Suma: The countryside co-operative making a global name for itself

Suma is Ethical Enterprise’s Business of the Month for April 2017. Here’s an insight into why…

Residing in Elland, West Yorkshire, lies Suma, a wholesaler worker co-operative specialising in whole foods and natural products.

Suma pays all its members the same. They give preference to organic, Fairtrade and co-operative products; they put emphasis on sourcing locally; and their body care, cosmetic and household products are sourced cruelty-free.

In 2016, Suma won Grocer magazine’s Employer of the Year, beating the likes of supermarket giant Aldi to win the award. With this in mind, we visited Suma to talk to their members about what it’s like to be part of an ethical, profitable business.

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Suma member Jenny Carlyle, who gave Ethical Enterprise editor Tom Earnshaw a guided tour of their warehouse. Photo: Tom Earnshaw.

“Suma is one big family”

We spoke to Rebecca Kinnard, a Suma member of 12 years, in advance. Rebecca said: “Suma is one big family, and the co-operative element is key to this with all members equal, having the same rights and pay.”

They pride themselves on having “zero fat cats”. In 2013 the company made £1m profit on a turnover of £34m. That year, each member received an annual bonus of £4,750.

Rebecca added: “We all try to keep up to date with all departments, as we all get to vote on big decisions. This understanding of how each department works, even if you haven’t worked there directly, means that members share collective responsibility better, and decisions are transparent.”

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Suma’s main office. Photo: Tom Earnshaw.

Maria Carrasco has been a Suma member since November 2016. Prior to Suma, Maria managed a local charity for 11 years that helped homeless women and children in the Bradford area.

Maria said: “Im passionate about my beliefs and having a work–life balance, so I wanted a job that would give me that.”

She added: “Suma’s ethics resonate well with my own; co-operatives are a fantastic way forward. To me, it is the best possible job that I could ever want. I am very happy.”

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A Suma warehouse picker in action. Photo: Tom Earnshaw.

James Robinson has been a Suma member since January 2017. Previously he worked for an energy consultancy firm, managing a variety of renewable energy projects.

James said: “I have four roles at Suma. I train new pickers in what they’re doing in the warehouse and I work in sales managing one of our accounts for a large customer. I’m also involved in building services and maintenance and when I can, I work in the warehouse doing picking.”

James added: “It’s got lots of variety and can be complicated, but it also makes it far more interesting than doing the same thing day in day out.”

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All smiles in the office. Photo: Tom Earnshaw.

Like James, all Suma members are “multi-skilled”, as Suma member Jenny Carlyle explained.

Jenny, a Suma member of 10 years, said: “It’s opened up a lot of other doors for me. Apart from the roles I’ve done, I’ve had some amazing opportunities like visiting cocoa farms in Ghana and appearing on BBC Radio Four and Five.”

“It’s nice to live by what you believe in”

Amy Blessington is a trial member at Suma having previously worked as a a marine biologist.

Amy said: “I wasn’t sure where I could use my varied skill set until I saw an advert for Suma and thought ‘wow, you could go there with anything’.”

Amy added: “Suma also correlates with some of my beliefs. It’s nice to live by what you believe in.”

Words: Tom Earnshaw
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