Right products in the right place at the right thyme

Four years ago, workers’ co-op Wild Thyme opened a wholefood store, juice bar and vegan take away in Portsmouth, with finance from Co-op Loan Fund. The 1,200 sq ft premises has a good shop frontage on the main street leading from Southsea shopping centre to the sea front.

Previously the business had been operating from a market stall so it was a big step, which has been successful: Wild Thyme is open seven days a week and sells the widest range of natural and organic food in Portsmouth.

Stuart Mills, one of the eight co-op members, said: “We are still a relatively new business so the last four years has been about steady growth and consolidation and achieving a smooth cash flow.”

Stuart said that some things had gone exactly as planned but there had been some surprises. “The increase in demand for vegan foods has been phenomenal. We are very pleased about this, of course, but strangely the take-away side of our business has not done so well in the last year. I think this is because now many more outlets are offering vegan take-away food.

“Last year we opened a zero-waste refill area in the shop and that is very popular. We supply a range of dry commodities, mostly grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, in gravity-fed dispensers for people to help themselves. We also supply various liquid cleaning products in this way. People love it because it is an immediate and practical way of reducing packaging.

For Stuart, who first worked in a wholefood co-op 25 years ago, this development has echoes of the past when most wholefood shops operated a self-service bag-and-weigh system. He said: “I remember when we phased it out because we found that customers preferred the convenience of prepacked foods. How times have changed.”

Once again it seems, small co-ops like Wild Thyme are being quick to respond to their customers, especially when it comes to social and environmental impact. Co-op Loan Fund is very pleased to help.

[photos by White Studio Photography, a happy customer of Wild Thyme]