Unicorn Grocery

Unicorn Grocery, a wholefood store and worker co-operative in Manchester, is pioneering a novel response to the looming recession and environmental crisis – with financial help from its customers it is buying land to grow its own local produce.

Unicorn is an award winning co-operative wholefood store that specialises in local, organic produce and is owned and controlled by its 45 employees. It is now the proud owner of 21 acres of prime growing land in Glazebury, 14 miles to the west of Manchester.

Unicorn worker Rob Alderson, who has been involved in buying the land, explains: “We decided to secure land in our locality so that we can have a secure supply of organic veg for the long term. After 12 years of successful trading and working closely with farmers, we are in a great position to go ahead with this project. We know what produce the shop needs and our customers value greatly the benefits of a local, fresh, affordable supply.”

As a sign of the commitment of its customers, Unicorn raised the £200,000 needed to buy the land from the local community. Customers loaned the co-operative money through a ‘loanstock’ scheme and in return could choose an interest rate of between 0% and 6%. This is the third round of loanstock Unicorn has offered – it raised £350,000 to buy its premises in 2000, which it has now paid back in full.

Rob continues: “We sell the freshest, most affordable produce around and, year on year, have increased our regional supply of organic produce. To feed a city in a sustainable way we need more growing land near the shops that sell the food – it’s simple.”

“This is something that is likely to become ever more important as food prices climb higher and resources dwindle.”

Unicorn also recently received free consultancy as part of the Co-operative Business Assistance programme from architects Loop Systems. Heather Graham, director of Unicorn, explains further.

“We used the consultancy to explore options for increasing our on-site production capacity. This includes more deli and fresh food preparation space. There is also potential for a small bakery.

“The help we received enabled us to investigate the options with minimal expenditure and risk, and if the project is successful we will be able to increase what we can offer instore, as well as reducing transport miles.”