An ethical supermarket is celebrating a successful first quarter with double the number of customers than forecasted.
Such has been the success of Brighton’s hiSbe store in York Place the owners are nowlooking at expanding to new premises.
The pioneering store set up in December following a successful crowdfunding project – where supporters donate cash.
Despite being open for just four months, they have exceeded their sales targets by 10% and are even up for an Observer newspaper award.
Ruth Anslow, who set up hiSbe with her sister Amy, described the first few months as “mental” but “fun”.
She said: “We knew there was a hunger for this in Brighton, especially given the results of our crowdfunding.
“However, the response has been fantastic and the feedback we have been getting is great.
“We have our critics and we are learning, but we are in a good place at the moment.
“From here it is onwards and upwards.
“We are already getting people coming to us and saying ‘can we have a store in Hove, Portslade, Lewes’.
“We want to be in a comfortable position before we start planning but it is certainly something for the future.”
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The pair first came up with the idea after becoming disillusioned with the existing supermarkets.
They told potential investors the likes of Sainsbury’s and Asda had become out of touch and out of date and were more worried about pleasing their shareholders and directors than doing the right thing.
The results, they claimed, were not only affecting our health and communities but also the planet.
The likes of the horsemeat scandal spurred them – and their investors – on even more and by the late autumn last year they had reached their £200,000 opening target.
Notably, the £20,000 which took them to the final amount was invested by co-founder of The Body Shop Gordon Roddick – widower of Anita Roddick.
Their approach, the hiSbe way, is all about giving a fair price to both the supplier and the customer.
This is largely done by not having highly paid executives and shareholders demanding large returns.
There is also an emphasis on the environment with local, seasonal, and non-GM food featuring throughout the store.
Key to their operation is their relationship with local suppliers.
While the store opened to the public in December, their supply manager Jack Simmonds was hard at work months in advance, looking for farmers, bakers, brewers and fishermen who bought into their methods and practices.
As a result they have a strong group of suppliers who they work with to get the best deal for all.
One advantage of these personable relationships has been a reduction on waste, which in turn provides better value for supplier and customer.
Will Sheffield, of Clayton Farm, Mayfield, is hiSbe’s pork supplier.
He told how both sides work together to achieve what he calls a “whole carcass approach”.
He said: “As a producer I don’t really want a customer to ring up and order 50 pork tenderloins. If so then I’ve got 25 carcasses to sell. We’ve been trying to work towards a more, if you like, holistic approach.
“It has been working well. It is obviously a lot easier for me, the farmer, and it also shows respect to the animal by using all the meat and ensuring there is no waste.
“That wouldn’t be possible with a large supplier such as a big supermarket.
There is a personal approach with hiSbe and that helps a great deal.”
He added: “Obviously by them taking a whole pig a week there are also economies of scale which we benefit from. They also pay a good, fair price.
They value the provenance of the food and the product and that’s great.”
HiSbe’s understanding and ethical approach has also allowed smaller producers who share their ethos to find a wider market.
Sarah Farnes, from milk supplier Downsview Farm, Ringmer, said their relationship with hiSbe works well for them.
“A happy animal to us is plenty of food, plenty of water, shelter, and to be able to roam the fields through the summer and be able to kick up their heels outside.
“To have HiSbe buying buying our milk at the price that we can sell it to them at, is good for us.”
Colin Turner, from Highfield Farm, outside Ringmer, added: “My approach to farming has always been that we are slightly old fashioned in our ways, we are not into uses of heavy fertilisers of sprays or anything like that. We tend to do things naturally, as much as possible.
“I feel that now that we’ve struck up a relationship with the supermarket, that it is giving us a better deal, and also the consumer a better deal. They are getting better quality food, at a better price.”
Ruth added: “We support the smaller local producer. The people we support couldn’t and probably wouldn’t supply the big supermarkets.
“We let them set what they feel is a fair price – you wouldn’t get that with one of the supermarkets.
“There is trust there and we have worked hard to build really good relationships.
“We talk to them and try to find out how we can make their products work better for us, themselves and the customer.”
Without having to worry about shareholders or executives, hiSbe can offer a fair price to suppliers and their customers while also ensuring enough money is going towards overheads and investing in the business.
Ruth added: “Dairy is a good example.
We charge customers 50p and pay our dairy supplier 41p. That may not sound revolutionary but it is. Supermarkets will pay far less compared to that – they have all the power.
“With products such as milk and also bread, we accept we are not going to make that much money on it and can therefore provide good value to our customers. It’s part of a strategy and we may make money back in different areas of the shop. For example honey, people will generally pay more for honey and we will perhaps make 10p on that. We are trying to be as transparent as possible and show our customers this – and I think they appreciate it.
Thanks to their way of doing things, hiSbe is becoming amuch sought after customer with local suppliers.
With their recent success they have also been able to expand their range of produce with new stock including honey from Paynes Bee Farm, Hassocks, charcuterie from Beal’s Farm, Barcombe, rhubarb from Fork and Dig It, Brighton, and sandwiches from Laughton Natural Bakery, Laughton.
Such has been their early success the business has been nominated for the prestigious Observer Ethical Awards in the ‘Retailer of the Year’ category.
Ruth added: “It’s amazing, we are really pleased. We used to look at that award and think ‘wow, that’s where all the big cheeses are’.
“It has been a mental few months, we have put a lot into this so we are very proud to be nominated. It does mean a lot.”
To vote for hiSbe – from April 18 – visit: www.theguardian.com/ observer-ethical-awards.
The milk supplier
Downsview Farm in Ringmer has a herd of 130 cows and is hiSbe’s milk provider.
Jane Thomas said: “We’ve been working with them since they started. We speak to them regularly on the phone and deliver three times a week.
“It’s getting busier and busier as more people are hearing about it. We’re selling more and more milk.
“People care about what they are drinking now. They want to know where it has come from and whether it is organic or not. We sell to a lot of tea rooms, pubs and restaurants but hiSbe has provided a good marketplace for us.
“We milk the cows in the day, bottle it in the evening and deliver it the following morning. You can’t get much fresher than that.
“The quality is so much better than that in the supermarket and we are delighted hiSbe customers are receiving it.”
Kes Travers is a brewer at Turner’s Brewery, Ringmer.
Not only do they supply brews to the shop but they have also created a special hiSbe beer.
He said: “The quality of both the products and staff at hiSbe are exceptional, from the very personal service and approach of their buyers through to the handpicked quality of the local produce that they sell to their discerning customers. Just as their motto suggests, everything from buying to selling is How It Should Be.
“By visiting their producers like ourselves at Turners Brewery they have direct knowledge of the work and effort involved in making the highest quality real ales.
“They understand how it is made, how it should be kept, sold and served.” He added: “A perfect relationship between buyer and producer enables us to provide what their customers are looking for and ensures the highest standards at all times.
“Their direct and friendly approach has also enabled them to design their own label beer which is in the shops now.”
The pork supplier
Will Sheffield, from Sheffield Farms, Clayton Farm, Mayfield, has been hiSbe’s pork supplier from day one.
The 54-year-old has six breeding sows and one boar which provides him with 120 pigs each year.
He said: “My approach to farming is essentially to allow the animals to exhibit as many of their natural desires and instincts as possible.
“What makes a happy pig is plenty of space, plenty of food, plenty of freedom and lots of other pigs running round with it.
“To have a shop which supports my way of working is fantastic.”
His arrangement sees hiSbe supply manager Jack Simmonds call on a Tuesday ahead of Will’s delivery on a Thursday.
Mr Sheffield provides every cut imaginable, from tenderloins and chops to sausages and bacon.
He added: “Supplying the store gives me a route to market that essentially doesn’t just see the animal leave the farm, and then I don’t have anything to do with it from that point on.
“It gives me a connection with the people who are actually eating the produce.
“I’ve tried with a farm shop but I’m a farmer not a shop owner at the end of the day. This still allows me to be involved right up the point the product is sold to the customer.
“In a short time they have become a very significant customer.
“They obviously have a good core customer base who buy into their way of doing things and I think that is great.”
THE HISBE WAY
HiSbe set up last year with grand plans of changing the way we shop. Their manifesto, which dictates their day to day operations, is summed up in the following eight points.
- GO LOCAL
The shorter the distance between field to plate – the fresher the product is.
This underlying principle dictates much of what hiSbe does.
Where possible, and provided the quality is there, they try to source their produce from Sussex.
Not only does this give the local economy a boost but it also helps builds strong relationships which in turn ensure everyone is getting a good deal.
By working directly with farmers, bakers, brewers and fishermen there is also a level of trust about where the product has come from and the methods used to create it.
- PICK SEASONAL
hiSbe is spoilt with the likes of strawberries and asparagus available.
But the hiSbe approach is about making the most of fruits and vegetables which are in season.
Growing foods out of their natural season often creates extra cost and is energy intensive.
By working with this in mind, the shop again supports local producers and cuts down on food air miles.
- PROTECT NATURE
Food is naturally more nutritious and healthy when it is grown using soil friendly farming methods. Not only do they support nature friendly agricultural methods but they also avoid selling GM products.
- SUPPORT ETHICAL
The relationship between producer and supermarket traditionally has one side calling the shots. HiSbe tried to redress that balance and build strong, solid relationships. A key part of that is making sure farmers and producers get a fair deal and make a dignified living.
- THINK WELFARE
Intensive farming is shunned in favour of local setups.
While the former may result in cheap products, there are knock on effects on the environment and animal welfare.
HiSbe sources only from smaller scale farms which prioritise welfare, don’t feed their animals growth hormones and unnecessary antibiotics and don’t put their products through extra processing to bulk them out or alter their appearance.
- SAVE FISH
With many species fished to near extinction, hiSbe carefully selects what they sell.
They ensure their fish is sourced from sustainably managed stocks, is caught in a way that causes minimal damage to the marine environment and reduces the impact of discards.
- CONSIDER WASTE
Food and food packaging waste in this country is a growing concern.
Recent figures show we throw away a third of the food we buy and with so much packaging we are running out of landfill sites.
HiSbe has been working with suppliers to reduce packaging and use compostable alternatives. They also work with suppliers to help buy food in smaller quantities.
- CHOOSE REAL
Their shelves are packed with fresh food – not mass produced products with ingredients lists that look like a chemistry lesson.
Where possible they prioritise healthy ingredients that avoid unnecessary or harmful additives.