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Who says one of the largest wholefood outlet can't be run by the community?
Unicorn Grocery Co-operative is a dynamic and growing wholefood retailer, based in Chorlton, South Manchester. From humble beginnings 15 years ago as a small shop in a very basic building they have grown steadily. They are now one of the largest independent wholefood outlets in the UK with a turnover just over £4m.
They are a commercial operation but see ethics as intrinsic to the way they run their business.
"Our Principles inform everything we do. In all our trading, we try to ensure our suppliers are people our customers would be proud to do business with."
Products are sourced with a concern for where they have come from, how they have been produced, and how they are transported, with relation to both environmental and social factors. Wherever possible, they are sourced from developing countries and are traded fairly. All fruit and veg is organic, and where possible sourced locally.
Unicorn Grocery is a worker's cooperative, which means they are owned and run by their employees. They operate a flat governance structure where all co-operative members, are also Directors in the business. The worker co-operative is also "non-hierarchical", which means all workers are managers of the business, with equal say in how it is run. Unicorn operates a flat pay structure and also pays a bonus based on the overall performance of the business.
"We take responsibility equally for the decisions that govern our business, from long-term strategy, budgets & recruitment, to procedures that run the shop from day to day."
This has been achieved by developing strong lines of communication and regular meetings connecting members within each team and across the diverse areas of the business. All members are expected to self-manage, as well as simultaneously managing each other, which relies on a great deal of initiative, hard work, and trust.
Unicorn has grown from 4 to 50 members evolving their structure as they have grown. They largely operate as self-managing teams for day-to-day issues with more important and strategic decision made by the whole co-operative.
"We learn from one another all the time, and are able to make strong, well-founded decisions upheld by a unified and active membership. This kind of decision-making is one of the things that give every member a real sense of 'ownership' of the business; unlike in most jobs, we are all strongly connected to the decisions we make!"
Although Unicorn itself has grown and diversified; it now operates a Deli and is expanding kitchen facilities. It has supported other co-operatives to grow. Members of Unicorn set-up Moss Brook Growers an organic grower on the outskirts of Manchester and they source other food from the local Glebelands market garden in nearby Sale. Unicorn has also developed the on-line resource "Grow a Grocery" for others interested in creating a worker co-operative retail outlets in their area.
"We are very much a ‘local’ business and rather than widening our customer base further and further afield we are keen to support others in their ventures to set up similar projects elsewhere. We ourselves were the product of one founder member’s placement at a co-operative in Cambridge, and we are always happy to have people spend a few days with us to learn and get inspired"