Practical Bravery: RUTH ANSLOW



Whatever is going on, it is clear that the business models of Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Tesco are extraordinarily good if what we want as a society is cheap food, and lots and lots of it, whilst shareholders and private pension funds quietly top slice the return.
Is that what we want?
In this episode of The Possibility Club the spotlight is on the 21st century supermarket. And the practical bravery of a particular family who decided that the British public maybe don’t want squeezed farmers, low quality processed gunk and lots of waste, a lack of control and a net benefit to invisible billionaires.
A supermarket rebel with a cause, co-founder of the HISBE supermarket shops and The Good Business Club and a legend in the social enterprise world, who has just finished successful £100k crowdfunded to supercharge her mission further… this is our chat with Ruth Anslow.

Key quotes:

“I’ve been called mad many times. I think it’s madder to do nothing.”

“The goal was to turn the supermarket model on its head. We looked at how it is and asked how it should be.”

“I got a first-hand look at the unintended consequences that come about when you just put profit before everything, short-term profit and shareholder return. It’s resulted in an unsustainable food system and I’m worried about the future of food.”

“Bad food has become normal. It was all just about finding projects to make everything more profitable, and a lot of that meant taking nutrition and goodness out of food, and just promoting the stuff that was high in fat and high in sugar and salt, that’s cheap for them to make and sell.”

“There’s a lot of inequality in the pay system for supermarket workers, so our tax holds up and subsidises supermarket wage bills.”

“98% of the population shop at supermarkets and only 8% of the purchases are online, so almost everyone is in a store, shopping in a supermarket, so that’s what we know and you have to start where people are.”

“The idea was, if we could create a supermarket, and made that big enough and offered it to enough people and enough people shop there, you could change the whole system. I’m not kidding myself that’s going to happen in my lifetime, I’m probably just a baton-bearer for the next lot, who’ll do it a lot better than us. But we’ve had a go, we’ve created a model.” 

“We’ve saved over a million pieces of plastic packaging from going into landfill by selling stuff loose. We’ve created £7million of income for the local economy that, if it were a Tesco, would’ve just been exported or centralised. We’ve passed 67% back to farmers. We’ve created enormous impact for the local food chain and the local economy.”

“Our goal now is to grow the Sussex chain and grow a hub of Sussex stores, to scale up the local suppliers, to amplify those impacts, so we’re an engine for creating community assets and societal value for the local economy, so that’s ready by 2030.”

“We’ve got this vision for a kind of operating system, a ‘how to HISBE’ that’s held digitally that we can licence and partner and franchise bits of, and open-source and give other bits of, so we can help create shops like ours all over the country.”

“We need radical collaboration between all the people who are sowing seeds.”

“There’s an incredible collaborative effort locally to build good policy and to challenge central policy by collaboration and consolidating efforts.”

“I want HISBE to be famous, because it’s a blueprint for how it should be. So I want the blueprint to be famous, it doesn’t matter if it’s HISBE written on the door, it’s the blueprint, it’s the operating model, it’s the way forward.”

“We had a go.”

This episode was recorded in May 2023

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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