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Suma (co-operative)

Suma is the trading name of the Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd, a worker co-operative incorporated as an industrial and provident society. It was founded in Leeds in 1975 and is now based in Elland, West Yorkshire.

It is notable for being Britain's largest collectively-organised co-operative, in that it still avoids hierarchy and practices equal pay and job rotation despite employing over 100 people.

History

It was founded in 1975 by Reg Tayler to serve wholefood shops in the north of England, notably On The Eighth Day in Manchester, Down to Earth in Sheffield, Alligator in York and Maggie's Farm in Durham, principally by buying food from importers and manufacturers in London, such as Community Foods, Harmony and Sunwheel, and distributing it weekly by van. It rapidly expanded to employ seven people by the time of its 1977 incorporation as an Industrial and Provident Society, a UK legal form for co-operatives. Its existence promoted the formation of over a score of wholefood retailing co-operatives, which combined to form the Federation of Northern Wholefood Collectives (FNWC). Suma supported this development by granting other co-operatives a 2.5% discount.

As business grew, Suma moved from a warehouse in Wharf Street, Leeds, to a one in the nearby Calls on the banks of the River Aire. It subsequently moved to Dean Clough in Halifax before locating in Elland.

Cluster strategy

It became the hub of a cluster of spin-off co-operatives in the food sector, including Beano Wholefoods, a retailer in Leeds, Hebden Water Milling Collective (HWMC), which mixed and packaged food, and Cena, a research co-op. It was a major customer of the Wharf Street Café and collaborated with Leeds Beer Co-operative (the Ale House).

Suma was in a leading position in the very fast-growing market for health food, and was conscious of immense growth opportunities. However the preferred method of expansion was based on the creation of independent co-operative businesses, rather than a more co-ordinated strategy. Suma therefore deliberately devolved several of its regional markets, such as Scotland and the Midlands, to other newly-founded co-operatives. The cluster of businesses grew more slowly than the market as a whole, and the movement steadily lost market share. Suma has partially redressed this by launching a brand.

References

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