I visited Honeysuckle Wholefoods in Oswestry to see what they offer for people seeking a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
Co-ops are run on a not-for-profit basis to give people access to good food at affordable prices. The term ‘co-op’ implies co-operation which is all about people working together to achieve something they couldn’t do on their own.
For over 40 years the co-operative of Honeysuckle has been offering local, organic and fresh produce with an enormous range of whole foods, spices, and specialty groceries. Set up in July 1978 by four friends, it is still on the original site. I spoke to Member-worker Gemma Syrett-Judd who says the group chose the worker co-op model because they didn’t want to be a conventional business, they wanted to be a co-op. “And because we’re a worker co-op we have a widespread of expertise in the organisation - one person joins and they’re good at accounts, someone else is good at stocktaking, and so on,” Gemma told me. And, she adds, “The replacement of members over time naturally brings in new blood, new energy, new ideas.
The store sells a wide variety of ethical, healthy foods including fresh fruit and veg, herbs, dried, packet and tinned foods. Everything is organic, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. The prices are very good too. Gemma says that people assume, incorrectly, that eating healthily costs more money. It can actually cost less, it just takes a bit longer to prepare and cook it. She also added that buying organic is not just about health, it’s also about the planet.
Honeysuckle avoids anything that has to be delivered by air freight, and also avoid any products that involve exploitation, “Coffee beans from Kenya involve exploitation all year round” says Gemma. In the UK, Fairtrade, which is the only certification mark that requires a minimum price of coffee buyers has a market share of around 25%. This means that for three-quarters of all packs of coffee in the UK supermarket, no price security is offered for coffee farmers. They are then dependent on the vagaries of the market. People need to ask themselves, “Do we, as consumers, want to be involved in the exploitation of coffee farmers by buying their products?” Honeysuckle would also never stock items like Nutella that are very bad for the environment. That’s the beauty of buying from somewhere like Honeysuckle, you know that everything they sell is ethical, that they have taken all these things into consideration.
Over the years, Gemma says, they have got to know their customers well and some have been with them for 40 years. People who have always supported us have told us what Honeysuckle means to them. When the shop started, wholefoods stores were rare so for people with those diets and ideals, we were very good.
Wholefoods are now available in many places including supermarkets which Gemma says brings challenges because you realise what you sell is available everywhere. But Honeysuckle offers a level of knowledge and personal service that you can’t get in the supermarkets. “Also,” says Gemma, “we have more flexibility than big stores where if something doesn’t sell in six weeks they dump it. We can restock quickly if people want something.”
Gemma commented on how people in hospital are not very well educated on food. “They will often come out of the hospital and come here for advice,” she says. On a whole, she estimates that 90% of their customers will dabble with diets. Many have old school values. She points out that this country grows things like swedes well and that we should look more towards eating more seasonal, locally grown food.
Because Honeysuckle has lasted so long in the same place, it has become something of a fixture in the community, which means it has become more than just a shop but also performs a social role.
“A lot of our customers are at a certain age now,” said Gemma, “and if they stop coming in, you miss them, so we check up on them, and check if they need anything. It’s part of our ethos, of caring for people in our community.”
This, in turn, brings loyalty from customers which helps Honeysuckle weather the more difficult times.
“We’re not profit-driven – it’s a matter of working to keep the job; everyone who works here is hands-on with it, it’s very close run.” She added: “With plastics, we’re going back to good in jars and open sacks where possible. We’re trying to eliminate waste”. She also commented that a lot of people see reducing plastic as a way of saving money rather than the environment.
The priority at Honeysuckle is about quality. Everything is vegan/vegetarian and there is no testing on animals. They are Soil Association certified organic and stock a wide range of organic fruit and vegetables, flours, dietary and vegan brands, ethical beauty products and lots more.
If you want to live a more conscious life and reduce your impact on the environment while eating healthily you can’t get much better than this.
Contact Honeysuckle on 01691 653125 email: [email protected] and find them on Facebook and Instagram @honeysucklewholefoods.
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