From Co-Ops to Bulk Purchasing: Models for Emergency Food Provision

Exploring different models for emergency food provisioning. 

Written by Andrea Gibbons

Seventy people from within and outside our network of existing Sustainable Food Places members recently joined us for a pop-up webinar entitled From Co-Ops to Bulk Purchasing: Models for Emergency Food Provision. It was inspired by the wealth of thoughts and responses to a simple question posed to the network email forum by coordinator of FoodWise Leeds Sonja Woodcock. Her question read:

"I’m keen to know what areas have food buying co-ops in place to support food purchasing for food aid provision? I’m surprised at how much food is currently being bought in Leeds and am interested in how a food buying co-op might work. Any insights would be welcome. I’m particularly keen to know how small food aid providers could be included."

A similar and parallel discussion was simultaneously being had within one of the Soil Association’s My Food Community programme cohorts, led by Hull Food Partnership coordinator Darren Squires. They therefore teamed up to create a joint panel discussion on this topic. 

Our session opened with thoughts on how and why coops and bulk purchasing are of value in supporting access to food through; consistency, quality, autonomy, control, empowerment, and cost control. The ensuing discussion touched upon, not only, food coops and the mechanisms of bulk-buying, but we also discussed; mobile food vans, the potential of social supermarkets, issues surrounding combining purchased and surplus foods, and how to tackle supply chain issues in urban and rural settings. 


Our speakers were:

  • Kelly Fritzsche - Co-op Food Project Manager for Plymouth on their experience, including the model and mechanics of Food Co-ops and the roles within them, and their many benefits.
  • Ian Smith - Food Plymouth Core Enabling Team and CIC on their journey as a food partnership working on food access and insecurity towards food co-ops and social supermarkets, and the multiple cooperative connections and partnerships emerging from this work
  • Anna Route, development officer for Hull Food Partnership talked about their work with the council to optimise the spending of the Household Support Fund by accessing the council’s dynamic procurement bulk purchasing account with Turner Price to buy food for distribution among their network of foodbanks and pantries
  • Robert Garland, Bassetlaw Food Bank on their mobile van community shop, which provides access to rural communities to affordable food cupboard staples, fresh produce, and a range of toiletries and cleaning products.


The audience also brought a large amount of expertise to enrich the discussion, they included insights from:

  • John Westwood of Baobab Bach; with their network of food pantries and mobile van in the Southern Welsh valleys
  • Mary Vickers, community food coordinator for North East Lincolnshire, on their transition from foodbank to food pantry.

This conversation will continue as we work towards food justice and access for all in our communities.  

Find the Presentation Here

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