Foraging for innovation – lows and highs of a co-operative life

It has been a roller-coaster of a few days.

The CEO of the Co-operative Group has bowed out after a weekend in which his pay and bonus was front page news. What he was paid to do though wasn’t, he felt, achievable. Every step of this poker game seems to have been leaked to the press, which is a rare return to the worst days of the demutualisation attempt by Andew Regan – when one executive went to jail for leaking confidential information.

There will need to be change and renewal at the Co-operative Group and the hopeful signal is that of a clear strategy and purpose underway, to be championed by the capable new (interim) CEO, Richard Pennycook, and his team. This is a very challenging time, but it helps to remember that this is not the first time the business has been tested and it has always emerged as a stronger, more agile, resilient enterprise.

The highlight of today, in contrast, was something deeply co-operative, which was a visit to Glasgow’s Greencity Wholefoods. Babs, pictured here with me below, confesses that “my first love is warehousing”, which is a perfect fit for one of the 40+ members of a wholesaling worker co-operative.

While the Co-operative remains an ethical retailer, because of its ownership structure, Greencity, which only stocks from ethical suppliers, has had to delist some of the former ethical business wonder kids that, with investor ownership, have grown by being sold off to big business – Rachel’s Dairy, Ben and Jerry’s. As a result, they are on a constant search for product innovation, particularly from Scottish suppliers.

One of these, Babs shows me, is Sea Buckthorn Juice. It is labelled as ‘wild and Scottish’ – “just like us” she laughs. Sea Buckthorn is a shrub that you find on the coastlines. The product is gathered by a collaborative enterprise of foragers. Its bright orange berries are full of vitamin C and E, omega oils and minerals. Low carbon, sharp tasting… It is quite something.

Enterprises such as Greencity give me plenty of hope for the co-operative model. It is never so easy in business to organise around ethical values at scale, but if there is a right way to do it, it is to turn those values into a source of innovation – or to return to those values as a source of renewal.



One thought on “Foraging for innovation – lows and highs of a co-operative life

  1. You’ve got to watch that Babs. She’ll slip whiskey into your buckthorn, and before you know it you’re prophesying a golden age of the commons. In Gallic.

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