Visit to the she-wolf 1/2

In mid-November, we spent a few days at one of our role models for MILA Mitmach Supermarkt. We were at the »Coopérative La Louve« in Paris to experience a cooperative supermarket in operation, to work there and to study it for MILA. The first part of our report is about what we experienced on site and the second part about what we learned and our aha moments – part 1

Meeting point: Wednesday evening at Vienna Central Station

The excitement is high! Finally we are going to our model supermarket! Soon we will see what such a cooperative supermarket can look like, how everything works. Soon we will get a taste of what we are working for in Vienna – a taste of MILA! It is also a joint long weekend in Paris – magnifique!

We take the night train via Cologne and Brussels to Paris. Not quite as planned, we miss a connecting train and arrive over two hours late. After checking into our accommodation and a short break, we set off for the Paris cooperative supermarket.

Here we are in Paris, standing in front of the »Coopérative La Louve«, the cooperative the she-wolf, and preparing the gift basket. Exciting. We register and Tom Boothe has time for us right away and gives us a grand tour of the supermarket. Wow – what exciting impressions! The selection of products is huge – our mouths water and we want to go shopping right away, with all the good food! The high quality of the food is immediately apparent. The vegetables are so fresh, the variety is huge!

Public library instead of a club

It smells good and the atmosphere is relaxed. During a stroll through the shelving aisles, Tom Boothe tells us how the operation works, what makes »La Louve« special and how they have managed to exist successfully for five years – as always eloquently and with interesting anecdotes. Tom emphasises that the »Coop«, the cooperative supermarket, sees itself more as an public library and less as a club. Everyone is welcome who wants to and who participates according to the concept: In particular, to work the three-hour shift every four weeks in order to be able to buy good and affordable food.

To be affordable for many, there is almost always a conventional and an organic product. And, in principle, any desired product can be put on the shelves.

“We do not moralise – that is an important attitude”,

Tom explains a principle about the La Louve assortment.

For logistical reasons, fruit and vegetables are only available in organic quality – but cheaper than conventional fruit and vegetables in conventional supermarkets.

On the lower floor of the supermarket we realise how big the supermarket is! Here there is more sales space, rooms for preparation and storage. With over 1,400 square metres, there is enough space for large, well-designed storage rooms. There is also a separate room where cheese is cut. We are particularly impressed by the seven cold rooms: after all, cheese, dairy products, meat, vegetables and fruit have the longest shelf life when stored at different temperatures. The ethylene-producing fruits, for example, which cause some others to age faster, are stored separately – resulting in surprisingly little waste.

Six o’clock in the morning – time for a shift at the supermarket!

After a nice first evening, some of us start very early the next day – because the first shift at La Louve starts at 6 am in the morning. This allowed us to experience a day at La Louve from the very beginning.

“La Louve has amnesia every three hours!”

Tom told us on the tour the night before.

Members do not come back after their shift until four weeks later, so it needs to be well thought out how the work is organised for the 4,300 members. Someone in the team knows and guides the others. However, if there are questions or if a job is done, one of the staff can be asked. La Louve currently has twelve full-time employees.

Almonds are very popular and to be refilled every morning. We, the bulk restocking team, were soon done. Then there were full pallets to put into the storerooms. Here five or six other members helped out. Organised chaos. It works. What goes where is signposted. The delivery date is written in sharpie on all the products and boxes. When you know what you are holding in your hands, you start looking for the right storeroom. Some goods came from Germany, that was easy. And everyone was very helpful in the storeroom search. It was a busy but relaxed atmosphere. Around quarter past eight everything was put away. The early shift is a bit shorter because the metro does not start running until around five o’clock and the members want to do some shopping themselves before they go to work.

Later in the day, some of us do other shifts and learn a lot. Brian Horihan also gives us insights into La Louve’s software and IT system and we take away a lot of know-how for MILA. Finally, Tom is interviewed by Brigitte, which Victor, our film companion, captures with his camera.

In addition to our studies from La Louve’s supermarket business, we are having a great time in Paris, getting to know each other better and enjoying the culinary delights. What an exciting, educational and community-strengthening weekend!

How La Louve came to be

Convinced by the concept of the cooperative supermarket »Park Slope Food Coop« in New York City, the two Americans Tom Boothe and Brian Horihan initiated the first steps towards founding the »Coopérative La Louve« in Paris in 2010. As gastronomes, they were and are very concerned about high quality and affordable prices for food.

After years of preparation and growth, La Louve opened at the end of 2016 as a cooperative supermarket with 2,000 members. Today, La Louve has 4,300 members and sells around 6,500 products on 550 square metres. The annual net turnover is currently around eight million euros – so that the loans taken out can already be repaid very soon. La Louve is rented in a subsidised housing project – a business premises they would not have got without the support of the city of Paris. Around the corner is an »Urban Lab« and not far away is »Le bar commun – a place to share and act together«. The 18th arrondissement, the 18th district of Paris, is still within the outer ring road in the north-east of the city centre. A working-class neighbourhood with new urban development buildings along this ring. The members come from the surrounding area, from the inner city and from the region.

La Louve now has twelve full-time employees; in a normal supermarket of this size it would probably be over 40. This saves a lot of money and makes the uniformly low mark-up of 20 percent possible – with the exception of a few product groups: such as fruit, vegetables and meat, where an additional three percent is added. The uniform mark-up also includes »non-food«. In conventional supermarkets, up to 300 per cent is added to non-food.

Corona and the lockdowns have been and remain challenging, but operations continue and La Louve is doing well!

This report appeared in MILA Mitmach Supermarkt news in late November 2021.

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