In October 2019 a participative grocery store opened its doors in my neighbourhood in the north of Bordeaux. I had the chance to speak to Hervé, one of the founders and the president of the association, to learn more about this exciting and inspiring project.
HT: Firstly, can you tell us what a participative grocery store is and what you are aiming for with this project?
LCELL: The idea was to open a small grocery store in which the people in our neighbourhood can learn how to consume in a different way. It’s participative because the shop is run by volunteers, which means that the consumer becomes a member of our association and thus participates actively in its business. Today, we have one employee and 180 volunteers of which 50% come and offer 90 minutes of their spare time every four weeks to work in the store.
HT: What exactly do you mean by “consuming differently”?
LCELL: La Carotte et le Lapin not only wants to help develop local organic food production, we also want to create more sustainability by developing direct sales from local farmers to consumers. We want to encourage people to buy in bulk as a socially responsible business. All generations and all social classes of this neighbourhood are welcome in our store and we want them to be able to do their shopping here, whether they have a big or small salary, a humble pension or are jobless.
HT: How does volunteering work? Anybody can come to the shop to work here?
LCELL: Yes, you can only buy something in the shop if you commit 90 minutes of your free time to work in the store every four weeks. We have one employee who supervises the store, who does the schedules and takes care of the deliveries, etc. The volunteers pay an annual fee of 10 euros to become a member of our association“Saveurs Quotidiennes”. They come and do all different sorts of things: cleaning, check out, stocking the shelves, picking up the produce at the farms. Everybody can participate in one way or another and offer their expertise. We have a person who takes care of the communication, another one who handles the administrative part of the business, someone takes care of the finances, everyone is part of the store and has a say in what happens in the store. Someone suggested we create a vegan corner and this is a great idea. But the shop will never become entirely vegan because we are no extremists, we need to be accessible for everyone.
HT: How is it possible to offer organic products and produce at such affordable prices?
LCELL: Self-management allows us to practice low margins (20%) and this leads to reasonable prices for our products. We also offer a cheaper product range, non-organic, in order to make people with a smaller wallet come to our shop. Those products are not organic but it is necessary to offer them since not every person with a low income will instinctively buy organic flax seeds or organic beans. Once they come to the shop they can discover sustainable products and eventually learn that you can consume less but at a higher quality.
We also receive subventions from the city of Bordeaux, the province of Gironde, the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and Europe, as well as from our many partners. Our goal is to stick with the 20% margin. If we encounter a problem with this margin, we will not increase the price but we will rather see whether we can renegotiate with our suppliers.
HT: What do you sell and who supplies the products?
LCELL: La Carotte et le Lapin offers food and non-food products but we are a non-profit organization. We prefer short supply chains and work a lot with local farmers in the Bordeaux and Médoc area. Some of our volunteers pick up the produce once or twice a week to make sure that everything is really fresh.
Lea Nature is a good example of a local partner and supplier. We wanted to partner with them because we share the same values when it comes to consuming differently and producing locally. All of their products are organic and their factory is based in the region. They were willing to take part in our journey and accepted our maximum margin of 20%. This way we can sell their products at pretty much the same price as in the big supermarkets.
We also sell a lot in bulk. We have approximately 50 containers in which we offer a wide range of products, sweet and salty foods, coffee, cleaning detergents and cosmetics. We want to encourage and enable our customers to choose a manner of consumption and production without waste.
We know our suppliers very well and know how they work. This is very important for us. The tofu producer, for example, comes from a city nearby and we have a Dutch cheesemaker who regularly comes to the shop to deliver his delicious Gouda.
HT: How did you come up with the idea to open up a participative grocery store?
LCELL: I came back from a journey and became a member of SuperCoop. It was the first cooperative supermarket in the Bordeaux area based on the idea of the Park Slope Food Coop in New York City and La Louve in Paris. At SuperCoop we were accused of attracting only hipsters and I didn’t like this idea. So I started the association in Bacalan, a neighbourhood I have known for many years. People of all different social classes live here. Today, two types of customers come to the store, younger people who live in the area and who like the concept and people from the social housing across the street.
HT: What are your goals for the future?
LCELL: The Covid-19 crisis hit us pretty hard because our concept is based on conviviality. The summer is going to be difficult. We need more members to keep the shop running so we hope that people spread the word and participate in the project. Besides that, we want to expand our range of products and come up with new collaborations and ideas. The television channel France 3 just contacted us to make a story about nutrition, citizens, health and cooking, which will be broadcasted this fall. This is great advertising for us!
Find out more about La Carotte et le Lapin on Facebook:
and visit their website: https://lacarotteetlelapin.fr/
MARA // Bordeaux