The ethical choice

Suma is celebrating its 40th birthday this year

The ethical choice

Founded in the 1970s in Leeds by Reg Tayler – who started importing and distributing ethical and vegetarian products and ingredients to wholefood shops through a workers' co-operative – Suma is celebrating its 40th birthday this year.
When director Andrew Mackintosh joined the company, he discovered a very different set-up at Suma. 'We are the UK's biggest workers' co-operative which means we don't have CEOs and EOs sat in a boardroom giving direction – every member of the co-op starts off in the warehouse picking, packing and delivering customer orders, which gives a unique insight into the business. We are also Europe's largest single-pay organisation, as every worker at Suma gets the same hourly pay rate. Ethics and morals are what makes Suma what it is.'
Suma has also given other ethical grocery brands a leg-up into the market, long before they were considered viable by the multiples. 'Organic, Fairtrade, vegan, environmentally friendly, free-from and cruelty-free are labels that abound in the supermarkets today,' says Andrew. 'I'm proud to say that for 40 years we've been giving brands like Ecover, Twinings and Green & Black's an introduction to a market that would eventually drive them into conventional grocery retailing.'
But when it comes to sourcing new products, they always look carefully at the supply chain and working practices of the company behind them. 'If we don't like how or where or by whom the products are produced we will simply walk away,' says Andrew. 'The very nature of our business is about equality, transparency and fairness.'
Although Suma works with a variety of other manufacturers, they've always produced a number of own-brand products, and they are about to launch a new eco-friendly dishwasher tablet to complete their Ecoleaf household cleaning range. But Andrew's particular favourite from Suma's portfolio is their new 40th birthday organic Strength in Numbers IPA. 'I'm a great fan of our beers. They're produced for us by a local master brewer, with water from the nearby Pennine hills, and the hops and malts sourced from small artisanal producers in Europe to give the beers a unique profile.'
It seems right to toast Suma's achievements with a decent pint of beer, as they've played a significant role in giving consumers more choice. 'The market has changed enormously since I've been at Suma, from supplying small independent vegan wholefood shops in northern mill towns to Michelin-starred restaurants and massive convenience chains. Not bad for a bunch of weirdo hippies from Yorkshire!'

To find out more about Suma products and order online, go to www.suma.coop.

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