The New Leaf Co-op is Edinburgh’s hands-on wholefood store. With a focus on products that are fresh, local, Organic, low packaging, and at a reasonable price; this is a jam-packed wee shop! They’re also a workers’ co-operative, and this is fundamental to the way they run their business and connect with the world at large. During Co-ops Fortnight, what better time to find out more about New Leaf!
For people who don’t know the New Leaf, tell us a little about how you started and what you are?
The New Leaf Co-op first opened its doors in October 2012. Our group of five founding members crowd-funded our start-up funds, receiving an amazing response from supportive friends, family, and community members. We’ve been growing and developing ever since. Members have come and gone, leaving their mark. We’ve learned what our customers want and need from our shop and got to know them, and we’ve put in place lots of systems to sustain a supportive co-operative environment.
One of our most popular offerings is our wide range of scoop/pour-your-own products. We have over 250 items available to refill, including loose herbs, spices, teas, pulses, pasta, cereals, dried fruits, nuts, baking ingredients, and a whole host of refillable cleaning products for body and home. We’re passionate about supporting local growers, producers, and makers. Creating resilient local food systems is an essential part of addressing many interlinked issues that exist in our society: food security and sovereignty, the climate crisis, poverty, and community connection.
As we publish this blog, Coop Fortnight is underway. Why do we need to shout about Coops?
Co-operatives are an incredibly resilient, sustainable structure – for workers, creators, communities, and individuals – and not many people know about them. A co-op can take many forms, but for us it’s about creating an equitable, compassionate, inclusive workplace that allows the needs of the workers and community to be put first. A co-operative structure can challenge some of the capitalist ideals that are seen as normal in our society, despite being harmful to both people and the environment. Being part of a co-op is to be part of a person-centred approach; a commitment to challenging hierarchies where they arise. No systems are perfect, but we truly see co-ops as the best option for workers and the creation of sustainable businesses.
We feel the benefits of being a co-op every day. These range from cultivating a sustainable approach to working (e.g no ‘work until you burn out’ mentality), having personal and team training budgets, progressive sick pay and parental leave policies, and the ability to develop ways of working that suit the needs of individuals. In our society, there are so many systems that squeeze and pull apart basic needs and rights. It’s become the norm to struggle. Co-ops provide an alternative to that, resisting these unending pressures and providing an alternative that helps everyone to flourish.
Tell us about your customer base?
We have such a wonderful and varied customer base. In any given week we see working individuals, students, families, visitors to the city… Lots of our customers have a real passion for environmental and social causes, as well as co-operative values. We’re proud to offer a space where customers can come and do their shopping, have a chat, ask questions and make suggestions. We try to maintain an open approach. Over the years customers have become good friends, and sometimes even co-workers.
We also have many customers who are students, and often see a fluctuation in custom that matches the term times. We offer a 10% student discount on refills products, to make our shop both more affordable and encourage the purchase of packaging-free goods. This discount also applies to people who are unwaged and seniors – 10% is not the biggest discount, but we want to make our shop as affordable to as many people as possible.
During the summer, especially in August during the Fringe festival, we get lots of tourists and performers popping by. We don’t accept event posters, but do get to engage in lots of interesting chats.
What has been the impact of Covid on The New Leaf?
Like many shops on the high street, we have certainly felt the impact of the pandemic and resulting lockdowns. A benefit of being a co-operative was the ability to respond in an agile way at the onset of the pandemic, making decisions that felt safest and best for our workers: keeping the shop open but with safety measures aplenty and using the furlough system to support our workers whilst still topping up wages.
During the initial lockdown period, we worked hard to be able to offer an online click-and-collect service. Now we’re open again, it’s so lovely to be able to reconnect with our community. However, like many shops, we have noticed a shift in consumer habits as more people buy online. The impact of Covid, coupled with price increases across the board, means that most small businesses are feeling the pressure. We would encourage people to engage where they can with their community resources: shop small and shop local!
You are known for supporting local, Organic and vegan food. Why is this so important to you?
For so many reasons! For us, holding these values means supporting a way of living that is greener, slower, and more connected. We believe in nourishment, of people and places.
We aim to support our local economy and keep food miles down. Our values are reflected in the things we sell, and we recognize that through this we have the potential to be part of a larger system change. We buy locally and promote Organic as much as possible, working with some amazing local growers to get in the best local and seasonal produce, as well as getting in our European produce from a fellow workers’ co-op.
We support Palestinian causes and land rights movements like the Zapatistas where we can, buying products that support these groups. Whilst our shop is mostly vegan, we also sell local organic milk and eggs and strongly believe there is a balance to be struck here.
As well as promoting values like organic and vegan, we want to be accessible; to offer affordable staples, and be a shop that as many people as possible can engage with. Although we reject the idea that it’s in the hands of the consumer to change the world (it’s you, governments and massive corporations!), we can all choose to do and say more with our money by supporting businesses that both care about their impact in the world.
Why do you use Greencity Wholefoods as a supplier?
We love working with Greencity - a fellow co-operative and all-round lovely bunch. Greencity provides a fantastic range of products for our customers and their values align well with ours. We try to prioritise buying from suppliers who are also co-operatives, strengthening ties within the movement. Greencity have a down-to-earth approach that suits us perfectly: rootsy, established, and that wee bit radical. We love it.
Thanks to Rosa from The New Leaf for answering our questions! Find out more at newleafcoop.co.uk