Good Food Governance

Essential Trading: serving up sustainability

By Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson

As one of the UK’s pioneering vegan, vegetarian, organic and “free from” food wholesalers, Bristol’s Essential Trading Co-operative also pride themselves on their ethical approach to business operations and sustainability. Essential Trading is the lead partner for Bristol Bites Back Better. Essential’s Jimmy Nelson writes in our latest blog post about these values and how Essential are inspiring their customers to follow suit.

We recognise that there is a global shift toward more plant-based foods including legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and our catalogue reflects this with a meat-free product list of nearly 5000 items. Read to the end of this blog to watch a short recipe video using our new product, the Essential Bulgar and Split Pea Mix, filmed by friend of Essential, Sam Cole.

Supporting local

Where possible, we purchase from local and organic food producers, allowing our suppliers to put back into their land and regenerate. We also support independent retailers by not supplying supermarkets, meaning we also get valuable insight into the health of the local economies we serve. 

It’s better by boat

On a global level, we import produce from around the world as sea cargo – never by airfreight.  As the world begins to address the consequences of air travel, we can boast that we adopted this concept nearly 50 years ago.

The plastic paradox

Recognising that the ecosystem of the planet is in need of preservation, Essential continually work on ways to generate less waste. For wholesalers of any industry, and in particular food and beverages, this is not a simple task. Food production at any level naturally brings with it a large amount of packaging, and although consumers are gradually waking up to the fact that much packaging goes to waste, it remains a major stumbling block for many businesses. We have genuine concern for the environment and where possible, all of our packaging is recycled. This is no mean feat.  We also recognise that even the small steps can make a major difference. The tape that wraps all of our boxes is now made of paper and replaces the sharp and immortal plastic tape that has dominated wrapping in all sectors. Additionally, our plastic and shrink wrap has previously been collected and turned into bin liners, a procedure that we are keen to develop. 

Essential Trading workers

Waging war on waste

At Essential, we declare our waste on a Waste Declaration form. This needs to be completed by the waste producer in order to activate the legal removal of any waste. Companies who produce waste are required to comply with the UK Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy 2019 directive, which categorises the waste that they are producing. In keeping with a waste-saving outlook, we trade with zero waste customers throughout the UK (as well here in Bristol), and are happy to report that many others are now switching to this philosophy. 

We bestow it, instead of throwing it

We try to reduce food waste where we can and we donate to a number of good causes and organisations like Super Supper Club, Base and Roses Food Solidarity Project, Borderlands, Bath Vegan Food Bank and the Trussell Trust. This helps the South West’s poorer communities, refugees and asylum seekers. Because of our close affinity to the environment and the wildlife that lives in it, we also donate to permaculture projects, chicken farms and an animal sanctuary that plays host to pigs that’ll eat almost anything!

We are also planning a food waste collection so that any other wastage can be used to make compost or bio-energy, though distractions such as COVID-19 and uncertainty related to Brexit have delayed this for now.

Bulk is best
Essential actively promote bulk buying, identifying that a reduction in the number of deliveries made benefits the environment.  This is welcomed by many customers, particularly larger retailers.  Similarly, we have a long history of developing and delivering to buying groups; a collection of community representatives who collaborate and buy in bulk.  This eliminates the need for supermarket trips and/or multiple deliveries from a number of food couriers, a service that has dramatically increased during the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Essential Trading products

We’ve seen the light!
To cap it off, we draw all of our electrical power from roof-mounted solar panels.  As a fast-paced business based in big premises with a substantial warehouse requiring power on a 24-hour basis, this is quite an achievement.

Finally, our pedal-powered people
If you visit us, you’ll be struck by a distinct lack of motor vehicles in the carpark – the vast majority of our staff commute by bicycle throughout all of Bristol’s best and worst weather. 

We are, proudly, your local, economical, environmentally friendly and united co-operative.

Essential Bulgar and Split Pea Mix recipe

Essential Bulgar and Split Pea Mix recipe

Friend of Essential Trading Company, Sam Cole, has filmed this recipe using our new product, Essential Bulgar and Split Pea Mix. We have very recently made this into a 15kg bulk-buy product and it should appear on our website soon with the code G0250. Alternatively, you can combine 430g of bulgar and 70g of split pea (green or yellow or a combination) to make the mix yourself.  Serve with a seasonal salad and your favourite stew as shown in the video.

Serves: 2-3 people  


2-3 tbsp oil
1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1 onion 
2 cups Essential Bulgar Peas Mix
1 tsp salt
drizzle olive oil (optional)


  1. Cover the surface of a deep-frying pan with oil and heat. When the oil is hot enough, add the cumin (if using) and fry until aromatic.
  2. Chop an onion finely and add it to the frying pan. Stir until golden-brown.
  3. Add two cups of Essential Bulgar Peas Mix and the salt. Stir for a half a minute or so.
  4. Add three cups of water (one cup and a half for each cup of Essential Bulgar Peas Mix).
  5. Stir well and thoroughly until the water start to evaporate. Cover, then turn off the heat. Leave it to absorb the liquid for 20 minutes before serving.
  6. Drizzle some olive oil over at the end if liked.

Essential are the lead partner for Bristol Bites Back Better, a campaign that empowers Bristolians to create a food system that will nourish our city far into the future. Read Jimmy from Essential’s recent blog post about the co-operative’s history and values and how they have offered a different model of food supply since the 1970s.

Visit to explore resources, discover stories, and participate in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #BiteBackBetter.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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