As students, most of us are on a tight budget when it comes to food (alcohol is a different story, but let’s ignore that).
Despite this, we are a generation who appear to be caring more and more about the quality of our food and where it comes from, although we may at times be sorely tempted by cheaper and perhaps not so ethical produce (hello, caged hen eggs). With supermarkets such as Waitrose and Booths (that’s the northern version of Waitrose to all you southerners) selling more local, organic and high quality produce, it has become much more possible to buy your food whilst keeping your morals intact. This, however, does not come cheaply. For example, a Waitrose Free Range British whole chicken would set you back £11.14, which is quite pricey considering you can buy a whole chicken from Tesco for as little as £2.50 (though there is an ominous lack of any description of the bird’s origin). One could argue that this is the main issue – it is simply too expensive to buy these organic, high quality and ethical products. However, there may be a partial solution right here on campus. Impact has had the pleasure of an exclusive interview with Rachel Blissett-Lyne, the president of University Park SCoop about her society and how it can help us achieve our aim of being a more responsible and moral consumer. Here’s the scoop (puntastic)…
Could you give me and the Impact readers a brief summary of what your society does and when it was set up?
The student food coop (SCoop) was brought to UoN via Sutton Bonington, where the first SCoop was set up a couple of years ago by Lisa Gertson. It was last year that they investigated branching out and set one up at UP. Some third years took on this role, and UP SCoop started trading around April last year. We are a student-led volunteer group which sells organic, fair-trade, cruelty-free produce at cost-value (we charge the bare minimum, covering costs alone).
The aim is to provide students with an alternative to supermarkets, but on a much smaller scale. We understand that students are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from, the additives that go into the products, and how this can affect suppliers and small-scale farmers. We are trying to project a positive and more ethical choice to students. Food ethics and the environment are intertwined and we feel it’s important that students are offered a choice in what and who they support when it comes to goods. We feel SCoop can benefit the students firstly by offering cheap, high-quality goods. The products we sell usually get marked up by up to 50% by retailers. We can supply students with good products without that price tag. In addition to this we want to educate the students on the impact of our work: who it helps and what our ethos is.
You mention educating the students on the impact of your work, what impacts have you observed so far?
It’s still a work in progress as UP SCoop is still young, but we have seen a consistent group of loyal customers who come back weekly to buy from us and we have had more people come to volunteer with us after they are aware of what it is we are offering and supporting. I think the biggest impact is shown by the support of our customers or the people that stop, ask about us, and say “we need to see more of this”.
So you have seen a demand for food which is ethical, organic and high quality? Which wholesalers do you find fill this criteria?
Absolutely, especially when we can supply it at cost value, the environmentally conscious students definitely want more. We get all our produce from Suma which work under a cooperative system and provide us with nearly all our goods. They are always more than willing to get any additional information we need, but all of their goods come with a named country of origin. We are hoping to branch out in other suppliers beyond Suma in the next year but whilst in our infancy we are just working with Suma.
What sort of Suma products do you sell? Do you have any plans for the future in terms of expanding your products?
We mainly work with dry goods or things that can be preserved as we currently don’t have the space to sell fresh or refrigerated goods. Our stock includes pulses, seeds, pasta, jars of peanut butter, chocolate spread, chocolate, coffee, snacks and many other things. We really want to expand into non-food items in the coming year which includes toiletries and cleaning products. Personally I really want to get eggs on the list – Sutton Bonington eggs are the best so I am currently trying to find a way of getting them here at University Park. Oh and also veg boxes! But again, we need to find suppliers and suss out the demand before we invest.
How can you get involved with SCoop?
SCoop offers any new student a platform to expand and be creative. As we are relatively young we encourage new students to volunteer with us. We would love help running the shop, finding new ways to do outreach, promotion, financial running and business aspects of the cooperative. We also want to collaborate with other similar groups and societies so even if you can’t help with SCoop we would love to hear from other societies that would like to work with us in events. You can find us on Facebook, twitter or on the SU website.
SCoop sets up shop every Tuesday and Thursday 12-2pm at the moment but this may change so watch this space!