Catherine talks to India Hamilton, co-founder of circular economy food cooperative SCOOP.
We dig into the challenges of providing healthy, affordable and local food on a small island. We hear about the founding principles behind SCOOP and it’s ‘why’. India explains how SCOOP goes beyond the provision of local, healthy and sustainable food and is embedding circular solutions across the business.
We find out how SCOOP survived during lockdown, and discuss India’s counter-intuitive conclusions about the real meaning of convenience.
Podcast host Catherine Weetman is a circular economy business advisor, workshop facilitator, speaker and writer. Her award-winning book: A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business includes lots of practical examples and tips on getting started. Catherine founded Rethink Global in 2013, to help businesses use circular, sustainable approaches to build a better business (and a better world).
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Links we mention in the episode:
- A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business – buy from any good bookseller, or direct from the publisher Kogan Page, which ships worldwide (free shipping to UK and US) and you can use discount code CIRCL20 to get 20% off. It’s available in paperback, ebook and Kindle. If you buy it from online sources, make sure you choose the new edition with an orange cover!
- Sign up to get the podcast player and shownotes for each new episode emailed to your inbox
India Hamilton on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/india-hamilton-53a15a76/
- India’s own website bit.ly/tasteofcarbon
Didi Pershouse – author, educator, and soil sponge strategist committed to building healthy communities both above and below ground. Founder of the Land and Leadership Initiative https://www.didipershouse.com
Dr Christine Jones talking about the soil biome and how bacteria recognise each other https://fibershed.org/podcast/soil-to-soil-podcast-ep-7-why-soil-is-a-living-being-with-dr-christine-jones/
Circular Economy Podcast Episode 58 Elis Joudalova – OLIO https://www.rethinkglobal.info/episode-58-elis-joudalova-olio/
Slow Food UK https://www.slowfood.org.uk/
About India Hamilton
Co-Founder of SCOOP, India has worked on food businesses since 2012, and has an MA in Food and Development. She was Director of an award-winning social arts catering organisation for 3 years, where she fed over 26,000 people. She is currently a PGR at Glasgow University and has recently co-founded the community group Jersey Food Systems Lab.
India is a NED for Really Regenerative Centre and on the founding team of the Scotland Transition Lab. She is a regular author for QUOTA.media.
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Catherine Weetman 00:53
Hello, it’s episode 85. And thank you as always for listening. Today I’m talking to India Hamilton, co founder of SCOOP, a circular economy Food Cooperative on the island of Jersey, near the coast of Northwest France. Scoop – the Sustainable cooperative Limited is a zero waste shop that believes everyone on the island has a right to good food in the era, and I had a very enjoyable long conversation. And so I’ve decided to break it into two episodes, this episode 85 and a bonus episode that are released just afterwards. For this episode, I’ve included the main elements of our discussion about scoop. So we’ll hear about what scoop does and why and how it got started. How scoop goes beyond the provision of local healthy and sustainable food, and is embedding circular solutions across the business. For example, with packaging, we find out how the business survive during lockdown. And hear about India’s counterintuitive conclusions about the meaning of convenience. In the bonus episode, we talk about the context of scoop, including jerseys history, key crops and the challenges that raises for farmers. And how that’s informed scoops founding principles. We hear how India realised permaculture principles could unlock these challenges. The bonus episode also includes more on membership models and loyalty, the challenges of regulations for small businesses, and why India loves compliance officers. We discuss why it’s important to support your local economy and how exploitative capitalism is undermining that. So back to Episode 85. And the main conversation with India Hamilton about scoop. And I’ll catch up with you afterwards with my thoughts on our conversation.
India Hamilton 02:52
SCOOP is a essentially a food shop in a in Jersey, and it’s part of a community movement that believes that small scale, localised food economies are part of our future. We, a bunch of people met in 2017, and 18, all kind of sharing the same journey, which was this, this desire to find and eat and be a part of a food community within jersey. And it felt like it was really missing at a particular grassroots level. A lot of people had their different journeys into SCOOP and how it was created. And mine pacifically was from a position of a chef. I was part of a food project which was doing really well in Hyderabad, where I learnt about the food system and how the localised food system can play a role in supporting small scale agriculture or destroying small scale agriculture. So I was coming at it at a very technical level. And yeah, but 2018 We opened and we have nearly 250 members that partake in this move movement where we’re supplied by over his over the time, we’ve been supplied by 104 different producers locally. And we work with about a range of different farmers no matter how small they they are. Yeah.
Catherine Weetman 04:39
And are those producers there they’re all in Jersey?
India Hamilton 04:44
And well we we import from we build relationships from people who trade it’s not a part of ignoring trade. We we have to build a comprehensive service our mandates, but it’s all designed to build the market for the localise allow the local farmers who farm in who farm in relationship with the land, using ecological principles, focus on biodiversity. Who summer organic Association registered organic Association registered. But when you, you relate to farmers on a kind of context of a worldview, and the worldview is essentially ecological, and connected, and a part of the community. So that’s very much a part of the farming practices that we work with.
Catherine Weetman 05:48
So that’s what you’re mostly looking for. When you talk to the, you know, a new a new producer or trader to be part of the network, you’re looking to understand what their worldview is, and whether it aligns with the values of SCOOP and the and the community members. Is that my understanding?
India Hamilton 06:13
I think it just emerges, of a shared of shared values. It’s kind of strange. So as part of our research, it was a group of farmers who’ve been who’ve been quite kind of abused by the conditions of the market. They produce food in this very caring way for the planet, but the market really is dysfunctional for it. And as it over time, they’ve been quite marginalised, and feel quite dejected, by progress, I think. But I kind of sat back and thought, but that’s my favourite farming. And instead of telling them to change, can I tell the conditions of the market to change? And can I reshape how the market relates to these farmers, so they’re valued in it. And when I did my research around Sqoop, I was looking at kind of the food system in its entirety. And asking questions around how each part of the food systems interacts with doing better themselves, how they move forward to do better. And what was really interesting in that research was, everybody wants to do better, and have these most amazing, organic farmers be a part of the picture. But when you look at it, systemically, you realise that they’ve had loads of structural barriers to that excess.
Catherine Weetman 07:44
So that, so that kind of took you back to Jersey in 2017, then, and so how did you get off the ground? Then? What what, how did you bring people into this idea or what what came first?
India Hamilton 07:59
So I landed and I, and out of nowhere, I met Casper, Wimbley, and Susanna, who had started a agricultural laboratory artists residency programme in Jersey asking these questions, and it was called the morning boat. And they had like 500 applications from around the world. And they cherry picked some incredible ants artists to come over and create these really deep relationships and understandings and stories and visions basically, with different communities within Jazzy. And what was really nice about the artists coming in is they didn’t have the tensions and the the kind of the restrictions over what, what the narratives and Jersey they just saw things and thought they were great and got on with talking to them. And it was through that probe. It was through that programme that I met Casper, and Susanna. And it was through that, that they had found the shop that was empty. And they had decided to open the shop. And it just so happens that we met and then I had all the tools from India, from the hydropower project that could that could engineer they had insights into the work to projects that were happening in Jersey about new ways of looking at membership and community building. That’s very much their thing. And then I have this kind of structural kind of modelling approach of how to kind of run the business and understand the kind of systemic issues of the island that we needed to address. So that kind of and then there was other groups who were like, We want to help because we want to grow and we want to be a part of this And then a maths teacher who helped helped us with who helped us with understanding the accounts in a really creative math math, like creative way. So it just sort of it was a group of people that came together without expectation at one time, by coincidence, in a way,
Catherine Weetman 10:25
it reminds me of, of a saying I love, which is you set your mind in a direction and then fate steps into lendahand, you know, in terms of these serendipitous meetings with other people, and to find out that they have similar visions, and different skills, and so on. And you mentioned your maths teacher. And I’d like to find out more about the funding and commercial model. So perhaps you could explain a bit about how that works. So
India Hamilton 10:56
his name’s Andy, and he was given the task to, because we didn’t know what we were going to sell. So we couldn’t wait to Profit and Loss really. So he was under task to, to kind of ask the question, what is the tipping point of how many members of a community do we need to be functioning with us to be successful? And then from that, what are the what are the needs of those communities so we can reduce the financial barriers for certain for certain groups to be part of that journey. So he was tasked to kind of work this out. And he did it. And there’s and the strategy is in openness is a family or a household, roughly, by five to 8000 pounds worth of food a year, that’s probably quite a lot. We went, we thought we needed to build a relationship with one family, and aim for half of their yearly spent on food. So what does that mean? That’s fantastic. They that family, for us, rewarding them with a very tailored shop, they would provide us with a membership fee, which they pay up front, and then returned to that membership fee, they then get 25% of everything. So they so Andy had to work out how many families we needed to be working like that was a function and to open. And he said 150. And we have, we have a set, we basically markup everything 50% And then discount it 25% from everyone. So we’re making about less than half Pence in the pound products for the nominee for the members. And what we did was, we did a Crowdfunder, which wasn’t really crowding money, it was crowding crowds. And through that, we needed to find 150 People who have been willing, and we raised 25,000. through that. And though that money went back into the community through discounts over a period of three or four months. And so actually, they were willing to spend between we have a monthly fee is about between five pounds and 35 pounds a month, depending on your household. And if you’re on income support, okay. So he worked out that we needed 100 with people. And without going into debt. He calculated it. And at the end of the first year, we had turned over 320, which is roughly 50% 320,000, which is roughly 50% of the expenditure of those 150 people.
Catherine Weetman 14:02
India Hamilton 14:03
So it although, although in close analysis, it’s not as simple as that, but it was pretty much it was an equation that worked.
Catherine Weetman 14:16
So just to make sure I understand. So you have a group of members who get discounts who pay pay a membership fee, and they get discounts. And then you also sell to the general public who might come in once a year, once a month, or you know, once Yeah,
India Hamilton 14:36
so the more you are involved with is the kind of better value is when we did when we did a bit of research, research when we did the research. And one of the things that came up when we spoke to consumers with they’ll just if they don’t have much time they’ll pop to a supermarket. That’s because they’re quite conveniently placed the supermarkets and they will pick up just to get one thing that pick up everything. And often when it’s hotter, they’ll do that. And so without this kind of monthly fee that we were using to pay our bills, that decision made a big difference to, to big difference to a farm shop. And we kind of thought, Well, how do we make that behaviour not problematic to us. And this is when this membership fee was is has played an integral role, because it covers a lot about running costs. Yeah. So we wanted the, we wanted the people involved to be out, not feel guilty about just popping into the supermarket, but also in as always, to be there looking fresh and full each time that they came back. So it was really to tackle that issue.
Catherine Weetman 16:00
And coming back to how SCOOPs evolved over the last few years, you now offer a whole range of different services, including cleaning glass jars and bottles so they can be reused and helping people’s out helping transit packaging from companies get reused. Can you talk us through some of those experiments that you’ve launched and what’s worked and maybe maybe some that you struggled with?
India Hamilton 16:23
India Hamilton 16:26
we are a we are circular economy business. Because you it’s about its productivity with a small p isn’t it, you’ve got to look at resources at every node of your system. So that’s what we are. We also are part of the kind of guided by this project called chef manifesto, which is the the practical use of this, all of the saleable development goals that have been synthesised in for food businesses. And one of their points is about upholding and teaching about compliance, and essentially environmental health and food safety as integral to sustainability. So what we kind of understand is that, again, sustainability is a process, it’s not a product. And we have designed our compliance and our strategies to be circular. So compliance, I think, from environmental health is quite a concern as a relatively boring job. But when you tie it to sustainability, and future modelling, it’s very exciting. So we sat down and wrote a 25 page document of compliance for all of our waste streams, and started to kind of imagine how to how to deal with them, and what things can we put in place. And one thing that came up with this, and it’s sort of called the SCOOP loop. So it’s kind of, that’s a policy framework. And lots and lots of different projects have come out of that, when you really open up this, there’s loads of things. There’s loads of processes that come out of that, but the key ones have been with packaging. So we have a glass glass bottle drop off site, last jar drop off site, it goes in, it gets cleaned. And then these this then gets used for jarring the processes that the products that we we make from surplus and from stuff that’s slightly missed it’s time on the shop. So that in itself is circular. So we create a whole bunch of products, but they they’re not products that are designed by recipes are designed by process. So we’ve got about 10 different products in the range from kimchi to soups to chilli sauces, but in the last year and a half, we’ve made 675 recipes, because everything different is coming in all the time. And through our so that environmental health officers like what, so we then got to go no, this is safe. And this is how we’re going to deal with this. And this is our policies is the practice. This is how people find the information. And so we use a barcode hashtag number for people to trace track and go digitalize the recipes and we use it wax so it can be cleaned. So we’ve kind of
Catherine Weetman 19:40
worked to seal the, the lid on or
India Hamilton 19:43
know to write the code on Okay, so it’s it’s it was an experiment in a circular system with lots of things in place that have had to be thought through at every stage. But it’s really work thing. And what we’ve worked out is that cleaning a glass jar and a tiffin box with a, you know, a reusable container is cost 40 per unit with an employment of, you know, with personnel involved. And if you go to the local traders to buy a sustainable container that Centrify per unit
Catherine Weetman 20:24
when lockdown happened, that pose challenges for SCOOP because it’s such a, you know, community based business and thrives on the, you know, the real face to face relationships and so on. And we talked about convenience. And, and you talked about the lack of convenience being the USP of SCOOP, which is kind of counterintuitive for most of us. So maybe you could unpack that a bit for us, you know, what happened in lockdown and what you decided was important.
India Hamilton 20:58
The well that’s it’s been a big journey, because I think we spoke about that. And I’ve really, it really, that initial conversation kind of encouraged me to really kind of unpick that escapism, I think inconvenient job in the world. And till system, it takes ages. And we talk a lot. And yeah, the guy behind the till it says me essay, we’re essentially paid to talk. And that’s really pleasant. So, SCOOP hit, I mean, COVID hit. And our community responded phenomenally, there’s no question. Within one day, we had one day, we had a online service using lists and emails, 700 products going out to 250 households a week. We had 15 people across our packing and car distribution line. It was radically quick, super easy. And, and in terms of relying on, I mean, it probably would have saved paper, if we had a fax machine. And we’re still on the facts. On the facts kind of world, it would have been easier. And it was a you could see we sold more food, we reach more people. And it was we doubled our turnover that day. And our systems really had to mature and they did and we professionalised sort of overnight, really. But within three weeks, we just missed the people. And the people missed us. And in a very deep way, they were worried that they couldn’t work, they couldn’t come to a community in a safe way, and get those biological interactions. You know, those young mothers with children who wanted to be able to shop and be in places because that fertility, landscape is important to them. All of these things were crucial. So we went back on we went back to being a shop put in all their safety protocols that were required. And it really got me understand trying to work out what what inconvenience what what, what that means in the kind of context. So I just did a bit of research and I typed him convenience in and got a dictionary definition. And it was the ability to do something with ease. And what I think’s happened in the commercial world, designed by the Amazons of the world, that convenience has become the ability to do something with ease quickly. And that’s been added on by capitalism. That’s nothing to do with the concept of convenience. So we we’ve decided to value interaction over transaction. And in the time we’ve been given, we have learned an awful lot about people. We’ve learned more about sustainability because sustainability issues come to us through our community and they talk about it and then we respond in kind by working out should we sell this product? Should we get rid of it? Should we find a better alternative? And that’s what we do. We’ve built a trust around sustainability. We’ve built lots of different concepts and routes into sustainability, if it be from portion control, to carbon to biodiversity to kind of workers rights and all of the complex. You know, sustainability is not carbon, it is at least 144 different metrics determined by the sale of mobile cars. And we need to be doing them all, at any given time. And so I realised at the end that actually, we’ve created a highly convenient shop, if convenience was the ease to be sustainable. So we clawed back time from the consumer. And this is what we came up with. So, our strategy now being the most inconvenient shop in the world, we have all the time we own the time commodity,
India Hamilton 25:43
which is a huge one, especially when it costs the home deliver. It’s a huge one. So we’ve got to pick how we spend that time, and where we spend it and who we spend it on. And is it best spent on as a tool to increase the barrier into this way of shopping, so should we spend our time communicating with with groups that normally access this sort of food, instead of people who love this food, just want at home delivered? Who aren’t willing to come to us yet. So, so we’re at the moment thinking, actually, let’s find different community groups to go and be more convenient for them, and go and meet them where they’re at, and help them come onto this journey with us. So that’s, that’s kind of how we look at our convenience. And our relationships with that. convenience and time is is doesn’t mean convenience.
Catherine Weetman 26:54
And I guess it’s thinking about the broader set of needs that people have, you know, you mentioned the young mothers. So their visit to the shop is not just about buying the food, it’s about having a social interaction that they might not get if they were and particularly in locked down, you know, stuck at homes, homeschooling the kids. So that’s, that’s fascinating. And, and I’m sensing that this convenience, inconvenience thing is something that you’re going to do more work on, on more research around kind of getting under the skin of it. So I’m looking forward to seeing where that where that goes.
India Hamilton 27:34
Just so – I think it’s really important for people to really, the market signal says Home deliver. And so the small businesses are being impacted, and think about that home delivery, because that’s what the market is saying. And there’s no honesty in the figures with these things. And it can be it could really severely destroy your small business that you’ve been created because of this market market signal. And the truth is, we’ve got this food crisis issue around the cost of living COVID thrusted, into spending to go online. And, like 20 years before we were ready to. And I think possibly a lot of bad spending was done by these big supermarkets to do that. And part of covering those costs might be being pushed on to the consumer, or the farmer, the lack of transparency around it, because I saw with my own eyes, how much money it costs, and how we just can’t do it.
Catherine Weetman 28:45
Let’s move on to the question of, you know, if you were talking to and I’m sure you you have these conversations lots of times, so another business that wants to start something circular, or go more circular with their own model. What advice do you typically give?
India Hamilton 29:05
Think about, always kind of this is obviously whatever business sit down from a compliance perspective and imagine all of your waste streams. And that’s time and brainpower. It’s, you know, whatever, whatever it is, there’s loads of waste streams within that are underutilised within your business. And, and it can be slightly boring work but there is so much opportunity and kind of how you function. So yeah, really break it down and think creatively about each waste stream and do the work in the compliance to be creative. Understand that you when you say you’re a circular businesses, a circular business You need to build relationships with other business who also want to be circular. And some businesses are really on that journey. So you can connect with them super easy and work processes back and forward. Like we have a great warm assessee which is a cleaning product that can accompany transportation into required back and forth. So if you are kind of input community, there is a lot of waste space going out. So you can start to build those circular, circular movements. And yeah, I think that’s, it is kind of partnerships being open. And just thinking of all those opportunities, of circular design. And then right that compliance.
Catherine Weetman 30:55
Yeah. Yeah. So you kind of got the got the process nailed. And you you’re looking at the productivity of, of all the resources, you know, how can you get more value out of things that are anti underutilised, whether that’s packaging or transport? Or whatever? Thank you.
India Hamilton 31:12
Yeah, I mean, this is quite an odd thing to say. But I wrote this, I wrote this as a, I wrote this, to try and get into a master’s a few years ago. But it was like my admissions paper. But it was just the the idea that the bin, in itself is like, no more real than Father Christmas. And it was born in 1845. And put in the dictionary then. And it allows us to imagine that we can throw something away and buy something new. And it’s not true. So it’s a real kind of myth of our economic system that we need to accept let go off.
Catherine Weetman 31:59
Brilliant. I love that. The Bin is a myth. Yeah. Yeah, I think I think that’s got that’s got legs as as something to dig into. So India, who would you would you recommend somebody as a future guest? Or do you have a favourite Circular Economy example that you’d like to share with everyone?
India Hamilton 32:24
I would love to, in suggest Kavita Mantha who is who I worked with in Hyderabad. And she runs. She’s a restaurant. She said she’s a lover of food. She is conscious of her role to act and empower to do so. And I learned an awful lot from her. And we opened a restaurant together, which was all about Farm to Table circular systems. And I think she will be brilliant.
Catherine Weetman 33:04
Great. Okay, well, I’ll hook up afterwards to get her contact details. Thank you. And India, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing to help us create a better world. What would that be?
India Hamilton 33:18
I didn’t read that quick.
Catherine Weetman 33:22
Put you on the spot.
India Hamilton 33:24
Me. I really had put me on this spot. And the ability for people to be comfortable, trusting others.
Catherine Weetman 33:44
Mmm, interesting. Yeah. Okay. Thank you. And lastly, how can people find out more and get in touch with you and find out more about SCOOP.
India Hamilton 33:55
And we we function the best on Facebook? The reason why it’s really placed based. So you can find us there SCOOP a sustainable crop to Instagram was is a kind of semi disaster because it’s so it’s sort of all the way out there. But yeah, Facebook. And then yeah, that’s where you can find us.
Catherine Weetman 34:19
Great. Okay, on I’ll put that link in the show notes as well. And thanks ever so much for talking to us about the journey of SCOOP so far. I’m sure there’s lots more to come. And I’m looking forward to finding out about that. And reading more of the the impact report that that you shared on on LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago, which is fascinating and very helpful, I think for a whole range of businesses, food related and otherwise. So thanks very much India, and good luck with the next phase.
India Hamilton 34:50
My pleasure. It’s been wonderful to talk to you.
Catherine Weetman 34:54
I was fascinated to learn about the way that India and her co founders looked at the food system itself. To examine which parts have become dysfunctional for both customers and producers, and then to get clear on the structural barriers, blocking the connections between those farmers growing in ways that are better for people in nature, and the people who want to eat healthy, local seasonal produce. The thinking behind the financial model created by Andy, the school teacher intrigued me to working out how many people in the community would need to be actively involved, understanding the needs of the different demographic groups within that community, and calculating the financial barriers and how they might overcome those. The critical element was working out a figure for SCOOP share of a family’s food spent so that the business could be viable. What struck me most though, was India’s thinking on the meaning of convenience, we’ve been led to believe it’s all about speed, rather than the true definition to do something with ease. When we take time to think about what we really need and what we want to do. For many people, there are several layers to that. For food, most of us want more than just the right number of calories, or even for it to taste good. We want to buy local, seasonal, fresh and nutritious food that’s been grown without pesticides and fossil fertilisers. And that provides a fair wage to farmers and everyone else in the supply chain. Is speed important in that context. Most of the time, it’s not. There’s even a slow food movement advocating for good, clean, Fair Food For All.
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Thanks to Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, otherwise known as the brilliant, inventive and generous folk duo, O’Hooley & Tidow for allowing me to use the instrumentals from the live version of Summat’s Brewin’ as music for the podcast. You can find the whole track (inspired by the Copper Family song “Oh Good Ale”) on their album, also called Summat’s Brewin’. Or, follow them on Twitter.