Do you like diced carrots?

They say that whatever you’ve eaten, when you chuck up there’ll be some diced carrots floating in the toilet pan when you open your eyes and look. For me, as well as I suspect many others, down the toilet is exactly where those nasty tinned diced carrots belong. Yet when I visited a struggling community owned shop, I found tinfulls of the stuff stacked unsold on the shelves.

Clearly they’d been on offer at Booker wholesale, as had peach coloured toilet rolls, long life jam Swiss rolls and fly-paper. Luckily the inside of the store was so chaotic you only realise the full horror of their stocking decisions when you enter and walk around. I particularly liked the nets of kindling, conveniently high up on a shelf next to some dog biscuits. I guess kindling sells well in April, if that is you still do your weekly wash over a coal fired copper in the back shed.

But rural England is different now. Of course many old folk still relish their weekly treat of a tin of red salmon, a hard boiled egg and some lettuce. But the folk with busy lives, well filled purses whose spending could make a difference will find little to attract them here. Instead they drive six miles to the supermarket.

I was unlucky to chance upon one of the very few dodgy community owned shops. The Plunkett Foundation do an excellent job of helping them start and thrive. They say that only ten have ever failed out of almost 300 created. That’s an impressive performance, which makes my recent sad experience all the more frustrating.

Luckily the nice middle class people who’d got the project going are about to flex their muscles. Having delegated the management of their venture to an ‘expert’ they’re now seeing that common sense might be a better bet. They’re going to ask locals what they want to see in the shop, give it a good makeover and start again

Local food, local produce and local booze needs to take priority over the over-priced under-quality tat you find in the average cash and carry. Yes, you need to cater for all tastes, but you also need to recognise that people do have taste. Canned carrots are not an everyday essential so why not focus on bread, milk and eggs instead?

We’re going to see a lot more community shops created over the coming years. Plunkett expect the number of new openings to exceed 40 this year alone. So where’s the supply chain to make them different, profitable and appealing to local shoppers? Why are there no producer cooperatives knocking on their doors, offering to work with them to create success for both sectors?

We all complain about the lack of ‘joined up’ thinking in government, but let’s get things right at grassroots level too!



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