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Taking a social bite out of business

Posted on March 13, 2015

Jane Bruce has decided many charities are just too shy after spending time with social success story Social Bite.

Since the turn of the year, I have been enjoying a placement at Social Bite as part of the Clore Social Leadership Programme. Social Bite is probably the hottest social enterprise in Scotland at the moment and not just because George Clooney is about to visit! 

Because it was set up by folk from the corporate sphere, I was keen to work there to get more commercial experience. Launched in 2012, Social Bite has made rapid progress. The company has two sandwich shops in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow (a further four shops are in the pipeline) and a blossoming corporate catering business.

In terms of social impact, the business employs 45 people including 14 former homeless people. Each shop supports around 30 homeless people a day with free food and the chain has donated over £20,000 to partner charities to date. It shouts from the rooftops unashamedly about how great it is and devotes resources to gaining the business it needs to be self-sustaining in the future.

So, what could the sector learn from the rapid rise of this social business? One thing stands out to me above all else – expert marketing. From the get-go, Social Bite has managed to nail its brand proposition, connecting with customers, investors and donors alike with the simplicity of its offer.

“Freshly prepared food created by a Michelin star chef. 100% (every single penny) of our profits donated to good causes. 1 in 4 of our team made up from formerly homeless people.”

Not exactly the painfully lengthy mission statement beloved by so many charities. Just a simple, blunt message that reflects a simple, blunt approach to making a difference.

Allied to this clarity has been significant investment to ensure that customers keep returning for the quality of the food and the friendly, polished vibe of the shops.

The snowball effect of attracting new customers has been consciously driven by some absolutely killer PR. It can’t have escaped many charities’ attention when Social Bite’s ITISON Christmas campaign went viral, raising over £180,000 in the space of an advent calendar.

This is where Social Bite provides such a valuable example – it is totally unafraid of promoting itself and its achievements. In fact it shouts from the rooftops unashamedly about how great it is and devotes the necessary resources to gaining the business it needs to be self-sustaining in the future.

In contrast, many charities fail to isolate their reason for being and shy away from focusing on areas such as fundraising, marketing and PR because they feel so alien and because they “want to get on with the real work”. The problem with this path is that it leads to an evitable struggle for survival.

Decent marketing doesn’t have to cost the earth either. It’s just as much about smart thinking. As shown by the success of the Yard, which, as Lothian Buses’ Charity of the Year, is promoted across Edinburgh on a daily basis or Gorgie City Farm, which set up a pop-up farm at Ocean Terminal shopping mall this Christmas to attract new supporters.

Fortune favours the brave when it comes to thriving not simply surviving in the current economic climate. You can order delicious, fresh food or donate a hot meal to a homeless person at Social Bite.

This blog was first published on Third Force News. It is part of a TFN series following her Fellowship journey. 

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Jane Bruce

Jane Bruce

Youth employment innovator

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