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People power

Newcastle store and café Little Green turned to crowdfunding for its refill station and discovered a stronger community bond.

Sarah Cochrane and Gareth Zeal always intended their Little Green store to be plastic-free and boast the mother of all refill stations.

But at around £4,000 per metre, it seemed out of reach for this embryonic vegan café and health food shop.

Sarah’s brothers Stephen and Micky had launched a band called This Ground Moves using crowdfunding so appealing to their local community to help raise the cash was a logical step.

“When we first discussed our ideas and plans to open a plant-based café and health food shop, a huge part of it was to be as eco-friendly and kind to the planet as possible,” said Sarah.

The store opened just over a year ago but its modest refill station could barely meet the needs of their customers. So they launched their appeal on Crowdfunder this summer offering an array of rewards for donations from £5 to £100 and hit their £4,000 target at the end of August.

Meeting demand

“The existing station proved popular with our customers as there isn’t anything like this in our immediate area, but there is so much more we would like to do,” added Sarah. “We are now going to build a bigger structure providing more options so more customers can visit and help themselves, thus cutting out packaging.”

Apart from a small market stall in Newcastle, there’s nothing like the existing refill station at Little Green which is located in Sandyford, a mile outside the city centre.

“We always wanted to be the centre of our community for plastic-free vegan and health food,” said Gareth, whose considerable nutritionist expertise is in huge demand locally. “It’s easy being vegan but bloody difficult giving up plastic as many suppliers are struggling to find effective alternatives.

“A refill station is a great start. Obviously, we’ll be supplying staples like rice, oats, muesli and lentils, plus household and toiletries, but also lots of interesting things like chocolate-coated ginger, cashews and tamari almonds, and more besides.”

Spreading the word

The station will also supply the café’s kitchens which is proving a big social hit in the community and an opportunity to find out what people want from their health store.

In fact, the Little Green team has also been out and about knocking on doors to let people know what’s coming and also to discover what foodstuffs they would like in the drive to go plastic-free.

“The customers have rallied round and the people we have spoken to are very enthusiastic, to say the least,” he added.

“All of this is part of our commitment to providing tasty, healthy food, great nutritional advice and a lasting commitment to be kind to our planet.”

The café offers far more than imaginative vegan dishes, with holistic treatments, music nights, art classes, children's crafts and a play area on the menu. Even the family dog Gracie has a starring role as the café is dog-friendly.

Alongside comfort food dishes such as mac and cheese and baked lentil and turmeric bowls, the café serves specials such as maple and harissa aubergines and meals with Cuban, Thai and Indian influences in an inclusive, friendly atmosphere. The drinks menu ranges from coffee and protein drinks to craft ales and cocktails.

Pleasing the crowd

A range of rewards from nutritional consultations to private gigs and private dining enabled Little Green to reach its target for the refill station.

For a fiver or more, donors are entered into a raffle for a series of prints by artist and Little Green head chef Zoe Newman; various raffles for cakes (value £40 each); and a private gig with singer-songwriter Stephen Cochrane.

For a tenner or more, Molly’s environmentally-friendly reusable cotton rounds while £15 or more could mean a year’s supply of Quest Probiotics and Gareth’s advice on how best to use them.

£20 or more would buy Sunday lunch, dessert and a smoothie for two, either at Little Green or delivered for free; a special pizza meal deal (worth £40); vocal coaching with actor Micky Cochrane; or become a Friend of Little Green and be immortalised with your name displayed and an array of special offers.

£25 or more – a nutritional consultation worth £50; food intolerance testing worth £60; or a Dokidoki hamper.

£35 or more buys Sunday lunch for four; a tattoo from Cack Handed Kid worth £90; or afternoon tea for four.

£70 or more – private dining experience for two; bespoke drum lessons with Lee Clifford.

£80 or more – a family nutritional consultation worth £160.

£100 or more – a nutrition workshop for a local business including educational talks, one-to-one consultations and food intolerance tests.

Is crowdfunding right for you?

There are several types of crowdfunding, including:

  • Investment-based crowdfunding. You invite people to invest in your business and receive a stake in return (normally shares).
  • Loan-based crowdfunding. People lend money in return for a set interest rate. It’s also called peer-to-peer or peer-to-business lending (P2P or P2B).
  • Reward-based crowdfunding. People donate in return for a reward linked to the project or cause you’re supporting.

Neither donation nor reward-based crowdfunding are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but loan and investment-based crowdfunding are.

Before you start your campaign, know with certainty how you will ask for money and why you need it. Little Green’s plastic-free mission is ideal and topical.

Businesses crowdfund for all sorts of reasons, such as new business ventures, projects or causes they care about. People want to feel that they are a part of something important and they want to know that their money will play a significant role in accomplishing that goal.

To justify and support your goals, you’ll need to be clear about what the money will do. Write out an estimated budget for your campaign, based on any quotes you’ve received from manufacturers, insurers, lawyers, suppliers and distributors.

Images can make or break a campaign. If you are crowdfunding for a commercial project, consider getting a professional videographer who is willing to work pro bono, or make a video yourself. Focus on telling a compelling story and keep it under three minutes in length.

Rewarding contributors with prizes can be an effective motivating tool, and health food retailers have access to many a source for products and enticing rewards via suppliers and local artisans.

Be sure to factor shipping into the cost of the rewards. Your cost will include the price of the goods plus shipping and a crowdfunding premium (yes, crowdfunding platforms will want a cut!).

More than two-thirds of campaigns don’t deliver on time. Select a date that gives you plenty of time to meet your commitments. New projects often take longer than anticipated.


Have you joined the crowd?

Better Retailing Magazine would like to hear from health food retailers who have used crowdfunding to develop their business and offer improved customer relations. Tell us your story by emailing the editor, [email protected], putting “Health Store Crowdfunding” in the subject box.

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