Food & Drink Editors spoke to the co-founders of Scoop, Davide Bertone and Nina Stevens, about the ins and outs of running the newly-launched initiative in Durham. With the aim of bringing affordable, plastic-free alternatives to students and the local community, Scoop is removing the high price tag of typically shopping in an ethical and sustainable way.

Founded in Cambridge in October 2019, Scoop has now expanded to Durham Riverwalk, and stocks a range of dried produce like pasta, rice and spices. The shop is run by student volunteers, and allows consumers to pay as they buy (based on the weights of their goods), to take home in their own containers or biodegradable bags.

Tell us about Scoop, your roles in it and why you’re passionate about it?

Nina: My name’s Nina, I’m one of the co-founders of Scoop. Davide asked me to get involved in February so the team kind of started with us, and we’re now 55 students strong, which is actually insane – it’s amazing that we’ve had so much growth. I just think Scoop is a really interesting concept, and that’s why I’m quite passionate about it. I think that it’s quite unique, insofar as there are very few green initiatives that are price comparable to Tesco’s. What I love about Scoop is that it’s very good at mitigating this green tax, which I personally find really difficult about the green movement. So I came at this from a climate justice perspective, something I was really passionate about, but I wanted to make sure that this didn’t fall into the same habits of loads of other green movements of being really whitewashed and middle class, and quite exclusive and inaccessible. Going in, Davide and I were both really committed to make sure that wasn’t the case. And I think for me, that’s what makes Scoop really unique. It’s this community based initiative, that’s all student run, and all volunteer run, and all the people that buy into it are super committed to the ethos, and because of that we’re able to keep our overheads really low, and make sure that remains a very accessible thing. So I think that’s what I find most exciting about it.
Davide: Scoop Durham began when a friend of mine messaged me saying, ‘Look Davide, I think there’s something that might interest you in Cambridge called Scoop.’ And I remember hearing about it thinking it was cool. And I messaged the founder saying that I think there’s an appetite in Durham for something like this, as we have quite a widespread mentality among students about sustainability, but there aren’t really many ways we can physically act on it, in terms of our consumer choices. The founder of Scoop Cambridge was very happy to lend us resources and initial concept ideas. At this point, I went to Nina, I shared this idea with her and started going forward with it, and we posted on Overheard with 1,500 likes in reaction to the idea, and if you remember it was March last year.

Nina: And the popularity was pretty immediate, we were really lucky in that sense.

Davide: And that’s where we managed to get the funding we needed, and we kind of built from there. Too often, in society we have problems such as plastic pollution and carbon emissions, which people engage with on a superficial level, and then think they’re unsolvable. The plastic pollution waste is a classic example, whereby you think it’s not really on me about plastic waste in supermarkets – Tesco’s will eventually do it, what can I do? And I think that sense of powerlessness is really damaging, because once you lose the fact that every individual has agency to act, you kind of lose the ability to enact change and push for big companies to enact change themselves.
Davide: So that’s what Scoop does, in a really rudimentary local-based fashion, it shows that look, if Tesco can’t offer basic food without plastic, and dried food doesn’t need plastic in any way, we’re going to put the effort in and the hours in to create a business which does that, and raises money for local charities in the process. And I think that’s so important that Scoop is kind of like a rudimentary middle finger to the establishment, by saying we can do it better than you guys because you guys aren’t willing to change. That for me is what attracts me to Scoop Durham.

Nina: Yeah, it’s so consumer-led and community-orientated, which are two things that make it really special.

How have you been able to adapt to the pandemic?

Davide: What happened was that the landlords of Durham Riverwalk (called ‘The Other Company’ ) reached out to us early in April last year for a wonderful opportunity to open shop in one of their units, given that they had some extra space they wanted to take full advantage of. So that’s where we began coming in, with this idea that we should be a business rather than a popup store. And once we had this contract signed and we had this unit, we were lucky enough to be able to adapt around Covid-19, we had this student we hired as our health and safety officer called Lois, who played a pivotal role. We went through so many different Covid-19 regulations and so many different health and safety regulations. If you come into our store, I don’t think you’ll find a store in Durham that takes Covid-19 as seriously as we do.

Davide: All our volunteers are six feet apart, they wear masks, gloves, we change our volunteers every hour and a half, we clean everything every hour and a half, we make sure the door’s open for ventilation, there’s an incredible focus on making sure people feel safe in the store, because we know that it’s vital to offer that hub for interaction during lockdown, which is quite nice because now that we’re an essential business, we have the chance to offer customers this experience – like if they go there with a friend, they can have a three minute chat with a friend that they haven’t seen in a week while shopping plastic free. I’ll pass on to Nina to expand on that.
Nina: I think you covered everything, we cycled through three provisional Covid-19 business plans, and I think we realised that we’re quite lucky because when Covid-19 came into play in March, our idea was quite malleable. We hadn’t ordered anything yet, hadn’t committed to Scoop looking one particular way yet. When stuff did kick off and we realised this was something we would have to adapt to long term, to ensure the survival of Scoop, it was much easier to do that, because it came at quite a particularly convenient time for us. By October, we had already set up the store a certain way – it would have been much harder to adapt otherwise. So we didn’t have much monetary loss from it, and as Davide said, we’re really lucky to be an essential business, and we hope that people see us as not only a supermarket, but also a place where you can come have a chat, and meet like-minded people, which it has been. So many of our customers have said it’s really nice to talk to our volunteers, and all our volunteers really know a lot about our ethos. We’ve got music going and serve everyone with a smile, so it’s a nice environment to be in.

Davide: Also lastly before we move on, I think there’s quite a cute anecdote here, given that so many people have invested in it, no one person is vital to it. For example, me and Nina spent over five months preparing for this. The week before our launch, Nina’s house goes into lockdown, because one of her housemates has Covid-19. The day before the launch, my house goes into lockdown because Covid-19, so the week that we launched, both me and Nina, the two co-founders weren’t at the store, but we had such an incredible team that it ran perfectly regardless of us, and I think that’s the secret of it. Given that we have 55 different people engaged in it, no one person’s vital, which I think is key to Covid-19. We have an exec of 13 people, which gives us the flexibility to keep going regardless of the situation, which I think is something that we built, I’m not sure purposefully into our business model, but it’s an incredible side benefit.

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