10, November 2022
INDIE SPOTLIGHT: UNICORN GROCERY, MANCHESTER
It’s Indie Spotlight time again, and today we’re putting Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton, Manchester, centre stage. This workers’ co-operative is something of a local legend, with its iconic jute shopping bags a familiar sight across the city. As well as fresh, organic fruit & veg and vegan groceries, they sell household products and toiletries, plus homemade salads, curries, stews and baked delights made on-site. Unicorn is about the size of a metro-style supermarket, but their products are sourced very differently to those you’d find in your local chain store. We interviewed the folks at Unicorn to find out more about the past, present and future of their wonderful shop.
Tell us about you – when did Unicorn open and what inspired you to set up shop?
Unicorn Grocery was established in 1996 by a small group of people committed to social change. Our founding owner-members had a vision for the kind of shop that they wanted to shop in themselves: wholesome, tasty, food, sourced with care and sold at affordable prices. They envisioned a shop owned and run by its workers, following a shared social and environmental agenda.
Our founders understood that the food we choose to eat not only affects our health but, in many ways, shapes our world. They wanted to create a shop where the food was low on packaging, high on nutrition and taste, and all plant-based. We were 20 years ahead of the curve!
What’s been the most surprising or unexpected thing about running your business?
That more shops like us have not followed suit. In fact, we’ve made a free Grow a Grocery Guide to help people set up a grocery store like ours. Download it here and start planning! The world needs more Unicorns, after all.
Talk us through your product range – how do you select which brands and products to stock?
We’re lucky to have fairly clear founding principles that underpin the reasoning behind our product range – people and planet are at the heart of how we trade. Our remit is affordable food that nourishes, with a big focus on ingredients. We support people to cook from scratch, so fruit & veg and other basic ingredients like grains, pulses, spices, nuts & seeds etc. make up well over half our total sales. And we aim, through the way we trade, to cultivate stronger connections between our food, its producers, and all of us who eat it (you’ll find workers on the shop floor who’ve just come off the phone to our veg growers, or received the delivery from one of our bakers).
What are your favourite Faith In Nature products / your customers’ favourites?
The loose soaps have been our top seller in the Toiletries category for years and years – some of us still remember their product code from the days before touch screen tills, when we had to key it in!
What do you love about your local area?
It’s really rich and welcoming - there are people from all different backgrounds, lots of families and young folk, loads of brilliant places to eat and drink, occasional markets and generally lively, lovely street goings-on. You can have fun without spending a fortune or buying planet-harming nonsense. We like to think we add to this – at our recent birthday party we shared free food, cake and tunes outside the shop all day.
Where is your go-to nature spot?
There’s a lovely greenbelt along the River Mersey where you can walk or cycle for miles through fields and woods. And it’s just a few minutes down the road to Rye Bank Fields and Longford Park; from there Turn Moss connects to the Chorlton Ees and Chorlton and Sale Waterparks.
What is one simple sustainable swap someone can do straight away?
Most sustainable ‘swaps’ are about habits, not extra purchases. If you often get takeaway food or drink, just keep a camping mug, fork and napkin in your bag. Reuse produce bags – store them in your shopping bags or panniers to make the most out of buying food ‘loose’. The trick is just remembering to put things back after you use them!
Future plans for Unicorn?
Continue to flood our local area with affordable food that is good for people and the planet. The mission gets more important every year!
Follow Unicorn on Instagram and if you're based in Manchester, pop in and see them at 89 Albany Road in Chorlton. They’re open Tuesday to Friday 9:30am-7pm, Saturday 9am-6pm and Sunday 11am-5pm.
Find Faith In Nature refill stores across the UK with our stockist map. We support independent retailers of any size, so if you are considering stocking Faith In Nature in your store, enquire about opening a Trade account here.