The food co-operative triumphed in BBC Radio 4's Food & Farming Awards

BBC Radio 4 has just named Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery as the UK’s ‘Best Food Retailer’ in its annual national Food & Farming Awards 2017.

The prestigious awards were launched in 2000 to mark the 20th anniversary of Radio 4’s Food Programme. The seventeenth awards were held at a culinary star-studded ceremony at City Hall in Bristol, featuring prominent food figures like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Giorgio Locatelli, Madhur Jaffrey and Jamie Oliver.

The Best Food Retailer award 'celebrates the local shops making a positive difference to our lives, our high streets and communities by selling great quality, delicious and affordable food. Whether it’s a butcher or fishmongers, a bakery, deli or farm shop – we asked what is great about the food they source, the service they provide and their impact on the surrounding area.'

Originally nominated by its customers, Unicorn made it to the final three in the favourite food shop category out of 528 food retailers from all over the UK. The other finalists were the Organic Farmshop in Cirencester and Lavenham Butchers in Suffolk.

The judges, Gill Meller and Joanna Blythman, were impressed by the range and quality of the produce on offer at the Unicorn Grocery which delivers a range of affordable, fresh and wholesome food to South Manchester with a focus on organic and fairtrade sourcing.

Dan Holden, from Unicorn Grocery, said, “We feel delighted, proud... thank you to all our customers and growers who nominated us. We would be nothing without our farmers.”

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The Unicorn, Manchester Road, Chorlton

Since opening in 1996 as a workers' co-operative, Unicorn Grocery has grown from four members to over 70. It offers an unbeatable range of affordable, fresh and wholesome food to its South Manchester customer base and has become one of the largest and most successful wholefood outlets in the UK by maintaining an approach of direct purchasing and competitive pricing. Unicorn was also named the Soil Association's 'Best Independent Retailer' in 2016.

Ethical principles remain at the core of the business and influence not only what is sold but also how business is done. As a workers co-operative, the shop is owned and managed by the people who work in it, and they have created a place they want to shop in themselves.

Speaking about getting to the finals of Best Retailer Award, Debbie Clarke, co-op member at Unicorn, said: “We’re especially proud to be representing what can be achieved as a workers co-operative – a business owned and collectively run by its workers. We’re over the moon that our customers have put us forward, the loyalty and support we get from our community is amazing."

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The Unicorn team

Unicorn Grocery weren’t the only Greater Manchester food business up for an award. Also nominated in the You & Yours 'Best Street Food and Takeaway' award were Great North Pies, run by ex-police officer Neil Broomfield. Unfortunately, they were beaten by Seafood Shack from Ullapool.

Sheila Dillon, BBC Food Programme presenter, who co-hosted the awards, said “I find it just so incredibly moving. These are all people who work away doing extraordinarily high quality work. They do it because they care about it. There's a lot in the world to make you feel cynical and tonight's a kind of an antidote to cynicism."

You can listen to highlights from the event on The Food Programme on Radio Four.