Suma reaches a global market from its distribution centre in Yorkshire in northern England. This worker-owned wholefood wholesaling cooperative develops and distributes ethically-produced, environmentally-friendly foods and household products to some 5,000 retail and institutional customers in 55 countries.
Suma started as an informal privately-owned business in 1975 in Leeds and was bought and registered as a cooperative by its workers in 1977. This was done with the support of a dozen or so existing worker cooperative wholefood retailers, which had come together as the Federation of Northern Wholefood Collectives and wished to benefit from a supplier local to them. Members have held true to its founding principles of organisational independence, radical equality, empowerment and self-management of workers such that in 2019 Suma still pays an equal wage rate to all workers (which is double the industry average). There is no chief executive officer or managing director (under the slogan ‘Disempower the Executive’). Members practice multi-skilling and job rotation and all management is done consensually (they say ‘Management is a Function not a Status.’)
The cooperative currently has some 300 workers (250 full-time equivalents) from all social classes, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations and genders. Nearly 200 are full members with the remainder being aspiring members or contracted employees. Equal opportunities, for all who are willing to become a Suma member, and take advantage of the skills development possible in this more or less equal-status organisation, is both a key ethical principle and a key to the commercial success of the business.
Turnover for 2018/19 was €65 million, reflecting a normal 10% per year growth rate. In 2019 Suma was voted ‘Most Ethical UK Company of the past 30 years’ by the readers of Ethical Consumer magazine.