Christine's Sustainable Supermarket | Support Our Independents
Christine at Christine's Sustainable Supermarket ended 2022 on a very high note. After another successful year at the Bradford-on-Avon store, she announced the opening of a second store in Trowbridge. The store, formerly named Undressed, is the new location of Christine’s Sustainable Supermarket as Christine hopes to build a network of stores.
When speaking with Christine on my visit to the Bradford-on-Avon shop, I was immediately struck by her strong values and ethics. These attributes are mirrored in the way she runs her business. We talk about Christine’s childhood, her time in the army, and how she came to own her own health food business. She also tells me about the five ethical principles that are a vital part in the way Christine’s Sustainable Supermarket operates.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Christine's Sustainable Supermarket?
I never even considered any of the ethical issues that Christine's is all about. Before I had children, I was in the Army for fifteen years. My attitude was, well, nobody else bothers, so why should I? Then, nineteen years ago, I had children. I was adopted so they were going to be my first blood relatives and I knew I had to do everything right. I was absolutely obsessed with making the right decisions to give my kids the best upbringing I could, so history didn't repeat itself really.
I started looking into things and that was the beginning, really. So, things like baby milk, I looked at the ingredients and thought, well, why on earth would anybody give that to a baby? Nappies contained hormone disruptors and I just thought, oh my gosh, this is just, you know, this is a challenge and a mission. I refused to ever go into a supermarket again and I managed that for 10 years. I never stepped foot inside one because once I discovered one thing, it would lead onto another and then onto another, and, after a bit of research, I discovered that everything is linked.
These are the five ethical issues of the shop; free from factory farming, free from animal testing, environmentally friendly and sustainable, no nasty additives, and fairly traded. Everything comes under the umbrella of those five things. If it's not organic, then it's going to contain chemicals, pesticides, so yeah, that's just an example. Because I refused to shop in supermarkets, I was buying cleaning products online, which wasn't great, but my big things are the justice aspect. So, fair trade is hugely important to me. I'd say that's my number one, because I think if you can't look after people and animals, you are never going to look after the planet. Then factory farming and animal testing, that's sort of my three top three. After that it's sustainability and then lastly for me, it's the nasty additives. I mean, they're all hugely important. If I had to put them in order, that's what it would be.
So yeah, I was dragging two young kids around farm shops and local health food shops. I decided then to open my own shop. Back then I was so naive and I really didn't have a clue what I was doing, but I've learned a lot from experience. So yeah, that's how it all began.
How has business changed since you opened your doors?
Well, right back at the beginning, nobody believed me. It's only now that people are starting to actually believe it, and this can become a, you know, thriving business for anyone now if they know what they're doing. But I struggled for a long, long time. I was just determined to keep going. And then sort of eight years ago it just progressed and got better and better every year. Now I've got two shops!
What does your role entail day-to-day?
Well, I'm supposed to just be managing, but at the moment I'm having to cover shifts because it's quite chaotic with lots of deliveries and not enough staff to cover both at the moment. But I just love my job. I do whatever I need to do. Prioritizing; that's what my role entails day-to-day. Basically, it's firefighting, doing the first thing and most important thing, and then moving on to the second and so on and so forth.
What does it mean to be an independent business?
Good question. The only thing that springs to mind is that I would never, ever want to work for anybody else again. I love the fact that I own the whole business and I will never change that because when shareholders become involved, that's when it starts going wrong and they can make decisions that mean it's not ethical or sustainable anymore. So that will never happen.
What do you enjoy most about running the store and what challenges are there?
I most enjoy the positivity and that people care about the planet, people and animals. Twenty years ago, when I first had the idea (to open the store), I thought people didn't care, and I found that really quite tough. For the first ten years, I felt a bit resentful, really, because I just felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall. But, thanks to the internet and now everybody knows about all these horrible things going on; the awful chemicals, awful labour in the world, cruelty and exploitation and everything else, now that it's all out there, it's really exciting.
The only challenges at the moment are staff, really. I can't get enough staff, and that's a very lucky challenge to have. But other than that, all is good.
What does 2023 have in store for Christine’s Sustainable Supermarket?
Hopefully by the end of this year I will have another nine shops (laughs). That's what I'm really hoping for. But everything's about time with me. I need three of me!
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Our next feature will be on Churchtown Stores, a greengrocer in the very beautiful village of St. Agnes in Cornwall.