I’ll start by saying that I’m a fan of the Co-op. From living in Manchester at University (where it was the only alternative to ASDA), to one of my first jobs in advertising (shaking some potted plants behind the window of a studio kitchen to make it look a little more wintery and make those Co-op own brand chicken breast fillets look all the more appetising). I get them, I get the fair trade angle, I love their super-eco headquarters and I broadly understand the meaning behind the cooperative movement. I also get that these credentials meant that they were probably the only supermarket chain that would even have been entertained at the court of Eavis when they offered their green-grocery services to Glastonbury festival.
The partnership, which included the negotiation of planning permission for a new bricks and mortar store in Glastonbury village, could easily have descended into the usual woke-washing in which so many brands are currently indulging, but beyond a smattering of hoardings explaining their heritage and some vaguely altered packaging choices, the Co-op experience at Glastonbury was exactly that of any normal Co-op, on any normal high street. Yet herein lies the genius.
By matching their core skills - supply chain management, refrigeration and meeting demand with supply - to a place where people have had to carry their own food and drink with them for miles, are suffering in the 30° heat and demand massively out-strips supply, Co-op reframed the value that grocers bring to our everyday lives. Crucially managing to do so without feeling completely at odds with the rest of the festival and staying true to their current advertising end-line 'It's what we do.'
There's clearly something very powerful about taking your core skills out of their comfort zone and showcasing them in consumers' lives. By the end of the second day there was a small buzz around 31 Toad Lane (to give it its proper name). Minor luxuries like bags of ice suddenly felt like gestures of kindness from the Cooperative itself. It's five pound meal deal was the bargain of the festival and no one was asking how far our tent was from Shangri-La, all anyone wanted to know was how far you are from the Co-op. One of the last things I heard as we were leaving the festival was a couple arguing about how much stuff they'd brought with them. “Don’t worry,” she calmly told him “next year we can buy it all from the Co-op.”