Solidarity Purchasing Groups in Lombary Region (Italy)

Solidarity Purchasing Groups (SPG) are structures for purchasing food collectively, particularly widespread in Italy. Several consumers (individuals, families, groups of consumers) gather together in informal structures and cooperate to buy food and goods directly from producers. This aggregation of consumers is based on shared driving principles of equity, solidarity, responsibility, sustainability, environmental-friendly practices and quality products. However, though similar to farmers’ market for the collective dimension, a SPG differs from them because of a more indirect connection between main actors. The direct relationship between producers and consumers, in fact, is not always a physical connection: food products are usually conveyed to a collector, normally a consumer or a representative of the group, and then sorted according to the orders and delivered to the specific reference structure, where consumers and pick up their own products.

Solidarity Purchasing Groups represent initiatives of social innovation, strongly linking producers and consumers in a trust relationship. The quantitative dimension of the phenomenon goes far beyond the numbers officially collected at National level; a more precise estimation (Cores, 2012) taking into account many more experiences, states that in Italy at least 2,000 SPG exist, each grouping from 30 to 50 families and connecting them with at least 10 producers, for a total of almost 500,000 people involved.

Lombardy Region is where SPGs are most widespread (25% of the total number), with a major concentration in the provinces North to Milan (table 2). It leads to consider the economic aspect as a phenomenon assuming a primary and more and more relevant role: each group can generate 35,000€ a year by commercializing mainly fresh fruit and vegetables (5-7 metric tons per week). The rise of SPGs was initially aimed to reach a closer social cohesion and promote a stronger settlement in the local context; however, they are more often spreading in other and wider contexts, since they have been developing as more and more requested systems, able to provide food products with specific characteristics (e.g. organic products), not necessarily produced in a specific territorial context. Moreover the numerousness of involved consumers and both quantities and variety of purchased products may lead SPGs to have various levels of logistics organization, quite similar to commercial structures. Further innovative features can be traced back to the aggregation of several SPGs into cooperative or consortia structures, such as the cooperative AEQUOS operating in Lombardy in the provinces Northern to Milan. Sharing the same purchasing structure strengthens personal interactions and durability of the system. These new forms of aggregation are responsible for both logistics 1 and distribution, allow dealing with availability of food products and obtaining purchase volumes such as to ensure exploiting economies of scale in management processes, logistics, and relationships with producers and then ensures high quantities of food and low logistic and transport costs, finally returning to favourable conditions to both producers and consumers, if compared to what large-retail distribution offers.

Osservatorio CORES (2012)– Università di Bergamo. Ricerca “Dentro il capitale delle relazioni”.

Forno, F., Grasseni, C. and Signori, S. (2013). Oltre la spesa. I gruppi di acquisto solidale come laboratori 12 di cittadinanza e palestre di democrazia. Sociologia del lavoro 132(4):127-142.