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Food Group Case Study – East Fellside Food Group

A brief history of East Fellside Food Group

Written by Sarah Cook

Remembering the good ol days

My first contact with a Suma Food Group was back in Leeds in 1984. I was a new mum and had joined the National Childbirth Trust post-natal group. I met an amazing woman who not only had four children and held some of the meetings in her house but who also organised a Suma Food Group. My recollection is that the catalogue was several black and white xeroxed pages, mostly sacks of bulk food, and those of us who ordered spent a busy morning jiggling babies on our hips while we weighed out oats and sultanas into bags and boxes to load underneath the buggy and wheel home.

Moving on, and starting a new food group

After a series of house moves, and several more babies, I found myself in rural Cumbria, an NCT antenatal teacher with four children myself (she really did inspire me!) and wanting to access good food in bulk quantities at a budget price. I met Suma again through the home education group that I had joined and for a year or so ordered with that group, but it was a 40 mile drive away and we didn’t always make the trip to coincide with an order week so supplies were a bit erratic!

In 1996 I contacted Suma about the possibility of setting up a Food Group in the small village where I live on the Pennine fellside, and in Sept 1996 we placed our fist order. The catalogue had grown to a magazine size format, but I could do the order by leafing through every page and marking who wanted to order what. Everyone gave me a list of what they wanted and enough cash to cover the cost, and I compiled the order and phoned it to Suma. Seven of us, all with growing families, put together an order about every 6 weeks, mainly bulk basic items such as oats, pasta, bread flour, peanut butter, honey, dried fruit, toilet rolls, soya milk and lentils, with the occasional treat such as spicy noodles or chocolate raisins when funds allowed. The delivery was made to my house and everyone came round for cups of tea while the children played and we sorted food. Many goods now came in smaller quantities so there was less weighing to do than back in 1984, but working out and counting the money provided a good maths activity for my home educated children.

The group grew and in a couple of years doubled in size. Receiving the delivery and sorting the order was becoming a whole day activity and so instead of the ad hoc order arrangement we had, I needed to plan ahead now so that I knew when we would order and could keep the delivery day free. Each year I decide on order dates in January – we still place an order about every 6 weeks – so that everyone in the group can note them in their diary.

All that home education paid off!

By about 2000 the Suma catalogue was growing and was becoming too big to leaf through to compile our order, but an electronic version became available from Suma, so my son wrote me a computer programme which I could use to compile the group order from each individual order, and which did all the sums for me as well. The group had grown further to have 20 members (though thankfully not everyone ordered every time!) and our order values were generally about £800 -£1000 so the programme was a great help.

It has been interesting to observe different group members’ ordering habits. Some folk use the Food Group to order bulk basic items on a regular basis, while others use it to order ‘luxury’ items on a more irregular basis. Together we always manage to reach the £250 for free delivery, and the Suma truck brings the goods right to the door.

Some things never change. Quality food, wholesale prices, and Suma drivers!

In 2011 the East Fellside Suma Food Group has 15 members, four of us still from the original seven! We still order about every 6 weeks, but now everyone generally emails me their order and I place the orders on-line (though I have to say the Suma system is not as simple and as efficient as the programme my son wrote all those years ago!). The small children have mostly left home now, so we tend to use the pre-pack and smaller 3Kg sizes more, and maybe have a few more treats. The truck is still driven by John, but I don’t have the workforce of small children to help with unloading and checking, and sometimes John even has to do it on his own! An advantage of the on-line ordering is that each group member now gets an individual invoice, which makes the maths part much simpler at this end. And now I can pay by cheque for the delivery, and group members often make electronic transfers to pay me so I rarely have much money to count these days. Most members go out to work now so collection is not the social event it used to be. Now we can order alcohol and frozen food, but oats and lentils, dried fruit and toilet rolls are still popular items. The organic ranges have increased, as has the choice of chocolates, but our Suma Food Group’s main role – to provide us with good quality, wholesale price, bulk food – is the same as ever. Long live Suma Food Groups!

Editors note – Many Thanks Sarah for writing such an interesting write up. It’s lovely that we have been able to supply you, your family, and friends for such a long time. We wonder what genius activities your son is up to nowadays!

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