We Take a Closer Look at Harvest: The Whole Foods Store

It's weathered recessions, food fads and the ever-threatening growth of supermarket conglomerates, but Harvest in Bath is still standing 40 years after it first began. A 100% vegetarian whole foods store, it's far from mainstream - but what are the secrets behind its success? We take a look...

What's their secret?

"Since 1971 there have been some real challenges, such as the rise of the supermarkets as well as difficult economic climates," explains Harvest's Bryony Rees. "But we've pulled through and continue to do so. I think this is partly because people rely on us for foods they simply cannot buy elsewhere in Bath."

Bryony's referring to the unbelievable cornucopia of vegetarian wholefoods that are available in the shop. From freshly baked bread to Fairtrade coffee, via alfalfa sprouts to purple corn flour and raw chocolate, there's also an abundance of specialist foods suitable for those who adhere to Vegan or gluten-free diets. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, this is the place for you.

But it's not only Harvest's specialist produce that sets it apart from its mainstream counterparts. The store belongs to the Essential Trading Co-operative, a leading European organic and Fairtrade product wholesaler that manufactures and distributes sustainable wholefoods, household products and animal-friendly body care items across Europe. The shop is effectively managed by its workers - giving everyone an equal say in all major decisions. It's a working environment that Bryony understandably describes as "wonderful and empowering."

An ethical supermarket

All Co-operative members share core ethical beliefs, including an opposition to animal exploitation and a concern for the environment. They are also committed to human rights as a trading issue, striving to protect food growers and producers who lose out when competing against huge corporations. This ‘unfair' trading can mean that a lot of money ends up in the hands of very few, and the consequences can be huge for those who lose out along the way.

"We do everything we can to stand up against the industrialisation of eating," says Bryony. "We try to source from local farms where possible, as well as other co-operatives and Fairtrade organisations. We've stayed true to our principles and really do place them at the heart of our business."

Does this mean Harvest's prices are sky-high? Not so. Whilst the co-operative stores obviously cannot cut prices as drastically as the supermarkets, Bryony explains that any mark-ups truly represent the price paid for the product. "They are always consistent and honest, and I think potential customers will be pleasantly surprised by how competitive they are," she adds.

Organic Products, that aren't just food

What's also surprising is the sheer scope of products available in store. It's not only foodstuffs; also available is organic body-care, eco-friendly cleaning products and other nifty household items like compostable rubbish bags, bio-degradable kitchen sponges and natural hair dyes. You can cram your haul into a reasonably priced re-usable bag, or come prepared with your own bags and containers. If you're keen to help cut down on packaging, you can even bring your own jars or Tupperware boxes to fill with items like nuts, muesli and grains.

"I often hear customers say they have come in for one specific item and somehow leave with ten!" says Bryony. "We do see buggies being stacked high and handbags overflowing with basmati rice and bananas. Being around so much delicious fresh and organic food is inspiring, and we're glad our customers seem to think so too!"

That's got to be the true secret of the their success; the way Harvest have manage to combine strong ethical beliefs with the convenience of a supermarket to create a rare shop that inspires customers and helps them make intelligent consumer choices...

We'll see you there!

Harvest is one of the stop-offs we visit on Cookery Coach's Flavours of Bath tour. If you're passionate about trying new foods and supporting local businesses, click here for more details.