Worker co-operative Suma Wholefoods has been named Co-operative of the Year, by Co-operatives UK.
Suma is the trading name of Triangle Wholefoods Collective, which is the UK’s largest independent wholefood wholesaler/distributor and operates a flat management structure where all employee-members have an equal say in running the business.
Co-operatives UK secretary general Ed Mayo visited the Elland-based co-operative on Employee Ownership Day to present the award, alongside a visit from TUC president Mohammed Taj.
Last year, Suma delivered its best trading performance for 35 years, turning over £34m with 140 workers. A wage rise and a substantial bonus were enjoyed by workers and ten full-time jobs were created.
Ed Mayo said: “Not all employee-owned businesses give their employees a sense of ownership. In some cases, perhaps coming out of the public sector, employee ownership may not even have been chosen by the employees or is held on their behalf rather than being accountable to them in a democratic way. Suma, as a leading worker co-operative, shows what the power of true employee ownership can be, lifting the bar on business innovation and performance.”
Commenting on his visit, Mohammed Taj said: “Traditional corporate governance has been found wanting in the wake of the global financial crisis. The time is ripe to explore alternatives that give the workers who have a genuine long term interest and stake in the business to have more voice in that business.
“Co-operatives can be a great way to give workers a voice and a stake in their company. And, of course, trade unions are also a way that working people can make themselves heard. So it is great to see a co-operative like Suma, working in partnership with their union BFAWU, to ensure that empowering workers means giving them a stake in the company as well as their own voice from the shop floor.”
During the day, Mohammed Taj met Suma staff as well as representatives from the local region Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) office and BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper.
Bob Cannell from Suma said: “We were pleased Taj could witness first-hand the great jobs we are creating and that excellent wages and job security are a business priority for us.
“Suma has had a BFAWU branch for 30 years now and around 80% of our worker members are union members. Union advice and support has proved invaluable over the years, for individual workers and for our co-operative, demonstrating that worker co-operatives and trade unions can work together for mutual benefit; it has certainly worked for us.
”It is an honour to be recognised by Co-operatives UK as Co-operative of the Year. This is testament to the hard work and dedication of our worker members and we are on course for another successful year for our co-operative and business.”