Features / Better Business

‘There could be massive strength in Bristol’s business communities, but it is largely untapped’

By ellie pipe, Tuesday Oct 13, 2020

Established by Phil Haughton in 1992, Better Food is an independent organic food store and café, with three sites across Bristol.

The company’s ambition is to support local and rural communities through responsible retail. The Better Food team pride themselves on stocking local, organic and ethically-sourced products, and on being a “force for good” in the communities they serve.

What inspires you to get up in the morning and go to work?
Many things. In the spring it might be the busy bird song, with all that excitement of new life emerging after the winter. It’s often thoughts of what the day holds regarding tasks, and meeting with people, to talk about their world and how we might collaborate to help build a better world.

What does a Better Bristol mean to you?
Opportunity to make a difference. Cities are wonderful and also dysfunctional, in that it’s harder to hold on to the essence of what it is to be human. Among many things, because of the stress of how cities operate, with cars dominating our passageways between communities and strange big buildings filled with people working who can’t open a window and feel the fresh air.

A Better Bristol starts with the commitment to do my bit. To judge less, listen better and act with generosity. It’s sort of about keeping your heart open even when it hurts. It’s not easy to look at injustice and stay open-hearted.

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The Better Food store on Whiteladies Road is one of three in the city – photo courtesy of Better Food

If you could pick one thing to change in Bristol, what would it be?
I think holistically and that is never about one thing in isolation, but if I am to pick just one it would be to create an army of volunteer city carers who in their thousands work to make the city beautiful and cared for.

A place where streets are clean and food is grown around parks and green spaces. A place where we ensure no one goes hungry and without decent shelter. A place where someone always has time to talk to those who are isolated.

There is so much historic trauma within our culture and we can only really begin to heal these when we act as if everyone deserves love and respect. Bristol could do this. Look at how many people volunteered to help the NHS. To harness this desire, to help make things better for all is not difficult if our politicians can be brave and remember they are here to make Bristol a better place.

How do you feel you, as an individual, can make a difference?
As the founder of Better Food, I look for ways for us to have more impact, with the ethos that we are here to serve all towards a fairer world. I hope I have captured a lot of this ethos in my book, Food for Thought, which has just been launched.

In what ways can your company make a difference?
Better Food makes a difference daily and we can always have more impact and challenge ourselves about how we work.

We build long-lasting relationships with our farmers and suppliers so that we understand their challenges and come to the table with respect and gratitude for all they do to feed people good food. We try to tell their stories to our customers so that it’s that bit easier for city people to stay in touch with what it takes to produce food that nourishes the earth and those that eat it.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of Bristol’s business community (including private, public and third sector)?
There could be a massive strength in Bristol’s business communities, but it is largely untapped because profit is still the biggest driver. Until it is our purpose to put people and planet first, I can’t see we have much ability to get ourselves out of the climate and diversity mess we are in. It’s very hard to bring about massive change unless our leaders, both national and local, begin the journey and inspire us to work with them for real change.

What do you want to see from the Bristol business community over the next five years?
The above and a huge rise in the number of independents who are the real drivers of care in the business communities. The multi-nationals can only be a healthy part of the picture when they truly commit to serving their communities, not their shareholders.

What is your biggest ambition personally and for the city as a whole?
The vehicle I use for change is Better Food, and to that end we intend to open more stores in Bristol and then beyond, always making sure we stay close to our principle of ‘fair for all’. It is vital as we grow to find organisational ways to ensure everyone has a voice.

For the city as a whole, my greatest ambition would be for hundreds of thousands of Bristol citizens have the chance to work the soil to grow good food and to have access to the countryside and nature. Activities like these help us realise we are but outcrops of nature.

Main photo courtesy of Better Food 

Read more: ‘We should make Bristol a beacon of change for other cities’

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