The Real Food Store community consists of over 300 members, store and cafe staff members and a Board of Directors who are nominated from and by the members.
All the members have invested their own money to help set up the business – between them they raised over £153,000.
This unusual project was started by a group of enthusiastic food lovers who upheld values of sustainability, locality and seasonality. This team also had a wealth of experience in bringing about enterprises that have a positive impact on local communities and together helped to transform the Real Food Store from a dream to a reality.
The Real Food Backstory
Real Food is an innovative example of an alternative retail business- giving Exeter the opportunity to change the way it shops! Real Food has come a long way since it was initiated by Transition Exeter in March 2009. At that point a group of people wanted to create a dynamic food hub in the city and set about making it happen. This led to Real Food, the trading name of Exeter Local Food Ltd, a Community Benefit Society. The Company was Incorporated under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 and registered with the Financial Services Authority in December 2009. At the same time a key workshop entitled ‘An appetite for local food’ was being organised by Transition Exeter. The conclusions of the workshop gave further endorsement to the identified need for access to locally produced food & for retail outlets in the city.
An appetite for local food?
The purpose of this workshop held in January 2010, was to explore the benefits and potential for promoting local food in Exeter and District. It was attended by a wide mix of public sector organisations, private sector & third sector organisations with an interest in local food. Part of the event asked participants to imagine that it was January 2013, 3 years from now… ‘when Exeter is recognised across the country as the place that has made the most progress towards supporting and enjoying the benefits of a more sustainable food system; and describe the outcomes that have been achieved, who they would benefit and how’. Specific, ambitious & concrete outcomes included a proactive local food policy- to help establish a resilient local food supply & distribution system; procurement, education, access to land as well as infrastructure and specifically, the need for retail outlets that would benefit small producer-suppliers, other food businesses and local consumers. Please click here to read the Report of ‘An Appetite for Local Food‘.
Exeter Real Food Ltd were advised by Wessex Community Assets, community investment specialists, and adopted the Industrial Provident Society (known as an ‘IPS’) for community benefit (known as a ‘bencom’) as their preferred business model. An Industrial Provident Society can raise capital by issuing shares- with the aim of creating a community asset where each member has a say and the potential to get involved. Our thanks to the WCA team for their valued input at many different stages (read the Rules of Exeter Local Food Ltd.).
By March 2010 we had a name- ‘The Real Food Store’, a strong business proposition (read the Real Food Store Business Plan) & had located our current premises. We prepared the share offer documentation, our distinctive logo and website (thanks to Mike Krage of Krage Design). Thanks also to Ali West of Bespoke Web Designs for a great service in developing our website.
Community share offer
In early June we launched our share offer to a packed St Stephens church hall in Exeter city centre (read the Real Food Share Offer Document). Over 130 people came to hear about Real Food, to find about this exciting way of doing business.
The community share offer, open in two phases between June and the end of September 2010, was a great success raising over £153,000 and exceeding our revised target amount of £135,000 enabling us to launch the business. We received investments from a total of 303 shareholding members. Thank you to all our members for supporting the Real Food Store! The continued support and contribution of ideas and knowledge from members is greatly valued.
In November we signed the ‘Agreement to Lease’. Our thanks to Cartridges Solicitors of Exeter for the huge amount of ‘pro bono’ hours that they have put in throughout. In January 2011 we appointed two key members of staff: the General Manager and the Assistant Manager in post from early February 2011.
In December 2010 the Landlord’s contractors started their works at the premises on Paris St. The building and shops refit programme made good progress with no major hitches and supported by the amazing voluntary effort of a number of members (investors) who worked hard on painting and getting the store ready for opening.
Community shares: UK wide innovation!
The Real Food Store is part of an exciting bigger picture as thousands of people in communities throughout the UK are investing in their communities, in order to create -or not lose- a valued asset (be it a shop, post office, football club or renewable energy project).
Wessex Community Assets have recently completed a two year programme to promote & support community investment enterprises in the South West region.
The store opened on 30 March 2011, and several years on, is now thriving- turning a steady profit that can be re-invested in the business to aid its continued development. We don’t like to stand still and are continually evolving with an expanding range of fantastic local and ethical produce available on our shelves. Come and support us and tell us what you think. We look forward to meeting you soon!