to carry out a minimum of 20 hours of useful work per week entitles a worker to apply for membership. The respect and income derived from a job are important to many people in a society that values paid work highly.
Unicorn Grocery aims to trade in wholesome foodstuffs and household goods of non-animal origin. They focus on foods which have undergone minimal processing. Specific product guidelines include the avoidance of animal derivatives, and where feasible, refined sugar and high levels of added salt. They strive to sell products of organic standard and maximum nutritional value whenever possible to find or generate a market. Provision of educational materials help in this aim.
Unicorn Grocery aims to trade in a manner which supports a sustainable world environment and economy. They trade preferentially in products which follow the “Fair Trade” ethos and communicate with customers about the problems with cash crop agriculture. They are concerned that much of world trade is to the disadvantage of poorer nations with a consequence for people’s health and lives. They operate a fund from which to support projects addressing and challenging this imbalance. 4% of wage costs are contributed to this fund. They trade in products which produce minimum impact on the environment and make decisions about our packaging with this also in mind.
They aim to support like-minded ventures, co-operatives or otherwise, acknowledging both competition and co-operation as fundamental to human nature. They seek to encourage co-operation by operating a fund to support projects which share their vision of community and society in the United Kingdom. 1% of our wage costs are contributed to this fund. They promote co-operative structures and spirit through all our trading, social and educational activities.