Independent of the Month: Cambridge Food Collective

Combining independent retailing with the convenience of online shopping could bring foodie Cambridge to your doorstep

One of the great things about life in Cambridge is the amazing range of independent retailers in our community – something we constantly strive to showcase and celebrate in Cambridge Edition.

We’re particularly spoiled by the wide range of food and drink outlets, meaning that whether you’re looking for organic, locally sourced ingredients for a family meal or a really special bottle of bespoke gin for a gift, you can find a passionate independent retailer to help you out. But it can be frustrating when work and family life take over, making it difficult to find the time to get to a local butcher or baker during opening hours, or browse to find that special ingredient. 

One Cambridge resident who felt that sense of frustration is Cambridge food blogger Nazima Pathan; and in September last year she decided to do something about it. “I’ve been a huge fan of the local independent food scene for a long time,” says Nazima. “But I work, my husband works, and we have a young family, so we struggled to find a way to shop from independent food shops. We thought that if we wanted a solution to this problem, there must be other people out there that wanted the same thing.”

Nazima talked to various producers and they were all very supportive of the idea of an online portal that offered the convenience for the customer of one basket and one payment, and no need to visit the shops individually. The difficulty was finding premises to put all the orders together. “We had the idea in March last year,” Nazima explains, “but struggled to find a venue that would let us operate without charging huge amounts by the hour.” 

That’s where Nazima’s friend Inder, of well-known Cambridge food retailer Inder’s Kitchen, came in. “Inder had the space, plus the freezers and refrigerators, and was prepared for her team to get involved in helping pack up the orders,” says Nazima. “She also had a refrigerated van. Once we got all the regulatory stuff sorted out for the new company to run from her premises, we were off.”

The site launched in September, and has been a great success. Initially the website featured a band of around 20 suppliers who Nazima had on board from the start, and it has since expanded to 26 companies. Nazima essentially had to invent the process herself, as there isn’t another company quite like it.

“The customer orders what they want from the website, from a whole range of food and drink suppliers,” she explains, “then each supplier brings the things that have been ordered to our hub at Inder’s Kitchen.

“The customer pays through a secure payment gateway, and the credit card isn’t charged until the day that everything comes in, so that no one gets charged for anything that we can’t supply. Our suppliers are fantastic though, and it’s very rare that something is ordered and can’t be sent out. Then the customer either comes and picks up or has it delivered – if it’s delivery they select a time slot and get it brought to them in a refrigerated van.” 

On the Cambridge Food Collective website, shoppers are greeted with some of the finest products from the local foodie scene. As well as fabulous cheese from Cambridge Cheese Company, ice cream from Jack’s Gelato, top quality meat from Radmore Farm and drinks from the likes of the Saffron Brewery, you can pick up homemade ready meals such as delicious pies and soups. That’s in addition to fresh fruit and veg, dairy products, bread and other everyday essentials. 

Currently, delivery is on a Thursday, but Nazima has plans to expand. “In the next few weeks we will start offering delivery five days a week, as well as next day delivery” she explains.

“It’s a big leap, but we have had a lot of demand. For the customer it makes sense – people don’t necessarily want to have everything ordered by our current cut-off day of Tuesday. They want a bit more flexibility, and we are keen to offer it.  

"All our suppliers are small independent companies"

“It should work well for us, and for our suppliers, too. We don’t hold stock on our premises, we are a supply-to-order shop, so we pay our suppliers when they send us goods. It means that it’s not a problem if demand fluctuates from day to day.”

The product range will be enhanced, too, branching out to include fresh fish and seafood, as well as an expanded selection of bread and cakes, whilst Inder, a vital presence since the start of the business, will be joining the management team. 

There are plans to expand the reach of the delivery as well. At the moment the collective delivers between CB1 and CB5, but they will soon be delivering to CB21 to CB25 postcodes, as well as SG8.

There are exciting times ahead for Cambridge Food Collective. Exciting times, too, for Cambridgeshire food and drink lovers, many of whom will get the chance to have quality, unique produce from local independent suppliers delivered. And that’s something we can all drink to.