The True Food Co-op is a not-for-profit community shop which sells local, ethical, wholesome and organic food, toiletries and household goods.
It began in 1999 when a small group of like-minded people wanted to buy organic and sustainable food in Reading. It's now a busy shop that provides a relaxed and personal shopping experience.
True Food is a cooperative, owned and run by its members. Many customers become members and volunteer their time to help run the shop and business.
True Food began in 1999 as the True Food Club, a small group of people who came together to discuss how best they could source affordable organic food. The impetus for this was the closure of Reading's wholefood shops during a period of major redevelopment of the town centre. The members of the Club pooled their resources to buy organic foods in bulk.
The Club grew, and within two years was buying a wider range of goods and starting to operate more as a market rather than a buying club. The Club moved to the Rising Sun Arts Centre and members and supporters invested their own resources to acquire a wider range of supplies and new equipment.
In 2004 successful pilot markets were held at community venues across Reading. This came about with the hard work of Club members, support from Reading Community Enterprise Agency, Berkshire Community Foundation, Reading Primary Care Trust and Reading Voluntary Action, and grants from the Community Social Fund.
By now True Food had established itself as a provider of affordable access to organic food and eco-friendly household goods to the communities of Reading. On 15th December 2004 True Food was formally registered as The True Food Community Cooperative Limited.
Between 2004 and 2009 True Food operated mobile markets around the Reading area from a small warehouse base in south Reading. Different venues and timings were tried and improvements made in logistics and infrastructure to make the markets easier to run. New warehousing facilities were needed by 2009 and premises were found in Emmer Green, north Reading, which could serve as warehouse, office and shop space. True Food was awarded a Big Lottery "Local Food" grant of £100,000. This was awarded over the years 2009-2013 and paid for the cost of refurbishing the shop premises, buying a van, rebranding, a Local Food Coordinator post, and an extensive survey of shoppers and the community. True Food was awarded an additional grant from the Big Lottery towards the cost of bakery equipment and a Baker post, in 2013. Further investment during 2013 came from members in the form of 'Loanstock'.
During this period efforts were focused on developing sources of local food, building the shop's customer base, further improving premises and making the mobile markets financially viable. Sales and takings grew steadily during this period. Despite this, by mid-2013 it was clear that True Food could not continue without grant funding unless steps were taken to further increase takings and cut costs.
A Business Manager was recruited as a temporary role to support staff in making these changes to safeguard True Food's future. By early 2014 there had been significant improvements in the running of the business. However, discussions were held and the difficult decision taken to reduce the markets to just one, and to focus resources and energy on making this market and the shop financially successful. During this very difficult period of change it became impossible to run even one market and for this and other reasons the decision was taken to temporarily stop running mobile markets.
2014 was spent consolidating and strengthening the core of the business and by the end of the year True Food made a surplus without grant funding. Each month of 2015 has seen further surplus, or 'profit' achieved. The business is now financially healthy and secure. Costs are well managed, and takings continue to rise. True Food has shown that it is possible to run a successful and viable business based on strong ethics and principles.