Business journey: Reuben Chesters – Locavore
Organic food carries a wealth of benefits, not just in terms of health, but also for farming and the environment. But access to organic produce remains a barrier for many consumers, and that is what Locavore is working to change. Locavore is the social enterprise supermarket bringing fresh organic produce to people across Glasgow. Founded a decade ago by environmentally-minded entrepreneur Reuben Chesters, the Community Interest Company now has a number of locations and offers services to people not just in Glasgow, but across the UK. Here, Reuben tells us about his journey and what the future holds for Locavore.
Tell us about your journey prior to founding Locavore.
I graduated from Edinburgh University in 2009, where I had studied Sustainable Environmental Management, and started working with a local council on climate change adaption.
Pretty quickly, I realised that the pace of the work and the bureaucracy that surrounded it weren’t right for me. I wanted to do something more grassroots, so I started a charity working with community garden projects and holding workshops around growing your own vegetables and cooking with fresh produce. These were great but required constant funding in order to carry out the work.
There was a lot of policy agenda encouraging people to eat local and buy organic, but people just didn’t have access to these things so continued to use supermarkets with no other option.
So, we decided we wanted to set up something that would provide people with local, sustainable, organic produce while reinvesting the profits into that food system. In 2011, we set up Locavore and we’ve been growing it ever since.
What services does Locavore currently offer?
We currently have three shops that sell organic fruit and veg. Our plan is to have 10 by March 2023, so we’re really excited about that. We also grow our own vegetables, have a couple of market stores and we also wholesale, which allows us to almost become our own supply chain and sell to other retailers. We also have a veg box scheme that really took off over lockdown.
How did you manage with the heightened demand over lockdown?
We didn’t to be totally honest. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, supermarkets couldn’t cope, so people were looking for alternate options and exploring new avenues. Veg box schemes across the UK saw a surge in demand, and Locavore was no exception. We signed up 500 new customers in a month which, given our existing customer base was only 2000, was a dramatic increase.
We reached capacity quickly and have remained there since. We’re in the process of getting a new warehouse that will allow us to reopen the waiting list soon.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced building Locavore?
Growing pains. When you go from five to 10 staff, there is a lot to think about in terms of systems and procedures. Knowing when to recruit has also been a challenge – you can do it too early or too late. In Locavore’s case I think we’ve been too late in the past, trying to retain cash and having to play catch up. Preparation is something I’m working on.
How do you ensure the business is as sustainable as possible?
Sustainability is at the core of everything Locavore does. Land management and use is one of the biggest factors impacting biodiversity and climate change, so all of the produce we buy and sell is entirely organic. We also ensure our packaging is as environmentally friendly as possible and eight out of nine of our delivery vans are electric.
What would you say to someone looking to enter the world of social entrepreneurship?
One thing I’d say is that it is a massively rewarding thing to do. It starts off hard, but slowly it does get easier. Make sure you have a market and focus on the impact you want to make.
- Locavore was founded in 2011 by Reuben Chesters and works to provide sustainable, organic food produce to people across the Glasgow area.
- The CIC also delivers a range of services, one of which being a veg box scheme that exploded in popularity over lockdown when supermarkets struggled to meet demand.
- Locavore currently has three shops across the Glasgow area, with plans in place to open a further seven by March 2023.
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