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Beanies: A wholefood co‑op with plenty of benefits in store

Case study

1st September 2022
What is a co-op?
The exterior of Beanies' shop

There’s no need to shop around for another job when you work at Beanies. And being a worker co‑operative sets the Sheffield grocery apart in more ways than one…

One of a series of case studies produced by Co-operatives UK as part of The Ownership Hub programme, in partnership with the Employee Ownership Association. The Ownership Hub is working with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to highlight the benefits of employee and worker owned businesses.

Selling wholesome produce since 1986, Beanies is a wholefood shop, greengrocers and organic veg box supplier serving the people of Sheffield and surrounding areas. It’s also a worker co‑op with 11 members, two trainee members and 12 part‑time staff.

Gwilym Lawrence is one of the members. He’s been with Beanies since September 2020 and enjoys coming to work every day. “I love the ethos here. We support local suppliers, growers and businesses – and emphasise stocking ethical products from smaller, independent producers.

“We don’t sell goods made by multinationals and our customers can pick anything up knowing we’ve vetted it for its ethical credentials – we’ve put that work in beforehand.”

Beanies also supports local enterprise by regularly dedicating sections of the shop to Sheffield-only produce and holding community markets in the store’s car park, with stalls for small businesses and start‑ups.

“We use the space to support the local eco system in Sheffield. We’ve had pottery and beauty stalls, all different kinds. And we’ve themed the market – vegan stalls in January, a Christmas market in December.” says Gwilym.

Quote mark
We’re all equal partners in the business and have a say in how it’s run. We make decisions with our best interests at heart. It’s empowering not to be line managed like we were in previous jobs – and we have more autonomy in our day‑to‑day lives.
– Gwilym Lawrence, Beanies member

For him, there are many more benefits to being part of the Beanies worker co‑operative. “There’s transparency – we know we are all getting paid the same,” he says.

“I haven’t worked in a corporate environment but one of my colleagues was in insurance for 20 years. He never knew who he could trust. With every review and promotion, he was competing with the people he worked with every day.

“Here, you feel trusted by your colleagues and you trust them. We all know we’re pushing in the same direction, which is really important.”

There’s also the empowerment, control and support that comes with being part of a co‑op that makes Gwilym’s working life so satisfying.

“At Beanies, if you see a way of doing things that would be more efficient, you can suggest it and we’ll try it out. If it works, then we adopt it. You feel supported to make suggestions and that makes working here such a rewarding experience.

And being a worker co‑op is good for business too – it creates a harmonious environment that reduces staff turnover, as Gwilym explains: “Because working conditions are so much more in our control, we are able to retain staff better than similar sized businesses that aren’t co‑ops,” he says.

“There are lots of good indie local businesses that have a high turnover of staff. Our advantage is that when people join us, they realise how rewarding co‑op working is and don’t want to leave. That’s what I’ve noticed.”

Beanies’ members also come from a diverse range of backgrounds, which has enriched Gwilym’s working life. “Here, there are people with grown up kids, people moving towards retirement and people straight out of university – from early 20s to late 60s.

Beanies members
The Beanies team

“Our members have previously worked in all different kinds of industries – publishing, insurance, healthcare, theatre. They bring different skills and experiences.

“One colleague used to run his own brewery. He found it could be a lonely experience with a lot of pressure. He really enjoyed becoming part of Beanies, because he still gets to run a business but now as part of a bigger team.

“What’s also different about being part of the team in a worker co‑op is that no one has any interest in exploiting the business. No one is coasting. We’re all motivated and invested in what we do.”

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