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Joe Holtz. At the Park Slope Food Coop you pay for your shopping by working

Economy / -

In the 1970s, in Brooklyn, New York, a hippie cooperative was created to run a supermarket based on its members contributing through volunteer work. It currently has 16,000 members, all highly active.

In 1973, the year the cooperative was founded, Brooklyn was a very different place from today: not at all the trendy area it is now, but an outer suburb inhabited by immigrant families, with few shopping facilities. So a handful of friends had the idea of opening a food store, inviting people to commit part of their time to working in the store. What looked like a typically pie-in-the-sky idea of a bunch of hippie freaks became a resounding success.
 
The Park Slope Food Coop is still a thriving institution, boasting 16,000 members and 11 cash desks, and the place is always busy. At any given moment, 75 percent of its workforce consists of volunteers: each member is asked to commit to three hours of work a month, not only at the cash desk but also to load and unload goods, to package products and fill the shelves.
 
Its one store covers about 1,000 square meters and is open only to members, who have to swipe their membership cards to enter. Thanks to the way it is organized, its prices are extremely economic, and the majority of its products are organically produced. Shopping is done using the cardboard boxes provided at the entrance or rucksacks and bags brought by the shoppers: plastic bags are banned, a decision taken by its members, who meet every 15 days to update themselves and deal with current matters.
 
On the floor above the store there is a playspace for children while their parents are shopping, an office and a large room with a kitchen for cooking classes and meetings. Joe Holtz, the general manager of Park Slope, on the occasion of Cooperation Day, was a speaker at ANCC Coop “We not me-Everyone’s Food” meeting.
 
What is the secret of your success?
People who enjoy working together, collaborating to construct something good. If you manage to keep a group of people together, planning various sessions during the year, a kind of group identity builds up, and usually the experience stays alive and repeats. If you trust people and entrust them with responsibility, they see the fruits of the work they’ve done, the fruits of their efforts which turn into good food at good prices. And they all feel that their work has counted in making the food cost less. They understand that they are part of the success. That it’s not somebody else’s success: it’s also their success… and this thought inside people’s heads gradually builds into a kind of culture.
 
What kind of message would you like to transmit with your presence here in Expo Milano 2015?
I’d like to say to the cooperatives that everything is possible if it’s built on cooperation. And that our role as cooperators includes continuing to attract new members, because they represent a fundamental part of the organization… they’re not B-class members, they’re not just consumers or customers, they’re something else entirely. And thirdly, that a cooperative should always be extremely transparent… as much as possible.
 
Is your model repeatable elsewhere?
Yes. There are similar shops in Montana, and three other smaller stores in Brooklyn, near ours. Then there’s a group… it’s not exactly our model, but there is a group in Copenhagen which took inspiration from our model… then there’s a store in Ireland, two in France, plus a third which opened there last January. But I’ve heard about others, in Poland, in Amsterdam, in Germany and in Israel. There may well be others that I know nothing about. But anyway, yes, it can be repeated. But it can’t be done only half way. It requires the effort to make sure that members must put in their own physical work… they must really play an active part.
 
Do your members all share a similar profile?
No, anything goes… young and old and everything in between! It’s interesting, because when we began we were all young. So it would have been reasonable to believe that 40 years later we’d all be old. But that’s not what has happened. Lots of young people keep joining, and that’s really positive.
 
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Cucina Mancina: a meeting point for 'left-handed cuisine'

Lifestyle / -

Tutti i 'mancini alimentari' della community di Cucina Mancina

A community of recipes, store locators, and soon, product tests for those who, by choice or necessity, have to exclude certain ingredients from their diet.

“Wrong”, “different” or “correctable” are all concepts that up until a few generations back were often associated with being left-handed and fuelled its inherent prejudices. Yet such prejudices are the inspiration behind Cucina Mancina (Left-handed Cuisine). The Puglia-based platform is dedicated to "left-handed eating”, serving all those who, by choice or necessity, have to eliminate certain ingredients from their diet (gluten, meat and fish, milk, eggs, fat, salt, sugar, etc.), and who often find themselves living a state of "exclusion ". It brings together a very particular set of consumers, of course, but it adds up to almost 50% of Italians. It is therefore a fascinating group for a start-up, as Flavia GIordano and Lorenza Dadduzio realized when they created the community www.cucinamancina.it.
 
Since April 2013 when it was launched, the platform has been able to aggregate 26,000 unique users per month and 6,500 followers on Facebook, with a market share of 30 percent loyal readers. What does Cucina Mancina offer? First, a series of recipes validated by the nutritionist Elvira Greco and that can be filtered according to your needs; and second, a store locator to find stores that suit individual dietary needs.

"To get started, we were able to rely on a  grant of €70,000 from the Chamber of Commerce in Bari - says Flavia D'Amico, co-founder of Cucina Mancina -. With this investment, we were able to build the platform, creating all its services and strengthen our corporate identity. Today we have a very strong brand, which has garnered understanding and recognition among our readers." So much so that the community has expanded considerably and now has 250 authors or food bloggers, with registered profiles who share their recipes on the site.

A roll of honor
The credibility achieved in a few years by this microenterprise is evidenced by numerous awards: indeed, Cucina Mancina was ranked third in the Global Social Venture Competiton established by ALTIS (Alta Scuola Impresa e Società) at the Università Cattolica di Milano together with Intesa Sanpaolo Bank in recognition of the most innovative social enterprises.

"The GSCV Award accredited us as a company with a social impact – said  Lorenza Dadduzio, co-founder of Cucina Mancina – and  it's a definition that does us credit, as with our idea we wanted to bring to light the problem of food inclusion. "Cucina Mancina was then rewarded by the patron of fresh pasta Giovanni Rana as the best start-up in Italy and the best food start-up by "la Repubblica delle idee" (the Republic of ideas), while "Vanity Fair" has crowned it the best cooking site.

"Last month, the Mind the Bridge association - concludes Dadduzio - funded us for a month's training in San Francisco to learn how to do business along the lines of Silicon Valley: it was both memorable and invaluable for the development of our idea."

Reaching break-even
The next step now is the actual market launch, namely the proposal of company brands and products aimed at different categories of 'left-handed' people. "Our community will be involved to test and validate these foods, and we want to tell the story - ensures Giordano - The priority is to offer quality content and services, we are not just an e-commerce site with a blog. For this reason we have not until now wanted to give space to sponsorships: we still had to strengthen our proposal."
 
That the contents are truly the strongest point of this start-up is evidenced by the fact that, in just a few months, two books have been penned by Cucina Mancina: "Eat Different", published by Gribaudo, which has sold 2,500 copies in three months and "La Puglia che mangia differente” (Eating Different in Puglia), published by Unioncamere Puglia, offering a 'left-handed' version of many traditional recipes of Puglia.
 

Marco Sachet. Waste problem? Put it all down to singles.

Innovation / -

Marco Sachet

The director of the Italian Packaging Institute, Marco Sachet looks at the environmental question of single serving packages and whether we should avoid them because of the large amounts of waste they produce. He contends that they are in fact an eco-friendly alternative that can significantly reduce family food waste.

Single serving packaging: When faced with the environmental idea of avoiding single serving packages because they produce large amounts of waste, you contend that they are, contrary to common belief, an attractive eco-friendly option that can significantly reduce family food waste. What do you mean by this?
If we look at packaging without giving thought to the product content, in this case food, the whole debate becomes a rather redundant, half-baked exercise; looking at the environmental question of packaging without considering its function doesn’t make much sense either. We need to understand that package actually does a job which is to ensure that foodstuffs don’t perish and get thrown away. Today we live in a society that in the past tended to interpret life in a very personal way. When I was a child, my mother shopped every day and cooked what she bought every day. We had to eat everything, or else. Today, however, in a family of four it is unlikely that we will always eat together or even share in the same dish, so we end up with everyone eating what they want. Portions have become those of singles. That is not my opinion, it is an observation. Servings have been reduced to meet the needs of the individual. Single serving packaging is nothing less than a response to this new way of living, and it also plays an important role: it prevents us from taking a serving that is not personalized; when this happens, a single person is unlikely to eat all the food in a package for four people, and it is likely that the other servings get thrown away. All highly perishable foods suffer greatly from this problem of waste and milk is a clear example. 
New Trends Single serving packaging aside, what are the latest trends in Italy and abroad in terms of innovative and sustainable packaging? 
We try to make packaging that fulfills its function, also using as little material and volume as possible, but ultimately it is habit that influences packaging. Who produces packaging has very little power. Companies produce packaging based on ensuring long shelf life. Today's consumer habits are getting worse, because interpreting life in a personal way, they want products in individual sizes. And so packaging increases. You can make packaging lighter, recyclable, but you can’t reduce its quantity. 
Packaging in the world Are there substantial differences between one country and another? 
In developed countries such as ours, solutions are alike because we have to solve similar problems: move large amounts of product that was available from local stores and at home, under conditions that are designed to maintain perfection. In all countries where this has happened, the packaging has been configured in the same way. Sure, there are countries where packaging has an even greater importance, for example, in Japan, where a single apple is packaged. There, an apple has extremely high value because it is often imported, so they prefer to pack it individually rather than lose it. Here we have so many apples that we don’t even think about it. When it relates to differences in packaging, the WorldStar Awards is a worldwide competition, that judges proposals of renewal, innovation and improvement in packaging all around the world. Packaging is not a product, it is a vehicle for its content. This is demonstrated by the fact that if we were willing as consumers to make less convenient choices, buying, for example, food that is imperfect, we could have simpler packing. We could even do away with packaging if were prepared to make our way to a dairy to buy fresh milk. But can we really imagine that a sustainable future will see us travel from one place to another to get hold of whatever food we want? 
Old habits Healthy habits? Our grandmothers shopped using bags made of fabric or paper. Why did that way of shopping get abandoned (and now come back into vogue in recent years)? What was missing for that environmentally-friendly habit to transform into a perfect transport system? 
We lack nothing and have houses full of bags. What has happened is that we became a bit thoughtless. For a long time we went to the grocery store without thinking about what we were doing and as bags were given to us free - at least that was the impression - we would go along without bringing a basket. Free bags would be given out, but when they started to make us pay, people started remembering to take a bag with them to the grocery store. What do they do now? They put a bag in a bag or in the trunk of the car and off they go. But what has the bag got to do with it? We are the ones who, of course, did not give importance to it and we stopped where we felt most comfortable. If shopping bags had continued to be handed out at the checkout, what do you think would have happened? I think that we would have continued taking the bags. 
Food on tap Among the latest environmental trends is the emergence of supermarkets that sell food on tap or lanes in the most popular supermarkets with individual departments dedicated to loose food. Do you think this new trend will create difficulties for the packaging industry? 
Absolutely not. I think it is a worthy proposal for those who appreciate it. But from an environmental point of view I believe that the system can only really work if consumers bring their containers from home. Because if I go to a vending machine for an empty bottle and fill it and then the next time do the same all over again, what in your opinion would I be doing? It’s no different from taking bottles off the shelf already filled with liquid. 
E-commerce In the age of e-commerce, how is food packaging changing?
Primary packaging of the product is not changing much. Transportation packaging may change because it has to be more robust. Bear in mind that the science and economy of countries like ours have realized that it is more manageable, cheaper and environmentally friendly to move goods in a rational way. We understand that it is much better to move goods than people.
Consumer errors. Let’s put aside for a moment your role of director. As a consumer which of our habits are, currently, most harmful to the environmental?
Not knowing what we need. If everyone buying food had a clear idea of what they would be eating at home, they would obviously buy only what was needed. But all that has been lost, in the sense that those who go to the grocery store today do not know when food will be consumed. Instead my mom knew how. She would buy it, cook it, feed us and that would be it. That is no longer the case. In addition, we have three storage areas in our homes. The fridge, the freezer and the pantry. In your opinion, is teh person shopping putting the food in one of these three stores, and using the simple principle that the first product to enter should be the first that comes out? There is a lack of awareness that is continuously added. I do not know when food will be consumed and, in addition, I create a store that I do not manage.
Profits How much is the packaging industry in Italy, in Europe and in the world?
Italy, with a turnover of around 29.3 billion euros, represents 5.4% of the world’s production, and is among the ten largest producers of packaging. According to the data of the Italian Institute of Packaging the consolidated figure of the world's packaging in 2013 is estimated at 540 billion euros, mainly in Asia with a 31% share that is on the increase, in North America with 26% and in Western Europe with a share of 23.5%. Here, the area of Eastern Europe (including Russia) has a 9% share, South Central America a total of 6%, Africa, 2.5% and growing, and Oceania 2% in progressive development.
A comparison of packaging Is environmentally-friendly packaging more expensive than traditional packaging? It depends what you want to achieve. Packaging has a variable cost depending on the function it needs to perform. Do I want a product that maintains its characteristics for a longer? I have to create a more powerful package that will cost more. Do I want avoid that a product gets thrown away? The bottle is a cost to me, but I throw away the milk that is the value to be protected.
Plastisphere In the Pacific Ocean there is a huge island of plastic. It is called Plastisfera and experts estimate that it weighs more than 21 thousand tons. In your opinion, what could be the solutions so that it doesn’t get bigger and bigger? Just biodegradable plastics?
Biodegradable plastics would not float, but it would be there all the same. If we measure a phenomenon only with our senses, we lose a great part of our know-how. What I do know is that if there is a plastisphere it is because people throw away plastic and many other things rather than put them back where they should, thinking that it's legitimate. If people are not conscientious or behave badly, paradoxically we assume that we will remove the plastic, but that just prolongs the bad behavior. Your questions are valid, but do not take into account this point: that we are the cause of this problem, not the material. Personally I do not think that biodegradation is the solution given that will allow us to continue throwing plastic into the environment without thinking of the consequences.
Awareness  So you think we require more education on making smart purchases?
Sustainability stems from human beings and their choices, but also from their sacrifices, because to be sustainable they must be willing to give up some comfort. You cannot think that sustainability can be resolved through objects. Of course, there may be a contribution, but the problem is another. As the old saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it.
 

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