Formed out of a desire to supply affordable, ethically sourced food, Rice Up Wholefoods is a grocery shop co-op in the heart of Southampton’s city centre.
Stocking vegan products and produce, the worker co-operative provides the local community with ethical, fair-trade food, supplements, cosmetics and environmentally friendly cleaning products – many from their waste-reducing dispensers and liquid refill station.
“The whole idea was to give veganism to people and make it affordable to them,” says co-op director Dorothy Martin.
For Dorothy, working co-operatively creates a better experience for shoppers. “Because we’re a collaborative business, that spills over into how we treat our customers. Everyone here is working together towards the goals of giving better service,” she says.
“We’re always really helpful with our customers and go out of way to order products they ask for – as long as they’re vegan. And if they want a sack of something, we give them a 10% discount.
“Being a co-op gives us more freedom too. For instance, if we have a product that’s not a fast seller but people come back for it, we leave it on the shelves for them. If we were a regular busines, it would cease to be stocked. We have the freedom of choice to keep it – and that means customers come back to us.”
With eight members and the help of volunteers, Rice Up has been operating for eight years. To begin with, business was booming but when the supermarket chains began stocking vegan ranges, the co-op found itself facing stiff competition.
That’s when they enlisted the help of The Hive – the co-op business support programme delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with The Co-operative Bank.
Rice Up received free guidance from co-operative expert and Hive Provider Nathan Brown. “To help us compete with the supermarkets, he thought it a good idea for us to brush up on all aspects of our business,” says Dorothy.
“Nathan was excellent. He showed us how to set up a business plan and helped us better understand our accounts. The busines plan was a big thing – it’s something I’d never done before.
“He also advised us on how to improve our social media so people are more aware of us,” Dorothy continues. “We post three to four times a week now. And we’ve started a regular newsletter thanks to Nathan’s advice.”
Rice Up are also embracing new initiatives to engage and attract customers. “Nathan had lots of good ideas. We’re holding a 10% off day soon and we’ve started a loyalty card scheme. People get a stamp when they shop with us and on the sixth shop, they get 15% off.”
With new energy breathed into the business thanks to The Hive’s support, Dorothy is positive the future is bright. “Post-Covid recovery is our current aspiration,” she says. “I can see our shelves soon being fully stocked and more money in the bank. The Hive’s help will be invaluable in putting us on the path to recovery.”