Skip to main content

Alternative supermarkets: a more sustainable food network

Anna Clayton explores the growing movement of a sustainable food network.

Our supermarket guide covers several alternative supermarkets which represent a more sustainable food network than that provided by the mainstream supermarket chains.

Some of these alternatives only have regional shops, like HISBE in Brighton, but the rest are available to order from online.

  • Riverford’s national veg box service and a 100% organic registered B Corp. It is majority owned by its employees (74%), whilst the founder-owner Guy Singh-Watson retains 26%. Singh-Watson believes “employee ownership can deliver commercial as well as emotional benefits: higher productivity, lower attrition, higher morale, greater resilience, and less debt.” The company began in 1986 in Devon and today has organic farms in Devon, Peterborough, Hampshire and France. It sells meat, dairy and fish alongside its vegetables and fruits, some of which is not grown by Riverford, but other small, organic suppliers listed on its website.
  • Abel & Cole, the other national veg box player, is also a registered B Corp – a business that meets certain verified standards around social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. However, as it is owned by the William Jackson Food Group which is not a B Corp, it does not receive a Company Ethos mark for this. It also sells meat, dairy and fish along with fruit and vegetables and store cupboard products.

  • HISBE (‘How It Should Be’) presents an exciting model for providing the people of Brighton with affordable, wholesome food. It has placed itself on a busy high street in the direct vicinity of big supermarket players precisely to offer shoppers an accessible alternative. It received a positive Company Ethos mark for being a registered Community Interest Company and has the Social Enterprise Mark. It offers organic and fairly traded produce sourced from small, local producers and other brands that score well in Ethical Consumer’s ratings. It is dedicated to keeping money in the local economy and ensuring fair pay to its suppliers.
  • Planet Organic is based in London and owned by the elusive investment firm Inverleith LLP. As the company Planet Organic is certified organic by the Soil Association, it is allowed to sell loose, unpackaged fruit, vegetables and bread. It sells a number of brands that are recommended or best buy brands in our guides.


Although not featured in the current supermarket guide, there are other alternative supermarkets or food retailers which may be options for you.

  • Unicorn Grocery is a workers’ co-operative in Manchester whose operations are guided by its principles of purpose which include secure employment, equal opportunity, fair and sustainable trade and solidarity in cooperation. It is also Fair Tax Mark certified, as is the Co-operative Group – one of the world’s largest consumer cooperatives.

  • BigBarn is structured as a Community Interest Company and aims to reverse “the antisocial trend of the UK food industry: a trend towards the growing mass production of food and control of the market by big business and retailers, giving farmers an average of only 9p in every £1 spent on food in the supermarket”. 

    It does this by reconnecting consumers with their local producers, direct, or through local retailers, and encourages local trade, “giving farmers a better deal and consumers fresher, cheaper, accountable food”.
  • Ethical Superstore is an online retailer who scores reasonably well in our online retailers guide. The site stocks a wide range of grocery and food items, along with household products. It sells a number of brands that are recommended or best buy brands in our guides.

Basket full of alternatives

The average person in the UK makes 221 trips to the supermarket every year, so there’s a lot of opportunities to do things differently. After decades of civil society pressure, the big supermarkets still fail to deliver on social justice and environmental sustainability.

Our supermarket guide also includes details of, and links to, alternatives such as:

  • independent wholefood shops
  • zero waste shops
  • wholefood retailers e.g. Suma (which included in the guide) but others are available
  • food box schemes
  • farmers' markets
  • Open Food Network
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • Community growing and home-grown
  • Sustainable Food Places
  • Better Food Traders

[Note, some information on this page dates from 2019]