Company: The Better Food Company
Business: Organic and local food retailer
Address: Shop & Café: The Bristol Proving House, Sevier St, St Werburghs, BS2 9QS
Food Hall and Deli: 94 Whiteladies Rd, BS8 2QX
Owner: Phil Haughton
“By making links with other like minded businesses, Better Food Company is building a more resilient food group with people at the core. If the company concentrates on retail and nurtures the partnership with the Community Farm and others like it in the future, Bristol could have many more large scale food growing community enterprises and 20 stores like ours” Phil Haughton, Better Food Company
Building a Resilient Food System
The Better Food Company was established in1992 by the owner Phil Haughton and has 6
shareholders. The motivation for setting it up was a passion for sustainable food and farming. The company has 65 employees and £2.2 million turnover. The business activities cover Bristol and its surrounding area combining retail, a fruit and vegetable box delivery scheme and a wholesale operation.
In total the business sells local foods to around 7,000 people per week. This includes 4,500 customers served by the shop, box scheme deliveries to around 500 customers and a wholesale operation supplying 15 customers who sell on some further 2,000 people.
Risks and Innovation
The business needs to maintain its margins to stay viable and will have to reduce dependency on fuel wherever possible. Better Food Company has a policy of not buying in any air-freighted products, so it was unaffected by the ban on air travel in the spring of 2010.
The business is dependent on the value people place on food. To reduce this vulnerability it will require more people to take an interest in what is needed to produce sustainable food. Currently, the company plays a tiny role in feeding Bristol but customer numbers are growing. One of the aims of the Community Farm is to help connect people in Bristol with what it takes to produce sustainable food and this may help attract new customers.
“I’d like to see national and local government invest real money on connecting people with food and farming. I think Jamie Oliver’s cookery workshops are great because they get to those parts of cities where it can be difficult to make connections.”
Phil Haughton, Better Food Company
Community Business Partnership
The supermarket model of non-involved company shareholders is the biggest hurdle to change at the moment. The supermarket board room has an overriding obligation to offer maximum returns to shareholders. In contrast Better Food Company is seeking further financial investment, without expectation of big returns. Based on the company’s commitment to local involvement it has established a new Community Farm that has become a community owned food enterprise that has taken over its existing vegetable growing business, vegetable box delivery service and wholesale business.
The Community Farm is in its infancy, but with 3 or more satellite businesses that all share the same values, the group are demonstrating a model of community and business in partnership. This model could be replicated elsewhere around Bristol. This initiative is providing a diverse group of people the opportunity to have a stake in their own food production and learn about growing. The company already offers all its customers the chance to connect directly with local food and farming and in future intends to directly involve more people in its business.
The thrust of the sourcing policy derives from their company strap line: local, organic, ethical:
- 90% of goods available in both their stores are organic
- They support over 65 local producers, some literally as near as a few streets away, and they actively contribute to the local food economy.
- It’s their mission to put food at the heart of community.
- Their fresh produce departments and café food reflect closely food as it is in season.
- They work with producers who they trust and who trust them.
- They believe in fair trade – they pay their suppliers a fair price whether they’re in Somerset or Africa.
- They only stock meat from organic farms who ensure healthy and humane conditions for their livestock and preserves wildlife and habitats.
- Their sourcing policy goes as far as declining to stock various well-known brands because of changes to ingredients they use, for example, the introduction of GM products.
- They never stock items that have been air-freighted.
Better Food aim to keep our staples at affordable prices. Their eggs and milk are cheaper than supermarket equivalents.
They have a bulk buy and scoop section as well as a refill station for a whole array of household cleaning needs. This is their attempt to help their customers keep their shopping bills (and packaging consumption) down to a minimum. They can also order in many items for you, so if there’s something you’d like and don’t see it on the shelf, do ask!