Unicorn co-op relaunches ‘Grow a Grocery’ guide

‘We’ve always had a mission to create social and environmental change … There is room for a Unicorn-type supermarket in every UK city’

Manchester-based co-operative grocery Unicorn has just launched an updated guide to setting up a co-operative food store.

The Grow a grocery guide – first developed in 2010 – contains a range of resources to support those starting a new shop or developing an existing one and is being updated with new resources and a fresh design.

Unicorn grocery, established in 1996 to provide a worker-owned alternative to the supermarket, has no plans to expand beyond its existing shop, focusing instead on enabling more worker owned food co-ops to grow around the world.

“We’ve always had a mission to create social and environmental change,” says Unicorn’s Debbie Clarke, “and part of that is sharing what we know so others can build on it.“

Unicorn’s guide includes a run through of the 10 key areas of its business, including people, planning, produce, premises, practical resources, procedures and pricing, promotion and policies, and principles. An accompanying set of resources includes sample policies, supplier lists and rotas.

Updates to the guide include new tools and systems from the sociocratic governance model, as well as learnings from the Barefoot course for Co-op Developers, which a number of Unicorn members have taken part in.

“We know the guide in its original form has been useful to hundreds of enterprises all over the world,” said Debbie, “but things change over time and we wanted to keep it relevant and a living resource. We’re learning constantly, so although the core model remains the same, we’ve developed and grown a lot in the years since we wrote it.

“Of course, the food retail landscape has changed too, so we hope that’s been reflected.”

The guide has been used by a range of different businesses since it was originally developed with the support of Sustain and its Big Lottery-funded Food Co-ops and Buying Groups project.

“The guide has been downloaded thousands of times, and we get enquiries every few weeks from people wanting more information,” added Debbie. “It’s used globally – in the last few months we’ve sent resources to folk in Bucharest, Sao Paulo and Colorado to name a few.”

Many enquiries are from people running different types of organisations with similar aims and values, such as a queer ‘pay as you feel’ cafe in Birmingham and a refill store, cafe and event space in Northern Ireland.

However, Unicorn is particularly interested supporting those who want to fully replicate the model they have used, said Debbie. “Starting big, usually off the high street (with parking) and having onsite storage so we can buy in bulk and direct, is such an integral part of Unicorn’s model – it’s how we make the produce affordable.

“Commercially, and to meet our ‘good food for all’ mission, that’s probably the most critical element, and we’d love to see that replicated, alongside the worker ownership and responsible trading values. There is room for a Unicorn-type supermarket in every UK city.”