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December 13, 2022

Ecosystem should reflect on failings

Scotland lays claim to a ‘world class’ ecosystem of support for social enterprise. And the multi-award winning Locavore, committed to building a more sustainable food system, would have to be considered one of the sector’s long term success stories. Beginning with a tiny shop in Shawlands, Locavore’s subsequent expansion has been impressive and no doubt supported along the way by that same ‘world class’ ecosystem. Except they now believe that a key element of that ecosystem is the root cause of their current problems. In the meantime, Locavore has published a recovery plan in which we can all participate.


Locavore is a social enterprise which exists to build a sustainable food system which is better for people and planet. Over the last 11 years we’ve grown from a tiny Shawlands shop into an organisation that’s at the forefront of laying down the foundations for the type of food system we need in the future. A food system that meets the needs of the climate and biodiversity emergencies while creating a fairer, more redistributive local economy.  

We’ve built a market for good food that’s given new food businesses the confidence to start up and others the ability to scale up and grow. We’ve helped farmers convert to organic, nudged producers who’d never considered organic to take the plunge, and created a blueprint for other aspiring shops and farmers to follow.

All this local sourcing, focus and care means our economic impact is pretty impressive too. In our investigation (Locavore and the Leaky Bucket) we found that when £1 is spent in our Govanhill shop it was worth £1.92 to Glasgow, £2.36 to Scotland and £2.87 to Scottish and progressive producers. This is because that money stays local or with ‘good’ businesses. For comparison £1 spent in a normal supermarket is generously expected to be worth £1.24 to the local area. 

We currently have four shops across central Scotland, 4 organic market gardens and a central hub where we pack our veg boxes and deliver wholesale orders to other retailers around the country. On top of that we have a kitchen supplying our cafes and shops, and run projects like our community plots at Bellahouston, and the Good Food Fund which gets good food to those in most need.

Unfortunately this is all now under critical threat as we face the most difficult period in our 11 year history.

We really need your help.

What went wrong:

Since launching our Bigger Plan in early 2021 we’ve gone through a period of rapid growth and expansion. We opened new shops in Garnethill, Kirkintilloch and Edinburgh, bought Narrowboat Market Garden near Linlithgow and took on and fitted out a warehouse from which we run our wholesale business, and veg box deliveries.

Over this timeline we gained widespread recognition winning Scottish and then UK Social Enterprise of the Year in 2021 and in November 2022 we won the BBC Food & Farming Award for Best Shop and Market.

Unfortunately from early in 2022 the cost of living crisis started brewing and this combined with other factors meant we knew that we had a serious cash flow problem developing. Our new shops opened less busy than we had anticipated and at the same time our other shops were a bit quieter than they had been previously, and veg box numbers were reducing.

Much of our expansion was financed by lending from Social Investment Scotland (SIS), a social lender that distributes loans from government funds. We made them aware of the situation and the need for further investment to bridge the gap till we would make new locations profitable and make other changes in the business. We were encouraged to apply to the Recovery & Resilience Loan Fund, we matched the fund purpose well and put in an expression of interest for the deadline which unfortunately wasn’t till the end of June. We were told a decision could be made fast and all going well we could have money in our account as early as the end of July.

It didn’t work this way. A catalogue of delays from SIS meant we did not get a solid answer till late October. They said they would give us no support, we appealed this, but they won’t budge.

If we had this decision in July we would have lots of options. Now however we have almost none. We believe Social Investment Scotland have failed to manage the process in a timely manner and we have become the collateral damage of this. We will be putting in a formal complaint to the Scottish Government… but for now we need to focus on securing our future by another route. It’s going to be very challenging.

Our Recovery Plan:

Our turnaround plan is not the plan we wanted to implement. Our original plan was one in which we buy the time to slowly grow our way into our new shops and communities, with the resources and funds to work towards success in the medium term so that we maximise our impact and long-term position.

The new plan is to do what it takes to survive without any immediate investment while keeping as much of Locavore intact as possible so we can minimise damage to our long-term ambitions. This is a plan focused on cutting costs fast and improving profitability to quickly bring the business to a position where it ends each month in a slightly better position than it started. 

Here’s our immediate actions:

  • We closed Locavore Garnethill – We struggled to make this branch work since it opened and sales were no longer growing. Closing it now frees up stock that can be sold in other branches, and allows the manager Tatenda to return to our Govanhill Branch as the new manager. We wish we had more time to spend making this shop work, but we didn’t.
  • We have reviewed and are changing opening hours at our branches so we only open at the times it’s profitable to. Look out for changes soon.
  • Alongside changes in opening hours we need to reduce staff hours in all shops. In some branches this will have limited impact on the team as it’ll be achieved through not replacing hours that have become available; but in others there will almost certainly be redundancies. We don’t want to do this but it needs to be done, we are sorry.
  • We raise £50k through crowdfunding. This will give us the breathing space we need to move from making a loss to making a small profit again. With this time we take forward other actions we have identified to increase profitability including improving our margins, reducing waste and bringing in new income from renting out little bits of offices and sheds we have dotted around. Fancy a potting shed, art studio or office for your sustainable business or project? Get in touch
  • Once we are breaking even we take on new investment through loanstock or private investors and use this money to catch up with overdue invoices to many of our dear suppliers. You can register interest in investing here.

This plan isn’t bursting with butterflies and rainbows. It’s not exciting, it’s not fun, and it’s going to be difficult – but it’s now our best shot at securing a future for Locavore and everything that we exist to achieve.

The direction of sales right now does set us up well. Customer numbers at Edinburgh and Kirkintilloch have grown by 8% since spring and September and October were our the busiest months to date at these locations. Our Govanhill and Partick shops have been recovering too, with October being the best month for them both in quite some time. Our veg box numbers have been growing fast too, they have increased by 25% since the summer. These sorts of improvements are what we need to continue to achieve in the coming months, alongside making cost savings. 

These coming months are going to be the most difficult days of Locavore but we’re confident we can pull it off. Our founder Reuben started Locavore with just £3,500 and our team have achieved great things on a shoestring budget again and again. We always operate against the grain of what makes business easy; and we usually pull it off. We’re pretty sure we can do this, but we do need your help .

Please help us do everything we can to Save Locavore. Pledge to our crowdfunder and make some of the other actions below if you can as well. Then let your friends and family know!

How else you can help:

  • Use our shops in Govanhill, Partick, Kirkintilloch & Dalry in Edinburgh.
  • Sign up for a veg box, and invite your friends to do the same. We deliver all over central Scotland and down into Ayrshire.
  • Get in a Christmas order with us for everything from trees and turkeys to seitan roasts and hampers.
  • Find out about investing in us.
  • Share our crowdfunder and sign up to raise funds on our behalf.
  • If you buy for a business then find out about our wholesale service