IT was probably the horsemeat scandal earlier this year that first got people thinking seriously about where their food comes from.

When traces of horse DNA were found in burgers sold in Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl in January, it began a chain of stories across the media questioning the provenance of many supermarket products.

Throw into that mix the campaigns against the ever-expanding empires of the big supermarket chains – with sit-in protests in St James’s Street when Sainsbury’s announced it was taking over the former Taj store in February 2011 – and it’s no surprise that recent reports have shown dips in profits for Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

A new pilot store in Brighton hopes to make consumers think about where their food comes from, as well as change the methods and practices the big supermarkets employ – from their pay scales to their wastage levels.

But hiSbe – standing for How It Should Be – wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to recent scandals.

It was a plan hatched by sisters Amy and Ruth Anslow two years ago, inspired by 35-year-old Amy’s experiences working with direct trade products Aroma Coffee in Manchester and Cafe Direct in Brighton, and older sister Ruth’s, 39, time spent in sales and marketing for some of the globe’s biggest corporations, including Unilever and Procter & Gamble.

“We went down a lot of roads before we came to hiSbe,” says Amy. “We knew we wanted to create a brand to highlight the issues of the food industry, to help people make more informed and sustainable choices.

“Ruth and I started discussing the fact that most people didn’t understand what Fair Trade and Direct Trade were. The understanding is coming on in leaps and bounds but we thought if there is this much confusion going on, how many other issues are there within the food industry that don’t people know about?”

The discussions resulted in a plan to create a store putting good things all in one place, while running the business with democratic human values at its core and fairness about how it dealt with suppliers and staff.

“It’s about happiness before profits – making sure we keep customers, suppliers, staff and animals happy,” says Amy. “It all feeds into a better food system when you care about the integral parts of it.”

Now – having raised more than £200,000 in funding, including £30,000 from a Buzzbnk crowd-sourcing campaign – the first hiSbe store is opening in York Place, Brighton, on Saturday, December 7 – the day designated Small Business Saturday.

Cutting the ribbon will be Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP Caroline Lucas, one of several high-profile hiSbe supporters, which also includes Queen of Shops Mary Portas and The Body Shop’s co-founder Gordon Roddick, who has invested £20,000.

Other supporters have been able to buy money-off vouchers for use when the store opens next month.

The Guide was shown around the site last week, as workmen continued the job, which began in August, of transforming the 3,000 sq ft former Polish food store and one-time Mulberry’s into a new supermarket with 2,500 sq ft of selling space.

hiSbe’s focus on the environment and sustainability could already be seen in the nuts and bolts of the store.

Counter surfaces have been made of recycled yoghurt pots, shelving has been reclaimed, the fridges and cold storage are all reconditioned, but with a low energy usage. The lighting is from energy-saving LEDs rather than fluorescent tubes and much of the wood used in building counters and cubicles has been reclaimed. A fresh food concession stall, set to be run by Gardner Street-based falafel cafe FilFil, has been made out of wood and metal reclaimed from the West Pier.

Taking refuge from the drilling and sawing in a nearby cafe, Amy took time to explain some of the principles behind hiSbe, which will be on display around the store.

“We have to play the education very carefully,” says Amy. “It’s a balance between not giving too much information, but enough to make people think.

“We aren’t a health food or wholefood shop – we sell all the products that people need every day. It is about telling people how we source our products and the standards we hold ourselves to.”

The eight central standards that hiSbe hold themselves to are available to view on the website, and will be on display in the store in the relevant areas (and are outlined far right).

“With our meat, the most important things will be ‘Think welfare’ and ‘Go local’,” says Amy.

“We have a larger document going into detail about how we source things available for people to look at. And we will have interactive displays giving people the option to engage at the level they want to.”

But another important aspect to what hiSbe is doing is price.

“We are dispelling the myth that anything good has to have a massive premium beyond most people’s budgets,” says Amy.

“The supermarkets have adopted that message because it suits them – the more people are confused about prices, the more they will accept that myth without understanding the value of the product.”

Similarly, hiSbe is paying their staff above the living wage. The team is based around Amy on the shop floor and Ruth in the finance office, supply manager Jack Simmonds, a recently appointed store manager and initially six members of floor staff, who all approached hiSbe directly to work in the pilot store. “We are running hiSbe as a social enterprise – we’re not expecting to make big salaries for directors who require a big dividend,” says Amy. “We are taking less of a profit margin on everything than a supermarket would.

“Our business model is to sell food at a low margin without hurting our suppliers or compromising the quality of what we offer.”

The costs are being offset by the renting out of several fresh food and drink pods within the store, with the aforementioned FilFil currently taking one towards the back of the store, and Cafe Direct selling coffee and hot drinks near the York Place entrance.

The audience for hiSbe is certainly there – as a transactional report of the surrounding half-mile radius proved.

“In the half-mile radius there was a weekly spend of £550,000 on food,” says Amy. “A supermarket would normally need to see at least £200,000 to open.

“There are lots of single and two-person households in this area. To achieve our turnover target, we need to reach 2.7% of that spend – and we think that’s very manageable. “We are not a destination shop like Infinity Foods. We are a shop where someone walking home from work who needs to pick up their tea can come in to us.

“We are targeting people locally and giving them a better option than the supermarkets. It’s about getting people to shop less exclusively at supermarkets.”

With the opening date getting ever closer, Amy is grateful to everyone who has helped them get this far.

“We would never have got to this stage without the support of the different networks in Brighton who have invested in our crowd-funding campaign,” she says, adding it is currently the most supported campaign Buzzbnk has ever run.

“We wanted a way of funding that was as democratic and collaborative as possible. Whether someone donated £10 or £50,000, they had an opportunity to contribute and be part of it. For every £10 put in, people got 20% extra back in discounts.

“People are regularly contacting us for updates – we’ve been really lucky to have this ongoing support.”

As for the future, it is hoped there will be more hiSbe stores opening up around Sussex should this pilot be a success.

“This is a chance to test the concept,” says Amy. “We want to have conversations with shoppers and see what the community wants.

“We’ve already been approached by two new developments in Brighton, which are in the planning stages of creating mixed residential accommodation and want to talk about having a hiSbe store rather than a Sainsbury’s Local or Tesco Metro.”

  • Located on York Place, Brighton, call 01273 648913
  • hiSbe opens on Saturday, December 7, and will be open Monday to Saturday 7.30am to 7.30pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Visit