Cost of living: Southampton vegan food shop forced to close amid soaring energy bills

A pioneering Southampton shop which sells vegan products has been forced to close because its energy bills have trebled.

Rice Up Wholefoods which is based at the Hanover Buildings in the city centre will open on Wednesday, and perhaps Thursday, hoping to sell its remaining stock, fixtures and fittings to cover the cost of liquidation.

Founded by animal rights campaigners 9 years ago, the independent wholefood grocery shop is run by a workers' co-operative.

They say their bills have risen from £700 a month to £2,400 and they simply can't afford to continue.

The store will shut its doors for the last time this week with the loss of five jobs.

Director Dorothy Martin said it's combination of factors that has led to the closure of the store: "We were ok for the first so many years.

Rice Up Wholefoods is closing down by the end of the week.

"The supermarkets came along and decided to start doing a very small amount of vegan food. Now they do a huge range of vegan products.

"Then the pandemic came, and we had lockdowns, and people wouldn't go shopping. A lot of people who would never normally shop online started to shop online.

"Then Debenhams and Laura Ashley down the road closed, which affected our footfall. At the same time the cost of living is rising.

"People have so little money - so even if they want to shop with us, and we only go by recommended retail price, supermarkets are offering it cheaper, and I don't blame them.

"But the energy costs was the most horrendous part of all."

  • Director of Rice Up Foods says the rise in energy bills was unmanageable

The business launched a fundraiser in an attempt to make £20,000 in donations to survive, but described it as 'needing a miracle to survive.'

Posting on their social media pages they said: "As it becomes easier and easier to shop and eat ethically, please continue to support smaller and independent business' if possible -ones that genuinely care about the issues we always worked hard to support and embody. 

"Use them or lose them as they say! Please support the city's remaining independents.

"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who has worked with us, shopped with us and volunteered with us over the last nine years, it's been a lot of fun."

The shop is hoping to sell off its stock before it closes its door for the final time.

The Federation of Small Businesses says 15% of companies fear they will have to downsize or close in the next 12 months.

James Anderson from the Federation said: "This has come off the back of a couple of years of uncertainty.

"Small businesses are really struggling. There's no forecast of what's ahead, so it's really really difficult for them at the moment.

"It's a myth that this is a global problem. The government could temporarily reduce taxes on energy bills for consumers and small firms.

"They could also raise the business rate threshold, so small businesses have more of a chance to use that money to pay for these energy bills which are going up."