Sunday, 27 February 2011

The People's Supermarket Got Me Started!

Tonight was one of those rare occasions when our TV actually managed to pick up a signal. We managed to see a full episode of Landward, then watched 'The People's Supermarket' with great interest. I'd caught part of one episode previously and then clicked to follow @TPSLondon on Twitter. Not having the benefit of superfast broadband in these rural parts, I can't watch any reruns online, so my research has been severely restricted - Twitter, Facebook and their website.

Twitter bio says:
Name: People's Supermarket

Location: Holborn, London
Bio: The People's Supermarket is a bold new venture which allows a community to come together and take charge of the food they buy and eat.
Sadly, tonight's TV episode appears to have been the final part of the series, ending with the shop picking up a few more members and trading briskly enough to warrant its immediate survival. There's even a suggestion of another store!
With around 650 members paying £25 each per year to join the TPS project, unless I'm wrong, membership has generated a mere £16,250 before deduction of admin costs. That's equivalent to less than one week's overheads on the entire project. So, how much bang do members get for their bucks?
First of all, it looks as though members need to volunteer an average of an hour per week helping run the store. In exchange for membership and helping out, members are also entitled to a 10% discount on their groceries. Based on the National Minimum Wage of £5.93, membership equates to a total of just over £333.00 per year. My question is, can someone save more than that by joining?
THE ANSWER IS YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN! But only if you're a shoppers who is guaranteed to spend an average of £65 (inclusive of discount) every week in TPS.
People, there are massive savings to be made here! Everyone tell a friend, relative, neighbour or colleague. Do a bulk shop on whatever items you all need. Batch cook and share. The apples and broccoli in tonight's programme were perfect examples; adapt the diet and the meal plan to suit what's available, join forces with others and share-shop. It's a no brainer!
  • You're helping local producers,
  • You're supporting your local community,
  • You're helping others save money and
  • You're helping keep perfectly good produce out of the landfills.
It's second nature to followers of the frugaldom lifestyle but it's also the oldest 'new trend' to hit the high streets! TPS really is a store where every penny and every person counts! And that's coming from someone who has only ever set foot in the City of London once in her entire life!

Let's ask the same question of a typical frugal family. Here, we base grocery shopping on the concept that an average of £1 per person per day is sufficient to feed a family, assuming you are prepared to batch cook, preserve, implement a zero waste policy, grow your own wherever possible and stockpile on any bargains. For a typical 'frugaldom' family of four, even allowing for special occasions, the annual grocery budget is still only £1,500.00  TPS membership may have no appeal to our frugalers, until you remind them that by share-shopping, that exact same £1,500 could buy them a lot more (or cost them less) and provide the opportunity to meet a whole group of similarly minded individuals. Not only that, look at the opportunities to get away for a day into the country, fruit and veg picking.
With TPS being open to the general public, I'm struggling to see why the place isn't mobbed on a daily basis. I haven't seen enough of the series to understand the original concept, location or footfall past the door. From what I understand, it appears that the project, while being underfunded from the start, was set up to offer fresh, locally sourced produce at below supermarket prices. This is based on the premise that fresh produce being offered there was unacceptable or unwanted by the big supermarkets.  Misshapen or over/undersized fruit & veg seemed like brilliant buys, to me. I mean, where else can you buy fresh peppers for 15p each without there being a 'whoops' yellow or orange sticker on them? 
TPS offering hot food to takeaway was an ingenious idea, although I'm not sure how prices compared to elsewhere. Regardless, it's a great way to reduce, reuse and recycle leftover fresh produce. Followers of the frugaldom lifestyle are well used to cooking up such delicacies on a regular basis and would eagerly flock to bag a few more bargains, given half the chance.
Being underfunded from the start, it can't have been easy to get the whole TPS project off the ground. However, there seemed to be a distinct lack of co-operation and communication among the members during meetings. The fact that the majority of existing members didn't seem to be taking advantage of what was on offer clearly proved that the supporters of this scheme are divided. Seeing only 6 people out of 350 members turn up for apple-picking was sad, but that, again, reflects on how precious everyone deems their own time and how disjointed society has become. Time is money, for many. That's the society we live in today and the society that we have allowed ourselves to create.
From where I'm looking, there are those who want to pay their money as 'silent partners', there are those who want to be seen to volunteer their services within a less fortunate area than their own (but don't channel their own spending power through the store) and there are those who prefer to just shop - with money saving in mind. For many others, it might even be beneath them to be seen in such a store as TPS! 
But the 21st Century has brought a new trendiness to austerity. It's good to be green, it's perfecly acceptable to be prudent and, for all those 'big spending, flash Harrys', saving is uppermost on their minds, whether they acknowledge it or not. Just check out all the current tax evasion strategies being employed within the UK right now.
Only by offering lucrative 'deals' can the big spenders be drawn into the picture. Fresh veg boxes are all the rage, lunch packs and snack packs are all the rage, get those frugal entrepreneurial brains into action and create a whole new chain of products from what's already available. How close is TPS to large office blocks or concentrated numbers of lunchtime snackers? If they don't want the whole fruit, offer to cut it into smaller pieces for them and charge them accordingly, ask the guy on the bicycle to deliver in time for lunch or teabreak.
The possibilities are endless... aim for FREE implementation of all you can, aim to REDUCE every overhead you can, aim to SAVE OTHERS time, inconvenience and money, aim to encourage DISCUSSION among existing members and spread the word... those are my personal thoughts on the matter.
So, where does that leave the concept of a people's supermarket? I don't know about London, (£18,000 minimum turnover to break even every week is a fortune to someone like me!) but here in Frugaldom, there is always a need to set the bottom line and then keep lowering it. If rates are payable, I'd be seeking some form of rebate for the community project. I'd be monitoring every single unit of electricity consumed, every litre of water, every penny of insurance paid and every penny spent on transport. As an active member of a Local Exchange Trading Scheme, the concept is similar - we all pitch in as much as possible and we all pay out as little as possible. There's cashback, promotional activities, free publicity, free advertising and marketing opportunities, free involvement of the general public, free opportunities to SAVE MONEY...
The basic concept of The People's Supermarket is brilliant, yet the implementation may be its failing... I'd bring in 'back up' in the shape of the nearest London LETS group or similar. At worst, all surplus produce could be traded out on their points system and then the accumulated points could be offered to other LETS members who were prepared to put in a few hours of work in exchange for cheap fruit and veg.
I may be coming across as a bit of a country bumpkin with no apparent concept of city life, but I trust in society's playing fields not being level. And I have worked in a city, albeit Glasgow in the 80's. 
Rural living on a frugal budget can, in many ways, be much more challenging than budgeting in or around the big cities. Throughout the UK, I am sure there must be thousands of families that could benefit from being part of a scheme similar to The People's Supermarket. Even if they can't promise 4 hours of their time a month and £25 a year membership, they can appreciate bargains and they do need to eat. We just need to look at the huge success of the newest 'big 3' frugal food stores: Approved Food, Food Bargains and Big Brands for Less to see that it isn't just the low income households who are taking advantage of this type of shopping - we do, afterall, see the vans delivering the boxes!
Don't forget to join us in the Frugaldom Forums to discuss Frugal Food, amongst many other subjects.


  1. I caught this last night but haven't watched all the seriesI , like the idea in principle but it will only ever work in a urban environment with lots of potential customers and volunteers . Would be great to see it franchise all over the UK and give the supers a run for their money.....

    strangely community run local shops featured in countryfile last night to albeit briefly

  2. I have watched all the series and kept shouting at the tv when people were moaning about the lack of things on the shelves etc, it was their supermarket but they weren't there helping make it right.

    As for the fresh fruit and veg, even though I have a box delivery, I would seriously welcome that type of store near here, it is hard enough to get British produce at the best of times without having to see/know that tonnes is ploughed straight back into the fields because it doesn't "conform" to buyers sizings etc.

    It is based in Bloomsbury, West End, which might explain some of the problems.

    There is also a website although I haven't as yet looked it over properly

  3. Hi as a rural dweller I agree that is is more challenging to live on a frugal budget compared to living in a city - the choice and range of prices, much better public transport, less need of a car etc etc - I get some of my best bargains in town. I find I need to make the most of my trips to town/urban areas.


  4. The Peoples' Supermarket web link is in the main post. All the contrasting coloured text contain links for further info. :)

    Just updating - The Peoples' Supermarket is coming to GLASGOW soon! Yeah! It still won't be within 2 hours drive of here, but it's got to be within reach of many bargain hunters up there! :)

    If you have a Twitter account, follow @TPSGlasgow for all the news and updates.


Many thanks for taking the time to comment. All comments are moderated to help prevent system abuse by spammers, time-wasters and chancers, so your comment will not appear until it has been manually accepted for publishing. This will be done as soon as possible - I check for updates regularly. We are on GMT - London times.