In this series of guest blogs Lynne Davis, from the Open Food Network, introduces some of the food hubs and producers in their community. Here, in the fifth blog of the series, Lynne introduces Stroudco Food Hub.
Stroudco is one of the pioneers of the food hub model in the UK. Since 2008 Stroudco have been working to coordinate local producers and coordinate a distribution service in the Stroud region. Stroudco began as a group of allotmenteers driven to connect with local producers so they could access produce all year around. The group connected with local schools and families to access pro bono packing space and volunteer labour to get the service off the ground.
Today Stroudco has an annual turnover of £80k. They are registered as a CIC and deliver 20-30 food boxes a week with orders ranging from less than £10 to over £150. They employ two part time staff members, 5-7 paid delivery drivers and a team of packing volunteers. The operations team is supported by a Board of Directors that oversee strategy and direction.
James Millar, one of the Directors of StroudCo, reflects that the food hub hasn’t seen a continuous growth over this 13 year history. In 2019 the group paused the business after their attempt to restructure as a cooperative failed. They restarted during the first lockdown of the pandemic with overwhelming demand and support from the community they had established in the previous 11 years of operation.
While the service is viable the group would like to grow as they would like to have a bigger impact toward their social and ecological aims.
“We sit in between the producer and consumer in the food system, and we’re trying to not prioritise either of them, as they’re equally important.”
StroudCo’s vision has four main strands to it:
- Choose local first
- Keep your footprint tiny
- Support caring husbandry
- Support the local economy
In achieving this vision they strive not to prioritise either shoppers or producers. “We sit in between the producer and consumer in the food system, and we’re trying to not prioritise either of them, as they’re equally important.” says James. On the shopper side this means building personal relationships with shoppers through their service and also newsletter and communications. On the producer side this means paying over 80% of the retail price directly to the suppliers.
StroudCo works with a network of about 30 local suppliers offering a range of 300-400 products which fluctuates with the seasons. All producers are surveyed before being enabled to sell through the platform. Livestock producers must adhere to very high welfare standards. “One of the main questions asked at the start when deciding on a supplier is packaging, and we will favour suppliers with minimal or compostable packaging. Cheese is particularly problematic, as packaging is needed to stop cheese from drying out. Salad is a problem too as it can’t be put in a paper bag.” says James. Beer and juices that come in a bottle are part of a reuse collection system. Products that they hold in stock, such that StroudCo can offer a bigger range, and generally packaged, highlighting the benefits of short supply chains when it comes to waste.
StroudCo are aware that by internalising their values within the produce offering, the cost of production increases meaning that their offer is out of the price range for many. “No one complains that we are too expensive. People seem to accept the prices are for quality. However, we know we are more expensive than a supermarket.” As such StroudCo aims to embed redistributive mechanisms within the business. Customers can donate to the food bank or a social enterprise offering surplus meals for people in the local area. In the last 6 months they’ve raised around £2000 for those organisations.
Despite the challenges StroudCo are committed to the online food hub model as an important component of a re-localised food system, perhaps in part to the important role they have played pioneering it. At inception in 2008, they received funding from ‘Making Local Food Work’ to develop their website before connecting with the Open Food Network in 2014. Nick Weir, one of the founders of StroudCo and a founder of the Open Food Network, was responsible for building links between the StroudCo software and the Open Food Network.