Any food co-op needs to comply with trading standards legislation. There are legal requirements when selling goods that have to be weighed and/or measured.
You will also need accurate weighing scales if you are going to weigh food. These must either be crown stamped or bear some other approved mark to be legal for trade use - check this when you buy them.
All produce that you sell by weight must be sold in metric quantities - grammes and kilogrammes (Kg) and any unit prices must be the price per Kg. If you also want to put to put the price per pound (lb) as well you can - as older people often prefer to know this - but on any signs the price per pound should not be bigger or more prominent than the price per Kg. Selling things only by the pound is illegal. Even large supermarket chains sometimes break these rules - as selling things by the pound make things seem cheaper than they are, because customers are used to seeing the price per Kg.
All prices must be clearly indicated, for example by having price labels on all your boxes of produce or by having a blackboard with the prices. All food must also have its name (for example, 'Tomatoes') clearly shown on label, attached to the food or on a notice close to the food. The name used for melons and potatoes must include their variety (for example, 'Maris Piper potatoes' or 'Galia melons').
When selling food by weight you need to make sure customers know how much they are buying. This can be done by:
- weighing the goods in front of the customer
- by marking the weight on the packet
- giving the customer the weight in writing.
- stating the weight on a display notice.
If you are weighing goods in front of customers you need to postion your scales so they can see the weight clearly.
There are rules of what fruit and vegetables you can sell by weight, per item or by the bunch. See our guidelines on selling fruit and vegetables for more details.
There is also specific weights and measures guidance on Bag and Box Schemes. This covers all selling methods (such as food co-ops) where the seller is selecting a variety of items of fresh fruits or vegetables and placing them in a container for sale. Weights and Measures law generally requires the weight of pre-packed foods to be made known to customers. However, for packs of fresh fruits and vegetables, you may sell 'by the box' if one or more of the following conditions apply:
- The box contains more than 5 kg of produce, or
- The box contains three or more different types of fresh fruits and vegetables
All the rules relating to the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables still apply.
If you need more advice it is best to contact you local trading standards officer who will be based at your local council.
Taking care with your marketing
You might want to promote the special qualities of the produce in your food co-op. For example, you might write the country of origin on the price label or include a description of the farm or growing method in your food co-op newsletter.
You might highlight that the produce is seasonal, or promote the fact that you sell items that are Fairtrade certified. Such claims are of course permissible under trading standards law.
The main guideline when using such descriptions is that they should be true, and you should not use them to mislead your customers as to the true nature of the product.
For example the description 'organic' can only be used to describe food that is produced and prepared in accordance with the detailed standards laid down and must be inspected and certified by an authorised body.
It is great to sell the benefits of your produce and scheme, but at the same time it is important that you do not exaggerate the benefits. The guiding principle is that you should be honest and trustworthy, and have evidence to back up your claims. If in any doubt, have a chat with your local trading standards officer.