As a social enterprise, we needed new skills to help us survive the pandemic - Angela Moohan

For every business there are multiple factors which will determine success or failure, from people and product to financing and marketing. One of those key factors is brand differentiation – making sure products and services stand out from the crowd. For social enterprises, that ambition is no different, but we also need to ensure that our core purpose remains front of mind.

Angela Moohan, founder, The Larder
Angela Moohan, founder, The Larder

Ultimately, everything that a social enterprise does needs to be underpinned by its mission, but to generate sales and create a competitive advantage, any products or services also need to carry their own weight. Any profit that comes as a result of that can be reinvested back into the business, in support of the mission, for The Larder that’s providing training and food for people in need.

Consumers are more and more likely to shop ethically and pick brands with purpose – last year Accenture reported that 60% of consumers made more sustainable or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. As a social enterprise, we have local and ethical values ingrained in our ethos, however, first and foremost our products need to be of the highest quality to guarantee repeat customers.

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This is where the balancing act comes in: finding the sweet spot to create a product that consumers want to buy, but still contributes to your wider purpose. Consistency is also key, and social enterprises need to deliver the same quality time and time again even if products are bespoke or hand made.

Of course, with the lasting effects of the global pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, maintaining quality is challenging. As well as the effect on business, these factors also impact a third ‘P’ – people – and social enterprises have to give additional consideration to wages and fair working practices that ensure the vulnerable people we work with are able to navigate these challenges too. Over half of our team experience disability or disadvantage and we do all we can to ensure they stay in secure employment.

Looking at our products, we are trying harder than ever to find the right balance with our cafés, online bakery and delivery service, and our soon-to-open artisan bakery in Livingston. Our mission is to use food to change lives, whether that’s through the provision of emergency food parcels, providing up to 250 hot meals a day for people in the community, or our range of training programmes to help people to get into careers in hospitality.

The food and drink sector has faced, and continues to face, significant challenges with lockdowns having changed people’s dining habits and food prices rising by more than 5%. For social enterprises in the sector there’s an additional layer of challenges to contend with, but there have also been important avenues for support.

Crucial to The Larder’s survival post-pandemic, I attended Social Investment Scotland’s (SIS) Ambitions for Recovery programme, and joined its Retail Academy last year. Before 2020, resilience and recovery were the least of our day-to-day concerns but as soon as the pandemic hit and income streams were cut off, I knew that I would need to develop a new skillset to help us to survive. Through SIS I made connections with other social enterprises facing the same challenges – not just in hospitality – and we continue to support one another through the uncertainties and unknowns.

Like every kind of business, we will continue to face volatile and unpredictable situations, but key to success and survival is remembering the reasons why we exist in the first place. In times of crisis, as the economic landscape continues to present people with huge challenges, social enterprises have never been more needed for their role in supporting communities and good causes by delivering great products that can also deliver positive social, economic and environmental change.

Visit www.thelarder.org for more information and look out for our Livingston bakery opening soon at Brewster Square.

Angela Moohan, founder, The Larder

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