The worker co-op is jointly owned and managed by around 200 employees who collectively do all the jobs required – from working in the kitchen to driving forklifts inside the refrigeration unit or writing for the website. Suma is among the largest businesses in Europe that operates an equal pay policy.
Launched in 2013, the Grocer Gold Awards consist of a mixture of self-entry and special categories. Employer of the Year is open to retailers, wholesalers and grocery manufacturers. The award aims to highlight employers that have managed to overcome the challenges of the current economic climate by creating a positive working environment by motivating, redirecting and training its employees.
At Suma, workers take on multiple roles to give them a broader understanding of the business and help them gain multiple skills. Employee owners enjoy flexible working hours while three quarters of profit goes towards their bonus.
Suma, which is run by an elected management committee taking consensus decisions, started in 1975 when founding member Reg Taylor proposed a wholesale co-operative at a meeting for wholefood shops in the north of England.
Initially organised in the back kitchen of a house in Leeds, the co-op has become the UK’s largest worker co-operative. Suma sells only vegetarian produce and focuses on Fairtrade and ethically produced goods. In 2014, it received the Co-operative of the Year award from Co-operatives UK.
The co-op was up against Lidl, Aldi and Bidvest in the category.
Sheree Hatton, brand co-ordinator at Suma, said: “To be winners of this highly acclaimed industry award, against three multi-national companies, is a remarkable achievement for us – it shows other ‘traditional’ businesses that a group of people can work together in a different way and run a successful business without the need for overpaid bosses or hierarchical structures.
“Compared to the other nominees in our category, we’re relatively small in numbers so to be noticed for what we do is extremely exciting – who knows what opportunities this will open up for us?”
Waitrose, which forms part of employee-owned John Lewis Partnership, won Consumer Initiative of the Year for its Pick Your Own Offers. This enables customers to select 10 picks from hundreds of products and save 20% on them every time they shop, online and in store, by using their myWaitrose cards.