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True Food Community Co-op

Published by Sara Osman
South East Food Co-ops Advisor
Sustain/ Making Local Food Work
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True Food Co-op in Reading is a community owned enterprise with 130 members & four paid staff. It provides a wide range of stock from several whole-food wholesalers, as well as supplying local fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, milk and meat. They have a shop & run weekly markets in several locations.

About the Co-op:

The True Food Co-op in Reading, Berkshire, was formed in 2005, initially as an informal buying club with 10 -20 members, and has grown steadily to 130 members by 2008.


As well as support from the Lottery Funded Making Local Food Work  project, True Food has received several grants which has been vital for growth of the enterprise. "We would not have got the ball rolling otherwise" says founding member Chris Aldridge. Support has been received from:

•·        Berkshire Community Foundation

•·        European Social Fund

•·        Social Enterprise Berkshire - for marketing

•·        Primary Care Trust - for a cookbook


Members & Shoppers:

Members of the co-op are from mixed backgrounds. There are no restrictions to membership, other than to purchase a £1 share, although the enterprise is considering some obligatory participation. The co-op looks to attract people that want to try out new ideas for obtaining and promoting:

•·        affordable organic foods

•·        co-operative principles and volunteering

•·        sustainability in the environment

•·        community building and networking


'Markets' in Community Venues:

Markets are held on four weekday evenings at popular community venues around Reading, and we have a sizable shop open six days in north Reading.  A paid markets manager and a committed team of at least six volunteers variously help set-up each market, provide customer service and support, and pack away at the end.


Co-op customers may buy from a wide selection of fresh produce and whole-food stocks that the co-op retails. Alternatively they may select and order from wholesalers' catalogues which list thousands of lines.  Meat, fish, speciality baked and chilled goods are available to order.  The vast majority of products we sell are certified organic and ecologically sustainable.  Also, a wide range and number of goods stocked are Fair-trade certified.  What we stock, and the social and ethical criteria used to decide what True Food offers, is decided by the Co-op's membership.


Our prices are kept as affordable as possible by minimising the mark-up through buying locally and in bulk quantities where possible.  Costs are also kept low due to the efforts of an array of volunteers from the locality.  Volunteers help us with accounting, book-keeping, community association, Co-op direction, marketing, market operations, membership, publicity, stock-check, website development and updates, volunteer coordination, and a host of other tasks that help maximise community benefits through participation.  


Supporting Healthy Eating in the Community:

Although the enterprise is owned by 130 members, the markets are open to the public and they serve up to 2000 people per month. This is estimated to be approximately 600-800 customers.


The enterprise sources thousands of products from a range of suppliers; Suma, Infinity foods, and local suppliers - including local charities such as Thrive who work with people with learning and physical disability through horticultural projects. Produce is predominantly certified organic, although production practices for local produce is based on trust. They supply some uncertified ‘organic' produce from growers that do not use chemicals and members' contributions from allotments and gardens.

The markets provide for most consumer needs: vegetables, fruit, meat (Graig Farm), dairy, bread, a wide range of whole-foods, beverages (mainly non alcoholic), non-food products such as cleaning and body care products and other items such as recycled paper, cards, and  bin liners. Goods are delivered weekly from suppliers to the True Food depot. True Food then distributes to a number of trade accounts - restaurants and cafes, and eight ‘markets' at community venues - five weekly, two periodically.

Members can reserve some items, but generally not entire orders. Most shopping is done from stock items. Only meat is paid for in advance, all other items are paid for on collection. Orders made by phone and e-mail.


Finding suitable venues for the markets is often difficult. Local authority venues are expensive so they try to use community centres, church halls and schools, but these tend to be more difficult to use due to times available. Rural venues are also difficult to run as populations are dispersed which in turn also makes it difficult to promote and do marketing. True Food has deliberately chosen venues away from established whole-food shops, however many have closed in Reading and the need has been met by True Food.


True Food employs four part time workers: a markets manager, warehouse manager, two markets assistants who attend to the day to day running of the enterprise. However there is a great deal of volunteering which is actively encouraged and managed. It is estimated that 60% of members are active and about 40% inactive.


There are several working groups:

•·        Finance - grant applications, etc.

•·        Policies

•·        People - human resources, volunteers, events and socials.

•·        Publicity - marketing.


For active members, there is a small discount on shopping - entitlement is monitored by the market managers and volunteer co-ordinator. There is also a Christmas party and summer picnic for volunteers. For any new start food co-op, True Food recommends that an expectation of volunteering and contribution to the food co-op is maintained from the onset in order to keep costs down and build social networks and benefits.


Members are kept informed through:

•·        E-mailed newsletter

•·        Website

•·        Meetings

•·        markets


Future Developments:

The markets are self supporting and no longer rely on grant funding, and with the new shop opening, True Food Co-op aim to get to the point that the shop will make enough profit to enable expansion of the markets to more deprived areas of Reading, and subsidise food costs to make it even mr affordable.


Print this page
Lead Organisation Sustain/ Making Local Food Work
Geographical Area Berkshire
Outcomes Community cohesion, Improving health, Increasing participation
Beneficiary Age Adults, Older People (Over 60), Young People (16-25)
Beneficiary Groups Disadvantaged families, Families, General population, Socially isolated older people, Unemployed people, Volunteers, Young parents
Type of activity Campaigns, Food quality & safety, Sustainability & procurement
Primary Theme Eating for Health
Secondary Themes Healthy Weight



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