Supermarket-free Me: New Leaf Coop

I have finally paid a visit to the New Leaf Coop and, to celebrate, I’m writing a post dedicated to it!

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This is a shop I need to support – it’s exactly the kind of place I wish existed everywhere, but not as a chain! Let’s see lots of quirky independent shops with the same ethos (read more about that here) and let us be their dedicated customers – bringing our own bags and the kind of enthusiasm that, quite frankly, it’s hard to muster in the supermarket…

The New Leaf Co-op is in Edinburgh in an area called Marchmont, which I can get to within about 25 minutes from my home. I’ve blogged about Marchmont before in this post (which, if I may say, I enjoyed rereading. It shows me what a difference a year has made in my ability to shop without the supermarket!)

I digress…The New Leaf Co-op is easy to find on Argyll Place, nestled amongst other independent businesses.

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Even before you enter, you know it’s going to be a bit special as it has a bicycle hanging in the window. I’ve no idea why it’s there, but seeing it made me smile.

Prior to the bicycle though, I knew I was going to like the shop as I’d spotted this page on their website (if you can’t see it in the photo properly, click on this link):

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The canisters of unpackaged goods got me more than a little excited because I’m taking part in Plastic Free July and, between you and me, it’s still looking less like a challenge, and more like a nightmare! Those canisters though suggested that they might answer a few of my prayers…Here they are in all of their glory!

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The front of the shop had a variety of goods including fruit and veg, chilled products, biscuits, pasta and even candles. The prices I saw seemed cheaper than comparable wholefood shops that I’ve visited recently. 

This is a relief. I want to be able to justify ditching supermarkets on financial grounds, as well as for ethical reasons. So far though, I’m finding that if I’m spending less then it’s because I’m buying different things than I did at the supermarket, or because I’m using things I had anyway, not because the prices in the independent shops I’ve been to are lower. Some things are lower of course, but I’ve struggled to accurately assess whether I’m actually spending less overall.

Entering the back room of the shop, I felt like Alice going into Wonderland. Finally, here I was in a room full of unpackaged products – all I had to do was scoop them up, pop them in my Onya bag and weigh them. (The New Leaf Coop Shop have Onya bags! I have Onya bags! It’s a sign – I don’t know what of, but surely it’s a good sign!)

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Now I don’t want to burst any bubbles here but because this is my blog and because I do consider honesty to be important, I must confess that I was a bit overwhelmed with the choice of products, and the fact that I actually had no idea what some of them were. Clearly this shop has customers who take their cooking far more seriously than I do!

I was a rabbit caught in the headlights and I didn’t want to start scooping up bags of small black beans that I didn’t know how to soak, so I had to take a moment to calm myself down and think about what I might be able to buy that would be useful.

Moment over, I found there were quite a few things I recognised and that I could certainly stock up on in July, such as dried fruits, spices and oats. There were also products, like those in the picture below, that I didn’t know existed but knew what they were.

 

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Maybe in July, some Exotic Muesli may just be what I need to cheer myself up when I can’t wash my hair, do the dishes or use deodorant because there’s flipping plastic involved in all of these products!! (Kidding, I’ll find alternatives – I really hope I’ll find alternatives!)

I duly filled my bags and weighed them.

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It was easy to work the scales and a label was printed out, showing the full details of each purchase.

I was super-impressed by this, as actually (shopping geek that I am becoming) I do care about what country my product has been flown from and it’s great to be able to see what I’m paying per kg, so that I can price-compare on the internet with the supermarket.

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Of the loose products I bought, two thirds of them seem to be cheaper at the New Leaf Coop than the supermarket equivalents I usually buy.

I left the shop with a spring in my step. Although I won’t be visiting regularly because of my journey time (and because parking in Marchmont is difficult and expensive), I will be back. I’ll be organised so that I can stock up – if you buy a product in bulk, the price per unit of weight comes down.

I’d love to know how well the New Leaf Co-op is doing financially. It certainly had a reasonable number of customers while I was in but my worry about shops like this is that they aren’t appreciated as they should be. Although there are many good quality, special, independent shops in Marchmont, I notice that a Sainsbury’s Local has opened since my last visit, which is bound to have an impact on the area.

Here’s my final word for this post…If you have a special shop near you, then visit it! Spend money there, tell your friends about it, shout about it on social media – let’s love those places and keep them going because if we don’t, then the supermarket may be our only choice in the years to come.

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Supermarket-free Me: Day 3

Stop the bus, I’m getting off!  Especially if the next stop is at a massive supermarket that will meet my every need!!!

Tuesday morning is supermarket morning.  This week however my children and I are going to do our shopping in Marchmont, a  lovely area of Edinburgh where I used to live as a student.  It boasts a great range of independent shops and has a view of the Meadows, a beautiful outdoor space within the city.  A 25 minute car journey away, I’ve decided it’ll be nostalgic and pleasant and we’ll have a cup of tea in one of the quirky cafes.  I suddenly feel guilty about all of those trips I’d forced the kids into at the supermarket when there are adventures to be had!

As we set foot out of the door, however, my enthusiasm wavered – yesterday’s snow had turned into two inches of treacherous ice.  At the supermarket, I would have put my youngest child straight into a trolley and my eldest and I would only have had to negotiate three meters of car park before we would be on a cleared, safe path.

Arriving in Marchmont, I realised I’d forgotten to bring change for the parking meters, our only parking option close to the shops. I started to panic, which was exacerbated by the lack of empty spaces and a complicated road system.  I very nearly knocked down a cyclist in the midst of my stress.

I found a parking space but the pay meter was further than I could go while leaving the children in the car. I set off again and found a space I could pay for on my mobile phone from the car.   That’s the first time I’ve used that service smoothly so looking on the bright side, I’ve learned a new skill, right?

Fifteen minutes wasted, we went into a local shop whose slogan boasts that it brings customers ‘the best local food’ but I found the selection to be limited and inadequate for my weekly shop.  Having a basket with a buggy (holding a disgruntled passenger) and a wee one on foot was a nightmare in a shop with small aisles.  The vegetable quality and selection was mainly poor, probably due to the good veg shops nearby.  The prices seemed generally more expensive than the supermarket and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy some of the things on the list being sure I could find them cheaper elsewhere.  I got the ingredients for a veg sauce I wanted to cook but wasn’t inspired for other meal ideas.  I ended up buying a vegetarian haggis and a huge turnip but there were no suitable potatoes.  Unfortunately I was too flustered to check the Ingredients properly for nuts which I’m allergic to…  The shopping bag was so heavy I had to take it to the car before continuing which was really difficult with the pavements being thick with icy snow and the bag threatening to tip the buggy.

Determined to visit a local fruit and veg shop, we went into one that I remember from 11 years ago.  I was surprised to recognise the owner who has had the shop for 25 years.  I picked from a reasonable selection of produce, while ignoring my distaste at the potatoes covered in earth, on the basis that I was having a new and exciting shopping experience.  I went to pay only to find that the shop didn’t accept cards and I would have to go to the bank (there was one very close to the shop).  The owner offered to look after the children while I got money out.  I stress that I didn’t take him up on this but I appreciated the gesture!  I asked him if he felt he was competing with the supermarket (there’s a surprisingly attractive Scotmid nearby) but he didn’t.  What he offers, he said, is quite different to the supermarket.  When I told him I was giving up supermarkets for a month he immediately (and correctly) assumed I had been motivated by the recent horsemeat scandal but said that soon no one will remember it and they’ll continue using supermarkets, his implication I think being that consumers are so reliant on the supermarket that nothing will stop us using them.  Sadly I think he’s right – I hope my resolve is strong enough that I won’t become a typical consumer.

My final stop was a café.  By the time I got the children indoors they were both crying because they were cold and no doubt were picking up on my high stress levels!  Unlike the supermarket café, this place was original with a relaxing environment, however, it wasn’t totally child friendly.  There were no cartons of juice or specific portions for children that I could see.  It was draughty and the solution was found in stand-alone electric heaters, for which the temptation for little fingers to fiddle with proved a bit too much…It was a quick (and expensive) visit!

A shopping trip to Marchmont has the potential to provide a great morning out.  There are lots of really attractive original shops with a good reputation for quality.  Shopping there with small children in snow the unfortunately proved a step too far for me and I left without getting some essentials. I’m reasonably sure I won’t be doing that trip again in the next 28 days but if I find myself with a few hours alone I wouldn’t mind going to make peace with the area again!

I was however reminded by the Fruit Shop Owner of the reasons I’m doing this so Driver, keep going, I’ll stay on the bus a bit longer….