Alex Cook takes us through the ups, lockdown lows and how Swper.Box has turned adversity into prosperity with plans to create local jobs, boost circular economies and invest in future food entrepreneurs.
Swper.Box has received business consultancy support and advice from Social Business Wales New Start, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
Where did the Swper. Box CIC idea originate?
Less than three months into the pandemic we started to see our business and others in our industry fall apart very quickly yet somehow in slow motion.
We saw and felt first-hand the struggle for access to nutritious local food, the pressures on our mental health and the plight of food and job security.
There is no choice to make, if you are setting up a new business in the current circumstances it just MUST to be a Community Interest Company. The challenges ahead of us all are great.
We know there will be people in our communities who need sustainable jobs, training and food education.
We know that people are finding it hard to get access to fresh, nutritious and healthy food. We know that we all want to support Welsh Fishing, Farming and Sustainable Agriculture. We know that we need to rebuild our nation for a Healthier, Wealthier and Greener Wales.
That’s why Swper. Box CIC was born.
Can you give us a summary of what has been achieved?
Over the last few months we have worked in collaboration with Business Wales, the Wales Co-operative Centre, Cywain and Bucannier Projects, The Food Centre Horeb, Ciotek, InSynch Marketing, BIC-Innovation, USTWD and more to create our community business plan. This is a 60-page plan setting out our clear and ambitious goals to become market leader here in Wales within three years and support the regeneration of local Welsh communities aligned with the Future Generations Act and County Rural Regeneration Plans, the aim of which is to:
- create jobs to combat crisis
- create circular economies
- educate our future adults
- boost nutrition and immune systems
- invest in food entrepreneurs
We have established a network of small-scale local family food producers, sourced environmentally friendly packaging and developed modern, creative and seasonal recipes. We’ve founded our board of directors with over 40 years’ experience in the food, drink and community interest sectors.
Alongside this, we have been shortlisted for the Social Enterprise of the Year 2020 in the Welsh Start-Up Awards.
It’s been a long three months, but we will get there, we have to!
Did you have to overcome any major obstacles / challenges, particularly during lockdown?
One major challenge for us has been our rural location and finding ways to get to our customers, however this has also been one of our strengths – our short supply chains with local food producers ensures the freshest ingredients and best quality of product we can achieve.
Another challenge has been accessing finance and the time associated with this. Having developed a fully costed route to market, we have been investigating grant funding opportunities at both local and national level, taking up a significant amount of time and effort, but hopefully with some real benefits over the coming months.
We are developing our bespoke e-commerce platform, digital marketing strategy and supply chain ahead of our main launch in October.
Our goal now is establishing networks into the tourism sector here in Wales and enabling visitors to order seasonal, organic and sustainable meal kits ahead of their arrival, ensuring their contribution to the local economy.
Currently running our pilot scheme on Carmarthen and Cardigan Open Food Network Hubs, collecting feedback from our communities to better our product and service to meet their needs.
We really care about creating and safeguarding sustainable jobs here in Wales, so ahead of our main online launch, we are limiting the number of subscriptions to make sure we can deliver on freshness, quality and support our suppliers as we grow together.
Can you describe the importance of social businesses collaborating in a mutual support setting?
There is a huge opportunity across the social business sector, we are all working towards the same goals. The only way forward is to collaborate. Connecting with others to share knowledge, strategy and resources will be key to creating an entrepreneurial environment inspiring our younger generations into the sector. They already understand the importance of creating businesses that have positive socio-economic and environmental impacts – they just need to be shown where the support is to get there.
If you had one message for the social business sector right now, what would it be?
Focus on creating a commercially viable product and reach out to organisations that can help you achieve this. There is so much support, you just have to look. But make sure you are clear about your desired outcomes before every meeting, phone call or email introduction.
If you can create a profitable product, you can create capital to create jobs, organically grow your business and invest in other social enterprises.
If, like Alex, you work with local food producers and are interested in collaborating with social businesses in the sector, please email the Social Business Wales team: [email protected]. We’ll look at building local supply networks and will hear how others have overcome supply chain challenges to cope with increased demand.
Swper.Box has received business consultancy support and advice from Social Business Wales, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
This project is designed to help entrepreneurs set up strong and sustainable social enterprises that will create a better future for Wales. For more information visit: https://wales.coop/socialbusinesswales-new-start/