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Q&A: In conversation with Suma

Suma, a Best Buy Label, chat with Ethical Consumer about who they are, making sustainable and ethical business decisions, and where they see sustainable food in the future.

Tell us a bit about Suma

Suma is a little bit different. We’re an equal pay wholefood collective founded in 1977 by a liberally-minded group of people who believed there was a better way to do business, and actively set out to create it. We’ve just celebrated our 46th birthday so we must be doing something right!

Suma’s 200+ members set the direction of the business. Everyone has an equal say, we all get paid the same wage and are equal shareholders. That means that when you meet someone who works at Suma, you’re meeting a co-owner who knows and cares about the business.

We are one of the largest co-operatives of our kind in Europe, working together and bound by seven co-operative principles which aim to improve our society and support our suppliers and customers. We stock a range of 2000 of our own award-winning sustainable and ethical products and deliver over 7000 vegan and vegetarian, natural, responsibly sourced products to businesses and communities across the UK and internationally.

This year we launched our sustainability strategy to set out our overarching goals to take us up to 2030 and further. We focus on six key areas which are:

  • Net zero
  • Nature
  • Zero waste
  • Decent work
  • Healthy and sustainable diets
  • Education and Engagement.

We are also working on some exciting projects at Suma, such as working to measure our scope 3 emissions and planning our process to becoming a certified B-Corp in the near future. We have always been a sustainable and ethical business and our strategy will aim to take us even further in being able to measure and report more accurately on the impact we are making.

Why do you think you received our Best Buy label? What separates you from other ethical food and drink retailers?

Suma was born from a passion for wholefoods, organics and veggie food. Today 90% of our products are vegan, and we supply healthy ingredients to thousands of customers across the UK and beyond. Sustainability has and always will be one of the main drivers when sourcing and packaging our products.

What I think separates us is how long we’ve been doing this. This pedigree means we have decades of experience, seeing the market change as wholefoods become mainstream. We already recognise the importance of high ethical practices in our supply chain, so that the products we source have a positive impact on the natural world and people.

Over the coming years, we will focus on setting even higher ethical standards for suppliers and source from more co-operatives, B-corps and suppliers which can evidence they use sustainable farming practices. Did you know Suma brought the very first organic tinned tomatoes to the UK? And all our products have been cruelty-free since day one.

We’re also transparent about the areas where we could do better and are actively working to improve and share our experiences. We review our Ethical Consumer ratings and feedback regularly, using this to guide our actions to address our gaps.

Ben Pearson carrying tree protector tubes on back
Ben Pearson, Sustainability Reporting Co-ordinator, tree planting with other Suma workers earlier in 2023.

Do you see a growing demand for sustainable food options?


Consumer demand for sustainable products with traceability and transparency continues to grow as we witness the impact of the climate crisis and understand how best to support positive change and animal welfare.

Consumers rightly want to know where products and ingredients are sourced from, that their purchases are fairly-traded and are looking for assurances that they are ethical in terms of avoiding human and animal rights violations.

Consumers also want more information on products around the environmental impact of their purchases. The organic market continues to grow too and we offer many organic options across all our Suma brand products.

Plus we sell many of our products in bulk to refill and zero waste stores to help them serve you better.

What is your advice to consumers?

We want people to know they can trust us to source ethically and sustainably and to review our buying policies regularly so they can shop in confidence.

We offer a core range of organic, sustainable and ethically sourced wholefoods, body and hair care, and household cleaning products. Everything is cruelty-free too.

Have you ever had to make a business decision that challenged your ethical standpoint?

The use of palm oil has led to much investigation and discussion. Some products just don’t work as consumers expect without palm oil, mainly when it comes to liquids lathering. Where there isn’t a viable or more sustainable alternative to palm oil, we use RSPO certified, sustainable palm oil. Only 19 of our food products contain palm oil.

In a few products in our Ecoleaf cleaning range we use some palm oil and palm derivatives, which are also RSPO certified. However, a few of our ALTER/NATIVE products use uncertified palm. We have discussed this issue with the manufacturer, who noted that whilst the palm oil they use is sourced sustainably, the cost and administrative burden of RSPO membership is inaccessible for our suppliers who are farming co-operatives and small local businesses who otherwise tick our ethical boxes. In practice, they adhere to all the RSPO rules but can’t afford the piece of paper that says so. We continue to review this and keep our customers posted.  

Where would you like to see Suma in the next 5 years?

We will focus on setting even higher ethical standards for suppliers and will source from more co-operatives, B-corps and suppliers who can evidence they use sustainable farming practices. By 2030 we aim for 75% of Suma brand products to be organic to help support this positive change.

We have a clear Sustainability Strategy which will steer us in a collective direction; it will be great to see progress with our objectives here. We are working hard currently to gather more sustainability data so we can begin to report on this in line with international reporting frameworks and allow compliance with future regulations that are being increasingly implemented. 

We also will be aiming to make good progress on our path to net zero while continuing to develop new innovate products that have a lower environmental impact.

It's an exciting time and we’re looking forward to transparently sharing the ups (and downs) with you all.