In July 2018, inspired by a national campaign for plastic-free shopping, a group of local people were brought together by the realisation that Cheltenham had nowhere to buy loose food and household refills. The long-established ethical campaigning charity, Global Footsteps, stepped up to the challenge, offering the group the use of both their Portland Street retail space and their legal umbrella as project owner. And, over the next twelve months, word spread and the project — entirely run by 5 volunteers — grew, attracting a community of loyal customers and, eventually, the capacity to employ a full- time shop manager. But challenges lay ahead. Not only did the coronavirus take its toll, but — despite the impact of lockdown on profits — Global Footsteps realised that the project had been too successful for it to be able to continue to run under a charitable umbrella: the time had come for FoodLoose to stand up its own business! As a result, in June 2021, FoodLoose Limited was established as a Community Benefit Society, separate from Global Footsteps and managed by a team of five volunteers from diverse backgrounds but united by a conviction that FoodLoose could grow into something greater. Over the last six months, the new management board has taken FoodLoose in hand: growing revenue, streamlining processes, reaching new customers and re-fitting the Portland Street unit. But now the time has come for more. It’s time for FoodLoose to step up, lead the way to the future and be the change Cheltenham needs.
FoodLoose wants to create a new paradigm of retail for domestic consumables in the Cheltenham area, with a community-focused, values-driven business model, led by passionate volunteers. By doing this, not only will we make a measurable reduction in the creation of single-use plastic waste in landfill sites, water courses and oceans, but also set an example to local and national business and government that the power to transform how we shop, how we live and how we relate to our communities and our environments is in our hands.
FoodLoose offers food and cleaning products that can be sold in minimal packaging, with customers encouraged to bring and re-use their own containers. All good shops want to be welcoming to their customers, but our volunteers love to engage with new and regular customers alike. We love to help inspire our customers to try new products, recipe ideas and alternatives, but we also love to hear our customers’ suggestions and recommendations.
The community has a key role to play in supporting and developing our business model, not only when it comes to voting as members at the AGM, but also with the day-to-day running of the shop. We know that one of the best ways to discover which products our customers would like us to stock next is to ask them! Many of our strongest selling lines are a direct result of listening to our customers. This feedback is driving our product range expansion plans – we know, for example, that plant milks, nut butter machines and cereals are high on our customers’ wish lists.
Our core product types are:
- Loose dried food, including flours, sugars, rice and pasta
- Loose tea and coffee beans
- Liquid cleaning products, like washing up and laundry liquids
- Personal and beauty products
- Household and kitchen products
We believe in taking a holistic approach to ethical trading, though, so it’s not just about keeping packaging to a minimum. We work hard to make sure that all of our products are ethically sourced from suppliers as close to the grower or manufacturer as possible, making sure that our customers can have confidence that their shopping pays workers a fair wage, treats the Earth with respect, and minimises the climate impact of their basket. As a result, the vast majority of our products are organic — but we also supply products that might not quite meet organic standards when we know that the grower or manufacturer still fits within our vision of a better, kinder future.
Our current premises have been a good starting point and we are so grateful to Global Footsteps for their support, but reaching more people with our mission means offering more products in greater quantities — which means a larger premises with more storage.
We will be able to meet demand for fresh and chilled goods — plant milks and deli products — and to expand our range of household cleaning products. And of course we want to offer more and better ranges of ethically-sourced dry goods, all dispensed from the best designed self-service dispensers we can find.
To support this move to a larger range with a more self-service customer experience, we aspire to upgrade our Electronic Point Of Sale (EPOS) equipment and software.
Managing the delivery of this ambitious growth will necessitate a full-time, employed shop manager, supported by a part-time administrator.
But our ambitions don’t stop at a bigger shop, important as that is. We know that the way people shop today is changing. And reducing our customer’s climate impact means meeting them on their journey. We have already completed a re-vamp of our webstore to allow customers to order goods for delivery by our bicycle-powered delivery team. But this project will allow us to expand this service to a six-day delivery of larger volumes to a greater range.
We are also conscious that we are far from the only organisation in Cheltenham with a radical vision for change, to restore our climate and build a more ethical framework for business in the future. We want to be able to build proactive and practical relationships with our friends in CheltenhamZero, Planet Cheltenham and the Cheltenham Education Partnership.