The Social Supermarket founders (l-r): Matt Shepherd, Jamie Palmer and Alex Owen
There are more than 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, but no way to browse them all in one place - until now.
Social Supermarket does exactly what it says on the tin. It offers the supermarket shopping experience with a rare feeling that people won’t find on the shelves of their local grocery store – a clear conscience.
The company typically works with brands who offer employment opportunities for disadvantaged people, upcycle material that would otherwise go to waste, or donate their profits to a good cause.
WBS alumnus Matt Shepherd co-founded the organisation, which acts as a digital marketplace selling social enterprise products only.
“Social enterprises are businesses that are set up to have some sort of positive social or environmental impact,” said Matt.
“For example, a tea company that provides employment to refugees, or chutney that uses surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste.
“We saw these great businesses solving important problems, but also that there was no single place to find and buy them. We set up Social Supermarket to make it easier for consumers to access these products, and encourage growth in this all-important market.”
Having launched in 2018, Social Supermarket has already delivered more than 200,000 products, and collaborated with more than 150 social enterprise brands. The products and services sold on the platform help fund social enterprises' core mission like jobs for refugees, accommodation for domestic abuse survivors, or the collection of 20,000 ocean-bound plastic bottles.
Also, Social Supermarket is committed to spending at least 50 per cent of its non-labour costs on local and independent suppliers who prioritise sustainability.
“We quickly found that there was a large unmet demand from corporates, who wanted to purchase these products but had a range of pain points,” said Matt. “The most important problem we solve is tracking and reporting what the tangible positive impact a company’s purchases are having.
“For example, when a company orders tea for their office, we can communicate how many hours of employment for refugees they have created, and automatically generate a report summarising and contextualising this data.
“This helps sustainability and procurement leaders to incorporate this information into ESG reports and other internal communications.”
Matt, 30, of Bath, graduated with a BSc Accounting & Finance in 2014, and unsurprisingly, was looking for a career in accounting or finance. However, the course opened other doors he wasn’t necessarily looking for.
“I loved the module flexibility and range of topics on the course,” said Matt. “I learned to pitch, to demonstrate, to persuade. In a nutshell, I learned to introduce real-world communication to my financial, theoretical knowledge.
“It was at that point that my entrepreneurial career was spawned.”
Matt began to re-imagine his career path, and elsewhere across campus, so did Jamie Palmer and Alex Owen, who he met at The University of Warwick Boat Club.
“We shared similar ambitions and values, and all expressed an interest in starting up our own venture after graduating,” said Matt.
“With Jamie’s expertise in CSR and sustainability, and Alex’s in strategy and finance, it became apparent we would be best off joining forces and setting off on our journey together.”
The trio also concluded they wanted to do more than make money – they wanted to make a difference in the world.
They all liked to purchase environmentally or socially impactful products, but found trawling through endless labels, statements and accreditations, often just to decide which pot of coffee to buy, a laborious process.
“I’d always wondered why a singular marketplace for social enterprise products didn’t exist in the UK – I assumed I just hadn’t found it yet,” said Matt. “But after some research, I saw that our path was clear.”
Matt spent around two years developing Social Supermarket alongside his regular job at Goldman Sachs, working tirelessly to grow the brand and ultimately secure funding.
Their big break came during the COVID-19 pandemic when they were approached by an angel investor, who invested £450,000 despite having never met them in person due to the lockdowns.
Matt and his partners haven’t looked back since – and show no signs of slowing up.
“We want to make buying sustainable products so easy that it becomes the norm for both individuals and companies,” said Matt.
“We’re launching a procurement platform for companies to buy more ethical office supplier, while tracking the impact of doing so. This, we hope, will encourage more companies to follow suit.”
For those considering following a similar path and launching their own business, Matt’s advice is worth considering.
He said: “If you believe in your idea, and have the persistence to drive it – go for it.
“It took us years of hard graft before we got a return on our investment, but we always believed in the concept – and each other. Surround yourself with a well-rounded team with diverse skills, that most importantly, you trust.
“If the WBS BSc Accounting & Finance degree is on your radar, then you’re already on the right track. Be sure to pick a broad range of modules even if they’re outside your comfort zone, they will only fine-tune your overall skill set, and you never know where you’ll end up in life - I know I didn’t.”