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Greener grocers: six great ethical supermarkets

The Ecologist

23rd May, 2011

Not every supermarket is a heartless corporate giant: here are six that are showing Tesco and co how it's done

Supermarkets have long been the bad boys of food retail with unethical sourcing, low wages, food miles and high wastage topping the list of complaints. But the last decade has seen a small but powerful shift away from supermarkets as people – fed up with tasteless vegetables and low welfare standards – switch their weekly food shop to farmer’s markets and high streets. Thus far, the response of the biggest hitters has been disappointing with Peruvian tomatoes and battery eggs still a depressing presence on shelves. But not every supermarket is a bad apple and some have been making a real effort to turn things around. Below we list six supermarkets whose ethical sourcing policies and reliance on local suppliers are putting the big players to shame.

Unicorn Grocery
A local co-operative employing 50 people, Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery has made ethical principles a key part of its business model, and pays fair prices for the produce it stocks. The fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in Unicorn’s Glebelands market garden or sourced from local growers, and everything is organic including the tea and coffee. While bread isn’t baked in-house, it’s brought in from local bakeries five days a week. If that hasn’t whetted your appetite, check out the deli, which stocks fresh hummus, soup and salads, and does a nice line in handmade truffles.
www.unicorn-grocery.co.uk

The Co-op
Britain’s biggest ethical food retailer has had a rough ride in recent years – largely thanks to its acquisition of the not especially green Somerfield chain – but has retained its position as one of the UK’s greenest supermarkets thanks to its excellent record on animal welfare and its wide range of Fairtrade and organic products. Current projects include extending their Elmwood minimum welfare standards to pork (they already apply to chicken and turkey) and establishing a dairy supply chain which takes the welfare of dairy cows and the environment into account. The Co-op has also applied the principles of integrated farm management (crop rotation, no monoculture, fewer pesticides etc) to its own farms and has removed the noxious likes of formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) from its own-brand household products. The Co-op isn’t perfect but it deserves credit for its achievements to date.
www.co-operative.coop

The Better Food Company
With fresh produce sourced directly from The Better Food Company’s own community-based farm and a wealth of organic products on the shelves, the Bristol based retailer is the largest organic supplier in the south-west. A runner up in the 2011 Soil Association Organic Retailer of the Year awards, the company focuses on local, organic and ethically produced food and household goods, including beauty products. It also runs a box scheme and has its own café.
www.betterfood.co.uk

Grassroots Organics
One of the UK’s oldest organic outlets, Grassroots Organics was launched in 1977 as a health food emporium but extended its remit to chemical-free produce thanks to the dubious effect of agrochemicals on human health. Since then, the Glasgow-based store has expanded to include organic toiletries, holistic remedies and natural household cleaning products. Needless to say, all fresh produce is organic and locally sourced. 
www.grassrootsorganic.co.uk

Planet Organic
The UK’s largest organic supermarket business, Planet Organic has four stores in London in addition to an outlet online. Boasting a wide variety of organic products, meat is sourced from UK suppliers and they operate a ‘British first’ policy for fruit and vegetables. Unusually, the retailer also places an emphasis on seasonal eating and education; offering a wealth of recipes in store and online to encourage customers to broaden their nutritional repertoire. In true supermarket style, they also stock a huge range of organic health, beauty and baby products, including organic cotton baby-grows.
www.planetorganic.com

The People's Supermarket
Rarely has a supermarket caused a stir like London's The People's Supermarket. Founded last year by eco-chef, Arthur Potts Dawson and former TV presenter, David Barrie, the supermarket is a co-operative that aims to put fairly produced, inexpensive food on the tables of local residents. Among its green initiatives is a focus on produce sourced from within London if possible, or the rest of the UK if not, and a programme aimed at minimising waste. The supermarket also composts all of its leftovers and was the winner of the Future Minds Award at the Smart Urban Stage Awards held earlier this month.Oh, and if that wasn't enough, it's already garnered a famous fan in the shape of PM David Cameron.
www.thepeoplessupermarket.org

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