Instituto Chão: Food with Conscience

Imagine a place where you can buy a diverse range of locally grown, organic food at cost price. Where the money pays suppliers fairly, there are no intermediates and there is no managerial hierarchy/‘owner’. On top of that, everyone who works there is paid equally? Cue ‘Instituto Chão’ (Ground Institute in English) – a supermarket based in Vila Madalena, São Paulo with a unique concept.

It might sound hard to digest at first, but these principles of democratic decision making, not for profit, fairness and collaboration are central tenets to the work of this social project. 

Chão believes food, healthcare, and education should be available to everyone and not for-profit. The organisation challenges societal norms by highlighting undervalued essential jobs and questioning wealth distribution

Fresh produce sold at Chão, image by Instituto Chão

With food as a central component of their work, they help farmers and workers who make healthy and natural products, collaborating with over 550 producer groups across Brazil to bring their products to Chão’s shelves.

Instituto Chão, Vila Madalena
Chão’s team meet once a month to forecast how much it will cost to keep the initiative running and on that basis make a percentage suggestion of what Chão’s community could contribute on top of their cost price shopping. The percentage is voluntary to ensure the produce is accessible, but even for those who do decide to pay it, the bill totals lower than the market average. Knowing the inflated cost of buying from organic/farmer’s markets in the UK – it was really refreshing to be able to get good quality food supporting a great initiative like this – without paying a premium. We were left wondering if this kind of idea could float in London or other worldwide cities. What do you think?

Insider’s Tips

Instituto Chão really is the organic supermarket without the premium prices. There is a great range inside that includes fresh produce, groceries, meats, meat alternatives, readymade options, eco cleaning and personal hygiene products, craft beers and even a diversity friendly mini bookshop. 

Remember to take bags (they will also have some boxes there) and an umbrella. Sāo Paulo is notoriously rainy and although you can get a cab from the supermarket home, you may still get soaked in between them. Try walking with food in rucksack if possible. 

At the checkout, you will be asked if you wish to support the initiative’s work by paying an extra 30% ish per cent on top of the bill. This will still be way lower than most other local supermarkets, so it’s worth paying if you can afford it and you’d be supporting a good cause too.

Chão believes food, healthcare, and education should be available to everyone and not for-profit.