East of England Co-operative, one of the UK’s largest retail co-operatives, has a strong reputation for its support of local food.
Rather than adopting the national Co-operative brand, it has developed its own locally based identity. Central to this was establishing its ‘Sourced Locally’ range in 2008 to stock locally grown or produced food in its 140 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
The range has grown fast since it was first set up, from a handful of local producers to 136 suppliers that now bring around 2,400 local products into the stores. Sales grew by 30% last year alone, reaching £12m.
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.
The society’s latest development is the opening of two new-format stores.
Firstly, it bought a shop – which previously sold china and homeware – in Lavenham, Suffolk, and turned it into a village store. A minimum of 40% of stock will come from local suppliers, and the remainder will be standard stock found in convenience stores. Described as the first ‘hybrid store’, it will have a traditional village shop feel and offer an alternative to the conventional convenience store.
The second store is a new farm shop, the Darsham Hamper & Café, also in Suffolk, which aims to provide locals and tourists with a destination shopping experience, with 80% of stock from the Sourced Locally range, and a coffee shop run by a local supplier. Roger Grosvenor, head of retail at East of England, describes it as “our flagship store for Sourced Locally”.
East of England’s move into new-format stores and local product lines reflects a wider trend among retail co-ops to explore different shops and ranges. Lincolnshire Co-operative has recently promoted local suppliers through its Love Local campaign, while the smaller Clydebank co-operative left the Co-operative Retail Trading Group (the buying group for the co-operative retail sector) in February because it wanted a more flexible approach to what it stocks in stores.