The Review: Supermarket Sweep
A new brush sweeps everything clean so they say. Here's hoping hiSbe changes supermarket shopping forever.
In case you’re wondering, Ruth and Amy Anslow came up with the acronym for their supermarket as shorthand for ‘How It Should Be’. They thought of all the things that the big chains do wrong and they figured out an alternative. ‘The hiSbe way’, is an eight point policy explaining how they stock and operate. It includes ‘pick seasonal (for happy growing)’, ‘go local (for a happy community)’ and ‘save fish (for happy seas)’.
Wandering around their medium sized store (probably about the same size as a Tesco Metro) you come across slogans like ‘People Before Profit’, which feels like a first in the supermarket business. On a warm sunny August morning, happily for me their store wasn’t too packed. There was space between the shelves, which made for a nicer shopping experience than my local Tesco, which packs the shelves at the expense of space to move.
HiSbe’s blue and white colour scheme smacks of the sea and sky of their hometown (they’re based in Brighton) but it also has the trick of making the endeavour feel fresh – bathrooms and cleaning products spring to mind. Their website explains their ethos: ‘When you shop at a hiSbe store you’re using your shopper power to vote for a better food industry. We’re not another health-food or whole-foods store though; we sell normal, recognisable products that people on average budgets and everyday diets buy.’ Well - I’m not sure about that. I didn’t see any baked beans or fish fingers.
Wait though, there’s more: ‘We’re about affordable food that is as local, healthy, natural, sustainable, GM and pesticidefree, fairly traded, high welfare, seasonal, minimally packaged, ethically produced and responsibly sourced as possible’. I guess that’s why the fish fingers are ruled out. I only saw two kinds of fish – mackerel and salmon, both from Scotland. As they’re based in Brighton, what you do get is lots of lovely local produce like apples and sausages from Sussex farmers as well as honey made in Brighton itself.
I found myself drawn to the easy stuff like steaks, hummus and beer; I’ve got no idea what to do with chard or mung beans. There’s no plastic - only paper bags to put your fruit and veg in. Dry foods such as lentils and couscous come in dispensers that you disperse into said bags. To the unpractised, it’s easy to overfill – the regulars smirked as lentils pinged onto the floor over the top of my bag.
Packaging reuse is encouraged (detergents are also dispensed) and if you bring your own cup, they’ll even give you 20p off a cappuccino. I can recommend that – it’s nice to pitch up on one of their stools and watch the flotsam of Brighton ebb and flow from their window. HiSbe feels like an easy place to hang around in; I never want to stick around in Sainsbury's, by comparison.
Is it affordable? Well, you can judge for yourself with the receipt above. When I got home I surfed the Tesco website and totted up a comparison bill. The same food would have been about £20 but I couldn’t find a British blue cheese for example, nor any beautiful tiger striped cherry tomatoes. The information on the bottom of the receipt was welcome – roughly a third of what I spent went to staff wages and the rest to suppliers. Hisbe reckon they make around 33% gross profit, with a margin of around 1-2% net profit. Much as the transparency is admirable, I think every shopper would be happy for the hiSbe owners to make some more money out of their work, if only to make their social mission more impactful.