Which Supermarket is Giving Away Free Food?

The Lempert Report
April 12, 2016

People in the Netherlands that can't afford food can now go to the Swing Market.

Swing market is a unique supermarket in the Netherlands where there are basically two types of customers - people who can’t afford food and people who can. Much like the story of Robin Hood, the people who can afford to pay do so, and the people who cannot can select fruits, vegetables, breads and any packages with an orange dot for free. Those with limited incomes “can shop with a free card supplied by the store. All the fruit and vegetables boxes are marked with an orange sticker once the buy-in price is matched. After that they become free for Swingmarket card holders, and reasonable bargains for everyone else. It is a practical way to make sure the expenses are always met. 

Swingmarket opened its doors on Dec. 1, 2015, in the second-poorest neighborhood in the Netherlands and began out of concern for school children. Jakob Meinardi, of the Met Zuid Foundation that runs the market said that “Schools were telling us the kids are getting to school hungry. Many children in this area go without breakfast at home. Fruit, vegetables and bread are goods some people around here simply can't afford, and the charitable food banks in the area were short on supplies”. Although the market has its own vetting procedures, part of the point is to make healthy food easier to come by for people who might not fit easily into a government-regulated niche.

He started contacting fruit and vegetable wholesalers. In the Netherlands farms and companies waste a disturbing four to five billion euros worth of food each year. But the conundrum is that selling it for a lower price would “spoil” the market, so the surplus is callously discarded. Meinardi tapped into that mega surplus for the food banks. He also found out that shopping at a supermarket, including this one, does not carry the same kind of stigma as lining up at a food bank. People are referred to the Swingmarket by police, social services and other welfare organizations. The Met Zuid Foundation looks at someone's entire budget; income, utility bills, insurance, bank statements and debts. What is left determines if someone is eligible for a that special Swingmarket credit-card.

He explains how it works: “We give people below a certain income a ‘gold-card’ with fictitious money, “they can shop here with it here.” Anyone having €180 [$200] or less to spend on groceries a month fits that profile. The composition of a family determines how much credit will be on the card. A single unemployed mother with two kids, for instance, will get €40 a month in addition to the free staple foods. Since most products in the store go for under €2, that money can go a long way.

The store combines free food with selling products like a regular store. Similar to Tom’s and other startups, if one kilo of potatoes is sold, they can give one kilo away. A couple weeks ago they reported having 2,900 paying customers in one week which covered the rent and then some. All the workers are unpaid volunteers. To keep costs down, the store is not heated or air conditioned and some of the store's stock is donated by other supermarkets or stores, and those goods can't be sold for any amount of money to anyone.