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What are social supermarkets and how can you find them?

Isobel Lawrance 24th Aug 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Social Supermarkets are a concept that is gaining popularity across the UK. The unfortunate need for cheaper, more affordable food has meant food banks have seen the number of people using them soar across the UK. Increases in energy bills and fuel costs were stressful enough, but now food prices have risen to a 40-year high, leaving many in despair. 

But what are social supermarkets? A social supermarket is a shop which sells discounted food for those on lower incomes. So, social supermarkets differ from food banks, in that the food is not entirely free, but provides a wider range of food than a food bank may have, for a very low cost.  

Food banks are also for those in immediate crisis, who need help in a timely manner. This is another point where social supermarkets and food banks differ. They fill the gap between supermarkets and food banks, helping those unable to afford full-priced food, yet may fall outside the realm of being ‘eligible’ to use a food bank. 

Sadly, social supermarkets and food re-distributors have popped up in quick succession in the last few months. With food insecurity becoming a real issue for more people than ever before, the choice between heating and eating this winter is a real threat for people across the UK. 


How do they work?

Social supermarkets rely on surplus food, much like food banks. This could be food unable to be shifted, food reaching its best before or use by date, or food with damaged packaging. It could even be food with incorrect or missing labels.  

Social supermarkets may pop up across towns and cities in different forms. Sometimes, they appear as a regular retailer. Customers can pop in a purchase any surplus food at heavily discounted rates.  

Other social supermarkets may run via a membership method for particular workers or those on low incomes. NHS, police or other key workers may be able to get a membership for example, or those who earn under a certain amount of money or are on low incomes. This type of social supermarket works by charging a small, flat-rate fee for a membership. However, members can go into the supermarket and choose as much or as little food as they need to get them through. 

The third way in which social supermarkets run is via food packages, made up and made available at weekly pop-up stores for a set fee. This set fee will be very small, making the packages of food a very affordable option for those on low incomes. 

The rise of food poverty

As previously mentioned, these are shocking times we live in. Those who have never faced financial hardship or have always managed to get by, are facing food poverty for the first time. Those who have previously found themselves facing poverty are in a more vulnerable position than ever. People are no longer just feeling the ‘pinch’. This is a full-blown crisis. 

The number of people in the UK struggling to afford food, yet do not meet the criteria set for a food bank referral is growing each day. In fact, the Household Food Insecurity Report, published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in June 2022 suggests 15% of the population is classified as food insecure, with 9% of those having low food security.  

Essentially, low food security means a reduced quality and variety to a person’s diet. Very low food security means a reduced or disrupted food intake, of which 6% of respondents had.  

Hence, the use of food banks, community stores and social supermarkets have risen greatly, not only in recent months, but since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Social supermarkets rely mainly on the financial support of charities, churches and individual and corporate donations. Of course, they rely on supermarkets and other businesses donating their surplus food. We recently wrote an article all about the charities working hard to feed Britain. 


Food distribution

Foodbank donations are always greatly appreciated and help to feed families and individuals across the nation. However, many donations received do not take into consideration the nutritional needs of those receiving them. Often, non-perishable items in tins, jars and packets are donated, limiting the variety received by food bank users. 

Social supermarkets, however, can receive frozen and chilled products more readily than food banks can. This means they can offer a greater range of stock, more nutritionally wholesome for the consumer. However, many foodbanks and food redistribution services are working hard to ensure the food they receive can give people a nutritionally greater range of produce. 

Not only does food redistribution help to feed millions of people every single year, but they also help to prevent the amount of food waste we see. In fact, supermarkets in the UK throw away food equivalent to 190 million meals per year. By giving their surplus food to important causes instead of just throwing it away, supermarkets can feed millions in need. 

A huge rise in food redistribution in the last few years meant at least £45 million worth of food was saved from landfill in 2020-21 alone, equivalent to 34 million meals. In fact, the proportion of food redistributed increased by 40% between 2015 and 2021. 

Where to find your nearest social supermarket

One of the best ways to find your nearest social supermarket is to use the internet. The internet can be your best friend and a very crucial tool when it comes to saving money and finding cheap and affordable food. Type in ‘Social supermarket’ followed by the area you live in to find the nearest social supermarket to you. For example, a google search for ‘social supermarket Bristol’, will show you the nearest community stores near you. 

You can also contact local charities in your area for guidance to your local social supermarket. They may be able to advise you on your nearest one, or point you in the right direction. Don’t forget to check out our list of some of the charities fighting to feed the UK for a place to start.  

Your local council may also be able to point you in the right direction, too. Call them up or email them and ask them for advice on your nearest social supermarket. 

Churches are also a great way to find your local food banks and social supermarkets, as many work in tandem with them to provide for their local communities. 

Social supermarkets in the UK

Here are some of the larger social supermarkets in the UK: 

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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