In 1975, Reg Taylor and some friends started a wholefoods wholesaling operation in the back kitchen of a house in Leeds.

Reg sold the business in 1977 to the seven employees, who became the founder members of Triangle Wholefoods Collective, trading as Suma. in 1986, they moved to a 70,000 sq ft warehouse in Halifax. Expansion continued apace and the move to the current purpose-built premises in Elland was in 2001.

Suma is a workers’ co-operative consisting of 120 members (who own the business jointly) plus a further 20-30 contracted workers. Everyone is paid the same basic hourly rate, with all members having an equal say in what happens at Suma. There is no unwieldy management structure or a board of directors. An elected management committee implements decisions and business plans, the decisions being made at regular general meetings with the consent of every co-operative member.

Suma stock and distribute only vegetarian food, having a zero tolerance policy in respect of any goods containing animal products or derivatives. To deliver their 6,000 plus lines of products, Suma own two 23 tonne trucks, eleven 18 tonners and two 7.5 dry-freight trucks. Their customers range from small independent wholefood shops through restaurants, hotels, bakers, food producers, food groups and they have a growing export trade to countries as diverse as Norway, South Africa, Lithuania, the Middle East and even the Falklands.

Following the demise of one of their competitors, they have started to supply a range of frozen foods (such lines as vegetables, vegetarian burgers and sausages, fruit, ready meals, ready desserts, and vegan ice-cream) in addition to chilled produce. A new coldstore has been constructed with Olivo portable insulated containers (both roll and chest type) being used for deliveries, with eutectic plate refrigeration. Suma’s Neil Bennett is enthusiastic about the Olivo containers, which they started using eighteen months ago, as they provide a reliable and safe transport method for temperature sensitive products. Neil said: “Some of the runs are out for three days but the combination of the thermal efficiency of the Olivo containers and the eutectic plates keeps the produce frozen throughout the journeys.”

Suma is a fascinating example of how a workers’ co-operative can work successfully. This organisation’s growth to a turnover of over £30 million per year is impressive by any standard and as Neil Bennett said: “We’re about service rather than cheapness.”

Telephone: 01952 408070