Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

8 March 2016
Last week I shared the story of a rural bulk co-op in Seymour, how it works and other insights into setting one up in a rural area. Today, I am sharing another rural bulk co-op, based in Warrnambool, a seaside town, three hours from Melbourne.

To read about what a bulk co-op is and also about Seymour's operation, click here.

A bulk co-op is different to a bulk food store. A bulk co-op is community run and not for profit. It is run by members, for members.

It is also an accessible alternative for rural communities to get their food in bulk and reduce packaging. If you are from a rural or regional area, are interested in reducing waste and don’t have a bulk food store near you, this post is for you.

The Warrnambool Unpackaged Food Co-op first began in 1994, over 20 years ago and continues strongly today, with 45 households taking part. It operates out of a room, donated by the Uniting Church.

They sell, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, pasta, flours of different sorts, baking products, cleaning products, shampoo, conditioner, soaps, oils and much much more.

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

Originally it was set up by the Uniting Church, so that food and other goods could be purchased collectively and without the unnecessary packaging.

Today, it's original aim still holds.

Below are the rules that were in place at the start, and remain today:
  • Food must be able to be purchased in bulk to avoid as much packaging as possible 
  • Food is purchased directly from the wholesalers to cut down on costs 
  • Members share the labour in ordering, purchasing, collecting and distributing foods 
  • Where possible foods produced in Australia are purchased 
  • When certain foods are not available from Australia, an attempt is made to purchase the products from as just a source as possible 
  • Where possible, foods or organic origin are included 
  • Where foods are available in the required quality and quantity they are purchase from local businesses 

Membership is required, with an annual fee of $12 for families and $6 for singles. These fees go towards bins, scoops, scales, printers, ink and will help cover the cost of excess stock. All goods are sold with a 10% markup to cover freight, postage, stationary, photocopying and stock losses among other things.

Members are also required to completed work on three to four monthly food pick ups throughout the year. This is conducted on a roster system, with three shifts for each pickup. Roles include setting up, helping people pickup their food and packing up.

There is a committee of up to five people, each with their own roles. These include coordinator, communications, orderer, treasurer, and stock taker. These roles are held for one year

“Unpackaged seeks to provide a low cost, environmentally friendly alternative to the mainstream supermarkets”

Pickup is on the first Friday of each month (except January) from 1.30-2.30pm and 4-7pm. They have a facebook page for those who are interested or you can turn up with a some of your own containers and let the staff know you are new.

Just like a regular bricks and mortar bulk food store, members bring their own jars, plastic containers, cloth bags (any container you want).

Staff rostered on will weigh the containers, fill with food and then weigh again, subtracting the original weight of the container (this system is called tare weight). Payment is made on the day, by either cash, cheque or bank transfer.

Alternatively, members can drop off their clearly labeled containers and return later to collect their goods.

As you can see, there is no set way to run a bulk co-op. While the Warrnambool Unpackaged co-op has similarities to the Seymour run BEAM bulk co-op, there are differences that reflect the area and people.

I got to meet and chat with some of the women that run the Warrnambool bulk food co-op. Some had been with the co-op for over a decade, while others had been there for only a year. Each of the women spoke about their unified distaste for over packaged food. Being apart of a bulk co-op puts the power back into their own hands and wallets. They also spoke of the fun they have together, and friendships built through the co-op. One lady said that it was nice to be aligned with a group of people had the same views when it came to better food choices for herself, her family and her environment. They also spoke of the money they saved, too.

I asked if they ever felt like their required shifts were hard work or cumbersome, my answer came with laughter and a shake of the head. To them, it was a chance to meet up with friends.

While I could not get an answer on how the original group came together 22 years ago, I brainstormed some ways, people who want to start up their own bulk co-op, could meet like minded people in their own rural community.

  • Put a notice in the local paper 
  • Tack a notice up outside a popular community centre or notice board 
  • Talk with friends and family about your desire to start up a bulk co-op 
  • Write a letter to the editor of the local paper or 
  • Call up your paper, ask a local journalist to write a story about over packaged food, and what can be done in the community to combat it 

It does take a group of individuals to come together for a bulk co-op up to get up and running. But the benefits seem to go beyond just the reduction of packaging and waste. So while some rural areas might not get to see a bulk food store come to life where they live, there is every chance a bulk co-op can work, thrive and be part of the community for a very long time.

I'd love to know of other bulk co-ops that operate in rural locations around Victoria and parts of Australia. Let me know in the comments below. If you are interested in starting one in your area, I encourage you to get in touch with either the Warrnambool or Seymour groups, as I know they would be happy to share how to get one up and running. 

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