Greencity WholeFoods chats equal pay, revolutions & Frankie Boyle

GreenCity Wholefoods is a wholesaler in Glasgow’s vibrant east end. It operates as a worker co-operative; democratically run by its member, with all 42 staff having a say (and a vote!) in how the business is run. With a razor-sharp focus on treating customers, suppliers, their community and co-workers with fairness and respect, they champion co-operative working as a viable and successful alternative business model. And they should know, they’ve been doing it for more than four decades. 

Revolutions are hard to find

I have a growing interest in sustainable local food revolutions. I’m fascinated with cooperative working initiatives, networks of communities forging new ways of doing business in a kinder more equitable way. I’m convinced they’re possible, but haven’t found too many working examples with the legacy to prove it. To discover businesses already putting this into practice on a meaningful scale, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to start than Glasgow.

After all, Glasgow is now the European capital you’re most likely to bump into a vegan; and vegans seem a whole lot more progressive than us predictable carnivores.

Glasgow, the city you’re most likely to bump into a vegan

Several years ago, I came to Glasgow and wrote a piece about a new community interest shop called Locavore. As a community run cafe, farm shop, deli, and veg box deliverer, Locavore were becoming a permanent fixture in their local community in the south side of Glasgow.

They were one of those local stores trading in a simple and caring way that pulled at your heart-strings, but that you couldn’t imagine being all that profitable long term. Three years later they’ve expanded and doing just fine. Visiting the recent Scotland Speciality Food Show, I bumped into one of their main suppliers, GreenCity WholeFoods who have an equally fascinating story of their own. I spoke with Catherine Le May one of their Directors to find out what’s putting Scotland on the map of better trading?


Catherine, what’s making Scotland so much more progressive than it is down south?


Well I don’t know that it is exactly, you’d probably know more about down south than I would, but what I do know is that social ventures like Locavore have been going for about three or four years. Greencity WholeFoods have been trading since 1978. So for us, this way of trading isn’t a new phenomenon or fad.

Greencity started off with four friends selling lentils; hippies that couldn’t get vegetarian food anywhere. So they bought big bags of lentils from an importer, broke it down into little bags and sold them to their friends. That was 41 years ago, and since then it’s safe to say things have grown.

We now have 52 staff members, myself included. Being a staff member means you’re also a director with voting right and responsibilities. Changes in rules, for example, require 80% of us to agree in order to effect the change. Therefore it’s a proper worker cooperative in the truest sense. Everybody gets paid the same – from the cleaner to the chef, to the driver to the Finance Director; even the management committee.


How does GreenCity work with a small independent retailer like Locavore?


As a wholesale distributor, we have about seven trucks that go out everyday supplying Glasgow’s restaurants, cafes, bars and retail shops. We provide the big bags and they put them in the small ones, just like we used to. GreenCity supports young Scottish producers by giving them a route to market, and everything we sell is either vegetarian or vegan.


So Glasgow has overtaken Bristol as the city you’re most likely to bump into a vegan. Why do you think that is?


Glasgow is a very grassroots city. There’s very much an anti-establishment vibe here. A lot of vegetarianism sprung from the punk movement and their stance was very much a f*** you to the big supermarkets and industry establishments. That’s not necessarily how it is now; a lot of millennials and people like myself are into it from a healthy eating standpoint, and because I like animals. But I do think it goes hand in glove with a scene and culture of activism.


How do you feel about all the major brands on the high street jumping on the bandwagon, do you see that as a positive thing?


I don’t know how I feel about that. I did notice last week when the whole Greggs thing happened…..


What was the whole Greggs thing?


Greggs released a vegan sausage roll and twittersphere exploded with meat-eaters protesting over vegan sausage rolls. Today Greggs have more customers because vegans are now going in and buying sausage rolls. But there are still people protesting outside; Piers Morgan’s in a spin, and I’m like, why is everyone so annoyed about this?

I know people have been politically against big business and now their cause is getting support from that same big business, and they don’t like it. But I on other hand have always been like, well I’d love to be able to go to Greggs, I’ve never been able to go before, and now I can!


Safe to say veganism has opened doors to new markets for Greencity?


In the last 4 or 5 years, there’s been a real boon, especially in vegan restaurants opening, and they would be inclined to use us. If you google vegan supplier we come up and we would be their go to. It opens doors but there’s still a lot of places we’ve been supplying for decades now.


I have to ask about Brexit, especially since Scotland voted so strongly against it. There’s still a sense of unease and uncertainty for retailers across the country and we’re told business is nervous. What’s your take on that? What would you say to your retail customers?


Focus on local. Stop being cynical; the world’s not going to end. Sure English people can buy from Scotland if they want to and we’re producing some amazing produce up here. The Scottish Food industry has seen a growing grassroots movements over the last few years. We’re discovering a lot of new smaller suppliers coming through which is great. As a Scottish wholesaler, we find most of our customers are more inclined to buy something that is Scottish simply because there’s such a strong and growing movement to support local. So I’d say keep your money in your local economy, go to a local shop, buy something that’s been produced by a local producer and given to you by a local wholesaler. Keep the money in rather than sending it offshore.


WBC is based near Brixton where we have our own currency – the Brixton pound, which you can trade with amongst local retailers. It’s a similar initiative that keeps money in the local economy. Reckon that would work for Glasgow?


That’s brilliant. For sure, we should have a Glasgow pound!


Who would you put on the notes?


Probably Billy Connolly, Kevin Bridges, Frankie Boyle, there are so many champions.


Catherine thanks for talking to us, before you go, can you give us your top 5 new suppliers or products that our customers should be inclduing on their shelves this year?

Greencity Top 5 Products you should be stocking in 2019

  1. Almighty Foods

    Really nice Scottish product by a hippie-dippie young couple who always hug you when they see you. Handmade. All vegan, all organic.
    Visit their website.

    Top Products from Scotland Speciality Food Show - Almighty Foods

  1. Minor Figures Oat Milk

    This is a London product but we love it. There’s no Scottish oat milk available as yet which is crazy, but you mark my words there will be soon!
    Oat milk is a Perfect creamer, and more cafes should have this automatically as a milk substitute.

    Visit their website here.

    Top Products from Scotland Speciality Food Show - Oat Milk

  1. Solaris Tea by Kerstin Linnartz

    Solaris Tea – lovely irish tea, chakra tea range, a tea blend for each of the 7 main energy centres in the body. Get yourself centred and stock them all.
    Visit their website here….

    Top Products from Scotland Speciality Food Show - Solaris Tea

  1. Jackfruit by Essential

    Essential are one of our friends, a worker’s cooperative based in Bristol. They’ve been doing the same thing as us and we’ve been supporting each other through it. They buy our stuff we buy there’s and everyone’s happy. They’re really nice people. Visit their website here.

  2. Growers Garden – Broccoli crisps

    This product comes from a cooperative of Scottish farmers and they use the wonky broccoli that’s not good enough to go to market to they’ve turned it into crisps. You gotta love this shit, if you don’t love these stories you have a heart of stone. This is the second time Grower’s Garden has been featured on a WBC blog, so well done boys! Visit their website here.

    Top Products from Scotland Speciality Food Show - Broccoli Crisps

Greencity Wholefoods

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