Suma launches online store and builds on Ethical Consumer tie-up

‘The co-op movement is right at the cutting edge of today’s ethical market.”’

Suma is the largest equal-pay worker co-op in Europe, owned and run by the 200 people who work there. It has traditionally focused on the wholesale market, offering over 2,000 ethically sourced and vegetarian food, home and body care products to more than 7,000 businesses. But last year it has launched something a little different: an online shop for individual customers.

Alongside Suma’s own brands, the online store ( offers selected items from favourite suppliers, with a wide range of plant-based, free-from, organic and fairly traded options. Working in collaboration with online retailer Ethical Superstore, the online shop has been rolled out slowly, and take-up has been steady, according to co-op member, Sophie Ziegler-Jones. 

“Ethical Superstore are already customers of ours and we share their ethics and values, so we knew they’d be the ideal distribution partner,” she says. “As you’d expect, the bestsellers are the same as for the wholesale side of the business: authentic Italian pasta in paper packaging, the range of organic kombuchas, Ecoleaf cleaning products and our Alter/Native hair and body care.”

Happily, the wholesale side of the business is thriving too; despite difficult times for many organisations, “Suma is seeing robust ordering from our key wholesale customers as everyone plans ahead for what will hopefully be a busy summer,” says Ziegler-Jones.

“We’re continuing to see growth in sales of ingredients as people embrace from-scratch cooking. Suma staples of beans and pulses, herbs and spices, grains, coconut products, and pastas are all flying off shelves. Wholefoods have always been at the heart of what makes Suma ‘Suma’ and we’re pleased to see there’s been no lull in people wanting to cook good food with simple, honest and quality ingredients.

“As a co-op we are one. We support one another and, as we always say, a co-op in a crisis is a force to be reckoned with. We saw that during the pandemic and we know we’re always going to be able to rally, make changes quickly and support the people who rely on us.”

Sheree Hatton, Suma’s commerce manager, adds that while the Covid challenge is largely behind them, Brexit regulations are still proving an issue.

“We’re having to really get our heads stuck into the ever-changing Brexit regulations that affect a wide breadth of our customers and categories, but we’re slowly getting there,” she says. “We’re working closely with those independents who are still facing challenges, and will continue to offer support however we can. Some of the businesses we work with are seeing an uplift in footfall and sales, which hopefully is a sign of things to come for all.” 

Related: Suma worker co-op picks up six accolades at Veggie Awards

Hatton says the organisation is seeing positive trends on its more ‘trending’ health products such as kombucha, oat pasta, sauerkraut and kimchi – many of which have scooped up awards for the organisation. 

Its Organic Peach & Turmeric Kombucha, for example, picked up Best Drink Award at the Veggie Awards, received silver at the Farm Shop & Deli Awards and was named Best Vegan Drink at the Vegan Food & Living Awards. Suma’s vegan Suma Chik’n Soup also picked up top honours in the Best New Category at the VFLA, was recognised as the Best Vegan Food Product at Natural & Organic Products Europe Expo, and declared Best Vegan Product/Overall Winner at the Health Food Business Awards.

Another product making waves is its organic pasta: its paper-packaged Organic Penne received the coveted title of Best Store Cupboard Product at the Veggie Awards – and the range has become the first product to be awarded the Best Buy label under Ethical Consumer’s newly expanded certification scheme.

Launched almost 20 years ago, the Best Buy label scheme has signed up almost 50 of the UK’s most ethical companies based on the results of Ethical Consumer’s product guides. Last year, the continued growth of the ethical market prompted Ethical Consumer to expand the scheme to include products which aren’t currently covered in their regular product guides.

Products will still be rated according to Ethical Consumer’s unique scoring system, which looks at a company and its product’s environmental and ethical credentials. The certification of Suma’s organic pasta marks a unique triple for Europe’s co-operative movement as Ethical Consumer, Suma and the Italian manufacturer of the pasta are all worker-owned co-operatives.

Related: Suma sets out sustainability goals in annual report

“Suma has always held Ethical Consumer in high regard and we are fully on board with everything they do,” says Ziegler-Jones. “We share the same aims and values as co-ops, as individuals and as businesses. When they approached us to say they were working on expanding their Best Buy label to individual products and asked if we’d like to help develop the process through trialling the application process for our new Italian pasta range, we said yes immediately.”

Stephanie Motzek, Suma’s commerce compliance coordinator adds that “working together with Ethical Consumer magazine was insightful”. 

“We greatly respect the work they undertake as researchers, enabling the public to make better informed buying decisions. Suma had the honour of contributing to this process review and development; it isn’t just about our own products but about the ethical market as a whole and that’s something we’re very pleased to have been able to assist with.” 

The Best Buy label was first launched in 2003, and only awarded to products with top scores in Ethical Consumer guides. The scoring system rates products out of 100, starting with a company’s overall ethics and then taking into consideration a range of issues including supply chain management, animal rights policy, tax conduct and carbon reporting. 

Suma currently has 20 Best Buy labels – but the pasta is particularly special, grown and produced by a co-op of organic farmers in Italy using 100% renewable energy. Made using a traditional process that creates a porous, rough surface that’s perfect for holding onto the sauce, it’s then slow-dried to preserve the nutrients and bring out the authentic taste. 

The pasta is accredited by the World Fairtrade Organisation, guaranteeing the workers a good wage, and is now packaged in biodegradable and recyclable paper, sourced from sustainably managed forests. 

“We’re increasingly being approached by companies to certify products and services in sectors that fall outside of our existing shopping guides,” says Ethical Consumer’s Nadine Oliver. “By expanding our Best Buy Label scheme we’re now opening up the possibility for us to award the Best Buy Label to a much wider range of products and services.

“It’s terrific that not only is Suma a workers’ co-op like ourselves but also that the company which makes the organic pasta is a co-op too. This shows that the co-op movement is right at the cutting edge of today’s ethical market.”