As our thoughts turn towards the festive season and the inevitable uncertainty we are facing, it’s expected that most Christmas shopping will be done online. So we were pleased to be introduced to Jamie Palmer, Founder and CEO of a UK based start up, Social Supermarket, which has been coined ‘Amazon with a conscience’ .
We sat down (on a Zoom call, of course) with Jamie and asked him about the origins of company, what they are trying to achieve and why we all may want to be more discerning when doing our Christmas shopping this year.
What’s your background?
I have a background in both the charity sector, tackling issues like homelessness and the corporate world through renewable energy investment. I loved the work but was frustrated by the pace of change or depth of impact. When I first came across the social enterprise model, I was inspired by the use of trade not aid, to address social issues at scale. For the last two years I’ve worked with my two co-founders, to build the UKs largest marketplace for social enterprise products, making it easy to buy from thousands of impact-led businesses across the UK.
Outside of work, sport has played a significant role in my life. I’m a passionate rower (where I first met my co-founders). I’ve also taken part in a few long-distance events like The Copenhagen Ironman and Marathon des Sables (6 marathons across the Sahara Desert). More recently, I set an unofficial record crossing Loch Ness on a paddle board and I’m now looking for my next challenge.
What problem is Social Supermarket trying to solve?
There is a growing consumer movement focused on recognising the impact that purchase power can have in society and the environment. Single use plastic, palm oil, food waste are just a few examples of issues that have driven consumer behaviour in the last few years. One of the most poignant examples is the Attenborough effect, which alone saw a 70% increase in reusable water bottle use.
The problem we encounter is that it is too hard to find brands which address these issues and when you do, the impact is often hard to understand and quantify. We created Social Supermarket to make it easy to buy from brands that do good. We connect consumers with products that reflect their values from gifts, food, drink and clothing; guilt free shopping that puts customer service and quality at the forefront of everything. Today we feature over a thousand products from 80 brands and expect to double this in the next six months.
Tell us about the brands you work with
A couple come to mind, firstly Rubies in the Rubble make award-winning chutney and sauces from fresh wonky fruit and veg that would otherwise go to waste (40% of misshapen fruit and veg go to landfill before hitting supermarket shelves for being the wrong shape). To date they’ve saved 126 tonnes of fresh produce, equivalent to 225 tonnes of CO2. Secondly, NEMI Tea who are a specialist tea company who provide employment for refugees.
One of our key differentiators is quantifying the positive impact that each purchase has; the ability for us to report on the number of pieces of fruit and veg saved, or hours of employment created, has a significant impact. This is combined with competitive pricing and focus on quality compared to standard brands.
What has been your experience been during the last few months?
The last few months have been defined by two key moment; raising our first round of investment and an explosion of sales during the last two months. To the first point, I was fortunate enough to connect with an angel investor over LinkedIn during the first month of lockdown. Nigel, who’d recently sold his business, introduced himself to me through a mutual connection. From there we had a number of Zoom calls along with my Co-Founders during which we quickly realised we shared values and could envisage a strong working relationship. It was a surreal experience for us given it was our first round of investment, and given we closed the round without even meeting each other.
Secondly, our sales during the last few months led by our food and drink hampers. The combination of delicious food and drink treats, support for small UK social enterprises and our level of service has meant that sales have exploded over the past few months. In the lead up to Christmas we’re currently looking at a 2,000% increase in hamper sales compared to 2019 - our offer of gift boxes and ability to measure the social impact is a perfect combination.
What are your plans for the future?
As a team we’re determined to reshape how people approach their purchases, both for gifting and day to day spending. Sustainable consumption is often framed in terms of finding products that avoid negative impact in the world but what if every purchase you made had a net positive contribution to our natural environment or people at the fringes of our society?
By the end of this year, Social Supermarket will have sold over 100,000 products. Saving tonnes of fruit and veg going to waste, creating thousands of hours of employment for those furthest from the workplace and creating thousands of pounds of social value. Our ambition is to radically scale this impact over the next ten years. Helping consumers make every purchase a chance for change.
Do you want to give a gift that makes a difference this Christmas?