Located near the Wiel centre of contemporary art in Forest, the Bloum cooperative is a citizens’ initiative that stems from a sustainable neighbourhood project (Quartier-WielsWijk) and a GASAP (group for the solidary purchase of food from small farmers). The goal was to create a store of organic, local and bulk products as well as a meeting place, offering an alternative to the supermarket, a different economic model, and to make these quality products accessible to a larger number of people.
I joined Bloum in November and have since almost exclusively shopped there. There is a wide variety of products, most of which are sold in bulk: fresh fruit and vegetables, awesome bread, canned goods, local cheeses and beers, tofu, spices, rice, pasta, cleaning products…In the long run a bit of organization is needed to have the necessary recipients for your bulk products, but there are also paper and glass recipients in the store if you forget.
You can shop there a few times to try it out, but you will have to become a cooperative member if you wish to continue shopping at Bloum. This entails the purchase of a (tax-deductible) share for 100 Euros and a monthly fee of 10 Euros per adult in the household (and 5 per child). In my experience this is easily paid off: Bloum’s margin on products is only 20% when most other organic shops have margins closer to 50 or even 75%. This means that I do not see much difference between the price of a food basket in Bloum or in a supermarket, while the quality is far superior.
Because of a lack of start-up capital and scarce financial support for citizen initiatives, Bloum has been run by volunteers since its creation a couple of years ago. This lack of resources has made it a challenging journey, but things are now running more smoothly with the cooperative’s first employee. Membership fees cover this salary as well as other general expenses. This paid membership model is the first in Brussels (perhaps Belgium?), but has been practiced in Germany for over 30 years.
Come and visit Bloum and see for yourself. A cooperative members will give you a tour and explain how it works. Bloum is located at Rue des Alliés 174, 1190 Forest, and is open from Tuesday to Friday from 16:00 to 19:00 and on Saturday from 10:00 to 13:00.
If you don’t live in Forest and would be interested in replicating this model, here are a few tips from Bloum’s team:
The first thing to do is to get together. A cooperative is by definition a group of people, so share the idea around you and see who is willing to take part. Find suitable partners, visit existing cooperative supermarkets, and collectively decide on the bases of the model you would like to pursue. Start with a small but dedicated team, as many decisions will have to be made in the first steps and it is better not too have too many voices.
Talk about the project in the neighbourhood, see what expectations and motivations there are to take part in such project, what reticences or obstacles. Presenting the project in public forums will allow you to recruit new members, get crucial feedback and start building the working groups for different themes (legal, administration, communication, grocery, social purpose…).
It is important to have the right set of skills. Bloum’s admin group was trained by SAW-B (social economy federation), which is specialised in providing support for budding cooperatives. This will give the enterprise a more structured approach, allow to make more informed choices and under the supervision by experienced outsiders. There are available susbsidies for certain trainings.
Launching a grocery store with an alternative economic model and largely based on volunteer time (at least for its first steps) is tough and may be chaotic by moments. Accept that there might be mistakes and move on. The cooperative structure means that advances might be slow but will be steady.