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Being part of building a better food community

Gene Joyner

Gene Joyner, Managing Director at Better Food introduces “Bee Better” a new loyalty scheme that rewards shoppers for refilling their own reusable containers. Gene explains how the scheme works and his personal motivations for reducing packaging waste and localising supply chains.

I’ve spent my career to date working in the food industry, from Bart Spices here in Bristol, to the Cornish Sea Salt Co. As I learnt more about how traditional food supply chains and the big retailers operate, the realisation hit me that sometimes there are different ways to operate to achieve a better experience for customers and a more sustainable outcome.

There are some benefits for the customer in the way that the multiple grocers operate – the scale can reduce cost and allow a wider group of people access to a wider variety of food. These long supply chains also add complexity, with steps that put a gulf between the consumer and producers. It is incredibly difficult for small food producers to get access to market today.

I’ve lived in and around Bristol for my entire life, and so knew about Phil Haughton and Better Food. I was always interested in way they approached local supply chains. When the opportunity to get involved came up, I jumped at the chance. The best thing about working for Better Food is that I know that what we’re all working towards is helping our local community and genuinely making a small, positive difference in the world. If only because of this, it’s a great feeling to get up and go to work!

When I began at Better Food, over two years ago, we were already doing a lot on sustainability – for example, our supply chains have always been as short as possible and we never air-freight any products that we sell. However, it was clear that there was appetite to do even more to continue the impressive reduction in packaging and waste that our customers had achieved.

The team decided it was time to invest in equipment to hold and dispense a wide range of packaging-free food – this packaging-free section is now available at each of our stores. Our customers can now use their own containers for dried food staples, loose tea and coffee, household and bodycare refills and takeaway food, in addition to the loose eggs, fruit and veg that we’ve always sold. Even when the pandemic hit, we were one of the first cafés to offer a contactless system for reusable coffee cups.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Last year, we started offering milk refills in all of our stores, and while this has been very well received, we have found that due to the shortened shelf life of this milk wastage is a problem, and therefore something that we need to address to make this truly sustainable. We’re looking into solutions that don’t create any additional milk waste, but that continue to cut out the need for single-use milk cartons – as well as being COVID-safe.

This journey brings us to Bee Better – a new type of reward scheme we’re piloting – and why now was the time to launch something that breaks the mould in grocery retail.

At Better Food we have always felt that it’s our responsibility to look at business challenges in a different light – to think differently about how sustainable shopping might work. Towards the end of lockdown, we discussed how we can say thank you to our customers, who have been so loyal to us over a difficult period. But it felt wrong, in so many ways, to just go with a standard ‘loyalty’ scheme. If we are to achieve a more sustainable future for food, encouraging additional consumption won’t be the way forward.

So, we decided to reward our brilliant customers for shopping in a more conscious, more sustainable way. Hopefully, this will mean they enjoy shopping with us that little bit more, and the business will benefit too. But really, we want our customers and consumers in general, to find a way of shopping that benefits the community and addresses climate change and waste. Hopefully that will be with Better Food, but if it’s also with some of the wonderful independents around Bristol that offer a different way of shopping – that’s great too!

How does Bee Better work?

Simple. Earn a stamp every time you refill in your own reusable container. Fill the card and we’ll treat you to a free coffee, for treating our planet kindly.

  • For each reusable you bring to refill in store, collect a stamp. For example, come in and refill oats, bring your own egg box, refill washing up liquid and buy a takeaway coffee in your reusable cup and you’ll earn four stamps.
  • Fill the card with 12 stamps and we’ll treat you to a free coffee (or other hot drink)

What qualifies for a stamp?

Refill in your own reusable container from the qualifying range below to earn a stamp:

Packaging-free refill wall, packaging-free frozen items, loose teas and spices, eggs, household refills, health & bodycare refills, takeaway deli meals, BYO cup takeaway drinks.

How do customers sign up?

1.         Download the Magic Stamp app to your phone
2.         Search for Better Food and add the Bee Better stamp card
3.         Show the card when paying for any refills in store
4.         Collect a stamp for each refill and you’re on your way to a free organic coffee

You can download the Better Food ‘Bee Better’ card via Magic Stamp, available on Apple and Android app stores.

Although the bid to make Bristol a Gold Sustainable Food City is being refocussed as the city responds to the pandemic, the need for a resilient food community has never been greater. Many of the actions we set out asking Bristol’s citizens to take as individuals (including ditching unnecessary packaging) are as relevant as ever, and you can still log them on the Bristol Going for Gold website.

Take part in #BristolFoodKind – follow the hashtag to get practical ideas on how to shop, reduce food waste and grow food at home in a way that is considerate to yourself and the wider community. Post your own your ideas and tips using #BristolFoodKind to inspire others.

Visit Bristol Food Network for more information and resources on Bristol’s good food response to the pandemic.