Bag or box schemes
Bag and box schemes are now a very common way for community-run food co-ops to sell fresh produce. They both involve selling a selection of different fruit and vegetables in a container - the main difference is that boxes are often larger and have more varieties in them, so may cost a bit more.
In most bag or box schemes customers do not get a choice about what they get, and receive a different selection every week based on what fruit and vegetables are in season or the best value. Typically, a £5 bag may have 4 or 5 different varieties in it.
Bag or box schemes work on a pre-order, pre-pay system so customers have to place their orders in advance. For bag schemes this is usually done on a weekly basis paid for by cash, but for some box schemes you need to order for a whole month in advance and set up a regular standing order to pay a fixed sum regularly into the food co-op's bank account.
Even within bag and box schemes there are differences in the way they operate based on whether the produce is delivered unpacked or pre-packed.
In many bag schemes suppliers deliver loose fruit and vegetables that are packed by volunteers at a community venue. Rather than weighing out the produce, it is divided up equally between the number of bags, e.g. if there is a box with 60 apples and 15 bags to fill each bag gets 4 apples. This makes the role for volunteers much less complicated as they just need to count out the produce rather than weighing everything.
In other bag or box schemes the produce is delivered pre-packed. The boxes have already been filled either directly by the supplier (often a local farm) or by food co-op volunteers or staff at a central location. In this type of model the food co-op outlet is merely a drop-off point. The role of people at the venue may just be to take orders on behalf of the food co-op rather than actually pack bags or boxes. Some box schemes may also do home delivery rather that dropping off at community venues.
The main advantage of bag and box schemes is that because the food co-op receives all orders in advance, staff can work out exactly what to order and so have little or no waste. It also makes it a lot easier to handle money as usually the bags or boxes are priced at a nice round sum, such as £3 bags, so it makes doing your finances much less complicated and time-consuming and easy to keep accurate records. The other advantage is that for volunteers helping with the food co-op their role is also often much simpler, as they are mainly just involved with packing bags rather than weighing and pricing.
The main disadvantage is that your customers won't get a choice about what they get and will only get a limited number of different varieties of fruit and vegetables each week. For example, a bag may contain only 4 or 5 varieties; a box may contain 8 or 9. This is fine for some people and they often like the surprise of not knowing what they'll get each week. But for others who are less confident with cooking and may have more specific preferences, it may not suit them. With limited variety, it is also more difficult to include exotic fruit and vegetables, as the items in the bags and boxes need to appeal to everyone but some schemes do put more unusual items in larger boxes.
Case Study - Ystad Goffa Food Co-op
Ystad Goffa Food Co-op is run by three volunteer residents at a retirement housing scheme supported by Wales & West Housing Association and the Rural Regeneration Unit. The volunteers spend 2 to 3 hours each week sorting the produce, taking orders and collecting the money. They supply bags of fruit, salad, or vegetables for £2.50 or a half-bag for £1.25. Customers order and pay for next week's selection when they collect this week's. The supplier chooses the selection of seasonal fruit, vegetables and salad to offer the best value for money that week. For example: the vegetable bag will generally have potatoes, carrots and 3 or 4 other items. A 'swap' box is also available for co-op customers to exchange items with other residents. Anyone can use a co-op as there is no membership fee. Customers can order as little or as much as they like. All the money taken goes directly to the supplier with no profit being made by the co-op.