“We aim to trade in a manner which supports a sustainable world environment and economy.” From Unicorn’s Principles of Purpose
Unicorn sells most of the types of things you’d expect to find in a medium-sized supermarket, but we source our produce a little differently. We aim to trade in a way that is less exploitative of people, animals and the earth, whilst maintaining a product range that is accessible to the community we serve.
This is a continual balancing act! Here are some of the considerations given to the products we offer:
We aim to provide a realistic alternative to the supermarkets, so affordability is key. Like for like, we are competitive with Tesco, Morrisons and Asda-level pricing. Have a look at our most recent like-for-like price comparison.
A few factors help us to achieve this:
- Where possible, we buy direct from manufacturers (for example around 90% of our UK fruit and veg comes straight from the farm gate), cutting out the middlemen.
- Our large warehouse enables us to purchase in very large volumes, which contributes to much better prices.
- We are not under pressure to make huge profits for shareholders or very large salaries for top executives, because there aren’t any!
Having said all that, for a few products there just aren’t comparable options at the supermarkets. ‘Real bread’ is a good example. Handmade, slow-risen loaves made from organic ingredients and free from flour improvers and other additives, are so different from supermarket loaves (by any measure – flavour, nutrition, ‘fillingness’) that they might as well be called by a different name.
We focus on foods that aren’t heavily processed, and our core offer is basic ingredients to cook with – fruit & veg, pulses, grains and spices. Having said that, we do also sell treats; deep-fried onion bhajis and coconut biscuits are not one of our five a day!
We are a grocery rather than a health food shop, so we don’t sell supplements and don’t tend to stock products that are marketed as superfoods unless they are a really good fit and a basic ingredient (superfoods often come with a higher price tag).
We don’t sell products that are labelled as containing Genetically Modified ingredients (GM labelling is a legal requirement in the UK), or those which contain artificial colourings, preservatives or flavourings. We only sell a few sweet treats and salty snacks, and we prioritise lower-sugar and lower-salt alternatives. We avoid foods with ‘hidden’ or high levels of sugar or salt, and we do not sell any animal-derived products. (More on sugar here.)
Organic produce makes up nearly two-thirds of our range – including all fresh fruit and veg, and all our beer, wine and spirits. We prioritise organic because it’s a more environmentally sound alternative to intensive conventional agriculture, which externalises costs such as the clean-up of water systems polluted by agricultural runoff, fossil fuel emissions from the agrichemical industry, and the shocking decline of biodiversity in our countryside. On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms! Read more here or find out more about organic in the UK from the Soil Association (and why soil is so important).
As well as organic and food miles, packaging is a huge environmental consideration. We are known for our low packaging use – fruit & veg is largely sold loose, our ‘unpacked’ range of dried goods continue to expand and there’s a price incentive to bring your own containers at the deli. Where we (so far) can’t avoid it, we’ve done a lot of homework into packaging choices and the choices we’ve made, if not perfect, are certainly thought-through. Visit our packaging page for a full run-down of what we use and why.
For household and bodycare products we look to offer a range of that is sustainable and ethically sourced, ideally from companies with ethics similar to our own. Products that are based on natural, biodegradable, plant derived ingredients, cruelty free and where possible organic/fairtrade certified. We are looking to offer that best value we can whilst avoiding products that contain animal ingredients, involve animal testing, the use of petrochemicals, synthetic perfumes, parabens, SELS, enzymes, phosphates and chlorine based bleaches.
We are hugely concerned about the enormous social and environmental impact caused by the production of palm oil for food & household goods in tropical regions. The rainforest destruction caused by palm plantations is not only exacerbating the climate crisis and threatening the survival of many species but also displacing indigenous people and destroying their way of life. It would be all but impossible to claim any palm oil is truly “sustainable” without first reducing its use to a fraction of current global levels; the RSPO certifying body is certainly no guarantee of genuine sustainability. Given the limited options available to us however (and we’ve done a LOT of research into this), we have taken the following position. We only stock palm oil as an ingredient if it is either:
- Certified organic– this ensures a segregated, traceable supply from plantations that have not been planted on recently deforested land OR
- Certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) through their ‘segregated supply chain’ model – one of their strictest, most robust levels of certification*
*With one exception, a small deli supplier who genuinely can’t find an alternative, so uses an ingredient with a lower RSPO certification.
For products that contain palm derivatives (mostly household cleaners and toiletries, as well as some food items) our manufacturers are currently unable to source a segregated supply, so are relying on sourcing from manufacturers who are members of the RSPO or on the Green Palm voucher scheme, or both.
We are proud of our completely plant-based range, and eating a more plant-based diet can be one of the most effective ways of reducing the environmental impact of our food, in terms of land-use efficiency, climate emissions and water use. In fact, the widespread adoption of a plant-based diet has the potential to lower food-related climate emissions globally by as much as 70%.
And finally, none of our produce is air freighted.
Fairtrade & Co-operative
We seek out products from companies with a shared commitment to social justice. This can take the form of co-operative business ownership – like wholesalers Suma or Essential, other types of social enterprise – like Greater Manchester Tree Station, products carrying the FairTrade mark (particularly when we know there is a history of exploitation within a particular crop or commodity, like tea and coffee), or initiatives that aim to move even further than Fairtrade – like the wonderful Just Change from India and Kitchen Garden from Zimbabwe.
Given our continual balancing act between provenance and affordability, we definitely don’t claim that all our range comes with a 100% ‘ethical’ assurance. Some are chosen simply because they are wholesome and affordable foods.
So, look out for the pink ‘Good Stuff’ apple on products around the shop indicating some of our favourite products and suppliers. They’ve been chosen for lots of different reasons, but they’re the kind of companies we are particularly proud to be involved with and are doing business in a way that we would like to see become a lot more widespread. Here are a few…loads more here.
Zaytoun Oil & Za’atar
UK-based not-for-profit importer that pays fair prices, builds co-ops, and strengthens livelihoods for Palestinian producers. Read More
Suppliers of our organic linseed and millet, which is grown in Ukraine by small and family farms, then milled in Ukraine and sent to us. Read More
This high-quality loose-leaf tea grows without synthetic inputs on farms that meet ethical trading criteria, and we sell it unpackaged. More here
If you are interested in supplying Unicorn, please get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com