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While food businesses across Britain have made efforts to boost their sustainability credentials, few have done so with such a running jump as Manchester’s Chorlton Cheesemongers. Having opened in April 2020, just as lockdown took hold in the UK, the retailer hit the ground running.
The team’s main focus when it comes to sustainability is in sourcing considerately. By working only with small cheesemakers, they can have confidence and often first-hand experience of the animal welfare and land and soil management credentials of the produce they sell. Owner Chris Hallam is passionate about making sure that none of the products on Chorlton Cheesemongers’ shelves are sourced from farms that use intensive farming or mass production practices; instead, ethical, sustainable farming is at the heart of each of the shop’s suppliers.
“Working with small producers with small herds is the most sustainable way to source cheese,” Chris explains. “We like to work with small businesses which have small herds on small farms, and show incredible diversity in their farming techniques.” Just like the retailer, these businesses have the long-term picture in mind when it comes to the way they run their establishments. “They know that their livelihoods depend on the cheese they produce being the best, so they look after their land and business in order to be able to provide that,” says Chris.
This approach suits the area’s thriving vegan and vegetarian population, too, who often have questions regarding the sustainable farming practices used by the cheesemakers that Chris sources from. And it is useful to be able to justify – “in a non-defensive way” – to customers who might need clarification on why Chorlton Cheesemongers’ cheeses are more expensive than those found elsewhere.
As well as making sure that the businesses feeding into Chorlton Cheesemongers are sustainably minded, Chris and the team have put in a number of processes with their suppliers and landlord which minimise its impact on the environment, too – what’s more, they plan to continue to make such changes as time rolls on.
First on the list is the rejection of all single use plastic – a challenge within the cheese retail sector, for which wrapping cheese in clingfilm is a useful tool (they use alternatives wherever possible, and are currently using non-paraben clingfilm for health reasons during the pandemic). This was a non-negotiable from the word go, says Chris; thankfully the business didn’t have to alter its plans to suit the new Covid climate. They use biodegradable – within an impressive 12 weeks – bags and pots from Greenman Packaging, and customers are encouraged to bring and reuse their own bags. Deliveries are available through carbon-free, car-free service Chorlton Bike Deliveries at a cost of just £2.50 (Chris and the team supplement a generous £1.50 per delivery).
Sustainability also runs through the Wilbraham Road shop. Electricity is supplied by renewable energy business Ecotricity, while its chiller units are low-energy static coil evaporators.
“The chiller system we use is a gravity cooler – no fans, reducing electric consumption,” explains Chris. “It’s more expensive, but long-term we can use the energy that it generates to heat our water and get rid of our gas boiler.” Cleaning products are as environmentally friendly as possible while maintaining hygiene standards, food waste is minimised, and the team has developed mutually beneficial relationships with local businesses in order to avoid excessive fuel usage for suppliers.
“Cheese is such a simple thing – you just need cheese, a customer, and a knife – but we haven’t been able to experience proper customer tastings since we’ve started, so we’re looking forward to being able to do so when things get back to normal. Being able to offer tastings properly will be like opening the shop again! We used to put a bit of cheese on a piece of paper and hand it over to customers, but we haven’t been able to do that since masks came in. Our vocabulary has very much improved, though!”
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