New report looks at co-op solutions for food justice in Plymouth

The report, commissioned by the city council, was produced by Co-operative Futures

A new report is investigating community-led business solutions to manage the collection and distribution of food in Plymouth, after the Covid-19 pandemic led to growing levels of food insecurity.

The report, Co-operative options for Food Aid providers in Plymouth, will be launched on 18 November as part of the Social Enterprise Festival 2021. Aimed primarily at food aid organisations, the event will invite discussion around the pros and cons of alternative community-led options for reducing dependency on food aid in Plymouth.

The report, produced by Co-operative Futures, was funded by DEFRA and commissioned by Plymouth Council to identify a co-operative business model to manage the city’s food-aid activities in a more sustainable and inclusive way.

The first phase of the report was written with input from various stakeholders, including Food Plymouth and University of Plymouth.

Three different co-operative business models will be presented for discussion at the launch and include the following organisations:

It looks at food retail co-ops, such as Farley’s Food Coop and Cooperation Town, defining them as ‘an outlet run by the members that is involved in supplying food for the benefit of the community, rather than for private profit’.

It also considers bulk buying and co-operative distribution centres – giving the examples of the Arc and Gloucester Holiday activities and Food programme (HAF). These co-ops have organisations, rather than individuals, as members, buying food at scale – in tons.

‘Added value’ food co-ops process surplus food, rather than donating it, to generate an income to support food aid organisations or as waste reduction activities. Where surplus food is processed, it is commonly used to create free/cheap hot meals at community cafes. This activity can be a stand alone co-operative or integrated into an existing organisation; the members of a co-operative could be drawn from a range of stakeholders, for example, workers, suppliers, or consumers. This should be a fully commercial operation designed to generate a surplus that can be used to support food aid organisations in the city, says the report.

“Each of the options above has the potential to be stand-alone,” says the report. “However, there is a symbiotic relationship between them that could deliver greater effectiveness and impact. In particular, the relationship between the bulk buying co-operative and co-operative distribution centre is key, as they would have an overlapping membership and complimentary activities. It may therefore be sensible to combine these into a single co-operative.

Cllr Vivien Pengelly, cabinet member for homes and communities on Plymouth City Council, said: “We are really pleased that the first phase of this report by Co-operative Futures has been finalised. Addressing how we tackle food poverty in Plymouth is an incredibly important activity.

“I look forward to attending the launch event around community-led business solutions as part of the Social Enterprise Festival where we can address how best to tackle food insecurity and food waste in the city.”

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