HiSbe Team

O N C A Meets… Hisbe

By George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

Have you ever been stood alone in the vacant aisle of a supermarket, apathetic and confused by the overbearing myriad of choices and products shoved in one’s face? Do you shake your head at the cosmetic approach to fresh food, and the sheer criminal volume of waste supermarkets dispense with daily? Luckily, you are not alone.

Last week I was lucky enough to meet Amy Anslow, co-founder and director of hiSbe, who joined me at ONCA to talk over the work she does. hiSbe, based in Brighton and standing for ‘how it Should be’, is a local independent supermarket that wishes to promote a better supermarket practise based on care, happiness, and zero-waste. Amy and Ruth, her co-founder and sister, were appalled at the wanton wasteful practises of national supermarkets, whose operations had eroded the importance of local communities, suppliers and economies necessary to the process.

They consequently set up hiSbe in 2013 as a solution, making sure fairness and happiness to staff, suppliers, and customers was fundamental to the operation. One way they achieve this is by shaping the stock around customers’ needs and by lowering their margins. This is not simply supply and demand, but an attentive, careful, responsible way of supplying stock that simultaneously means waste is minimised. An example of this approach is the giant feedback board in the store, where customers can write what they would like to be stocked, what they think should change, and what they would like to see. Thus by coming to hiSbe, customers are actively participating in an operation that delivers their needs foremost, while also maintaining responsibility for environmental impact. Additionally, hiSbe refuses to throw away food that is still fit for consumption, presenting it instead at the checkout for a reduced price. When I remarked about how the Real Junk Food Project goes about harnessing waste food for good, Amy smiled, and explained that although that is a good project, hiSbe simply has nothing to give because their practises insure minimal to zero waste.

HiSbe Team

hiSbe is neither a whole-foods or a health foods shop, but a model of sustainable supermarket practise. It was created through complete self-funding, and a crucial moment was the assistance of Gordon Roddick, former chairman of the Body Shop and co-founder of the Big Issue, who met Amy and Ruth at ONCA during the TruCost Super-M-Art exhibition. Roddick was very much interested in their project, and helped raise funds neccessary for hiSbe’s completion. 19 months later and hiSbe hopes to build a regional chain of ten stores in five years, expanding on their loyal client base and continuing their relationship with local suppliers, so the two can symbiotically grow alongside each other. Amy’s current role is to now support the team to help them self-manage and help expansion. Ideally, Amy’s vision is for a 30 year plan that could see hiSbe develop into a national chain, for she believes customers simply do not want to support businesses that increasingly don’t have a social mission. As Amy sees it, there needs to be more than not doing harm, supermarkets need to play an active role in changing the way things are done.

In regards to the specificity of Brighton as a place to open the pilot store, Amy says she always regarded the city as a perfect location given the existing embracing culture and hub for social enterprise and entrepreneurial work. Part and parcel of this involves collaborations in order to attain the full range of brands for customers, such as supplying fresh bread made at Silo.

Thus, what hiSbe embody is a progressive example of how the supermarket industry can survive by creating a harmony with customers and suppliers, which in turn shapes what is offered, prevents waste and saves money. hiSbe is also an example of how no problem is too big to take positive action against, even individually. This could be either Amy and Ruth’s decision to start hiSbe, or simply how being more attentive and careful in consuming on our part can truly shape the industry we buy in to.