Anthony Murray, editor of the Co-operative News, reports that rather than adopting the national Co-operative brand, one of the independent co-operative societies, the East of England Co-operative, has developed its own identity, based on its support for local food.
It established a ‘Sourced Locally’ range in 2008, stocking locally grown or produced food in 140 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. From a handful of local producers it now has 136 suppliers. Sales grew by 30% last year alone, reaching £12m. It has grown from selling locally grown asparagus to 2,400 different products: from beer, bread and bacon to honey, haddock and heat logs.
Most of the products in the range are from within a 30-mile radius of the store they are stocked in, with the exception of a few core products for which there is just one supplier across the region. Business in the Community gave the East of England Co-operative an award in 2013, for ‘transforming a rural business network.
The East of England Co-operative’s website records reflections on what this means for the local community as a whole: through payments to local producers they have been able to plough more than £20 million back into the local economy, helping producers to create more than 100 new jobs, whilst protecting dozens more.