It doesn’t have a Facebook Page and you won’t find it on Google Maps – but there’s no big secret behind the low profile.
Pop-Up Wholefoods is a small-scale food co-op that has been operating in Dublin’s North Inner City since 2012. It’s much less widely-known than the pioneering Dublin Food Co-op, now based in Kilmainham, and somewhat mirrors the way its older sibling started out in 1980s. In fact, it’s worth briefly comparing and contrasting.
Both operations focus on organic food and share a strong orientation toward zero waste goals. Just as importantly, each operates purely to meet the needs of its membership, rather than for pursuit of profit. However, the two organisational formats are very different. Dublin Food Co-op operates as a full-time retail store, outwardly similar to a health food shop, while its counterpart in Dublin 1 is based on pre-ordering and uses its base building on a ‘pop-up’ basis. It has no shopfront and no trading presence on any city street. Largely invisible, it operates with very limited overhead, using the ‘bulk buying club’ format.
Thus, rather than browsing products on shelves, members of the co-op receive a detailed catalogue by email – made up of hundreds of wholefood, household and personal care items – from which they can make big savings with a little forward planning. Individual submissions are combined into a group order to be placed with a wholesaler after payments have been gathered.
The afternoon the pallet arrives is a sociable and thoroughly productive one, with volunteer members working together to allocate the supplies by household. Collections are in full flow by early evening and, soon, all trace of the co-op is gone.
Members of the co-op are its co-owners and its volunteer workers, motivated by the low prices they receive as part of the group and the chance to collaborate in sourcing good food with minimum waste. The format may be radically different from today’s Dublin Food Co-op, but not from its origins – DFC began in the mid-1980s as a bulk buying club. More recently, too, The Urban Co-op in Limerick got started this way before transitioning towards a conventional store.
However, don’t expect any such evolution on the Northside – this pop-up co-op is committed to staying small-scale and low cost. Thus, while it’s currently open to new members, it’s less interested in expanding than in promoting the ‘bulk buying club’ model and supporting others who want to create something similar in their own locality.