IT: GAS Gruppo di Acquisto Solidale
IT: GAS Gruppo di Acquisto Solidale
Solidarity Purchasing Groups (SPGs) are groups of consumers that organize themselves to “do the shopping” together, buying food and products for daily use directly from the producers.
What distinguishes SPGs from traditional purchasing groups, aimed at obtaining discounts, is the set of criteria used to select the products and the producers. These criteria are defined within each SPG independently, but revolve around some fundamental meanings, which include attention for the quality of the products, respect for the environment and solidarity with the producers. Indeed, SPGs pay attention to give suppliers a fair price for their products and build long-term relationships with them.
SPGs are a form of AFN (Alternative Food Network) specific of the Italian context. Born informally at the end of the 1980s, they become aware of the fact of being a new social subject only during the 1990s. The first national conference of SPGs was held in Fidenza in 1999. In this occasion, the representatives of some of the first SPGs wrote the “Basic document of SPGs”, which defined the aims and scopes of Solidarity Purchasing Groups and described the guidelines to start new ones.
During the first decades of the 2000s, the number of SPGs has increased significantly. The SPGs registered in their website, retegas.org, have passed from 28 in 1999 to 987 in 2014. However, this number is considered underestimated, and the actual number of SPGs was probably around two thousand units in 2014.
Nowadays, with the growing possibilities to buy fresh and organic food through farmers’ markets, stores and online platforms, the consumption through SPGs is declining. Indeed, the percentage of those who buy at least once a year through SPGs has decreased from 10% in 2018 to 8,6% in 2022.
However, it is important to note that SPGs are a phenomenon of particular interest not only from the point of view of consumption practices, but also of the cultural elaboration carried out by their members. The values of social solidarity and environmental sustainability of which GAS were pioneers have in fact spread significantly within society in the last three decades.
SPGs pay attention to both social and environmental sustainability. To foster social sustainability, SPGs tend to privilege small producers over bigger ones, build long-term relationships with them and are available to help them in case of financial difficulty. Moreover, SPGs often support projects with a high social value, and engage in relationships with social cooperatives. As far as environmental sustainability is concerned, SPGs have always favoured organic producers or those who practice natural agriculture. Moreover, some of them choose to buy locally sourced products when possible.
Initially, SPGs had the fundamental role to provide their members with healthy food, to address the lacks of large-scale distribution products, which were considered unsafe, unhealthy and unsustainable. Thus, the preference for organic or even natural agriculture, without the use of artificial chemicals, was a fundamental element of SPGs in the first period, together with the idea of choosing small businesses and developing relations of trust with them.
Over the time, some of the values of SPGs – especially the interest in organic products – have become more and more widespread into the population. In order to answer this growing demand, the offer of supermarkets and stores have changed, too. Moreover, in the very last years, the spreading of platforms for buying fresh, organic, locally sourced food has expanded, and has become even stronger with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this scenario, SPGs continue to exist, but behave in different ways. If most of them still work according to established practices, some others are engaging in innovative processes, thus transforming into different social subjects, such as food coops, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or networks of SPGs that share small-scale distribution systems.
SPGs were born around the theme of food, and this has always remained the central one in these experiences. In addition to food, SPGs have gradually begun to purchase other goods, such as household cleaning and personal care products. Some SPGs have also bought fashion products such as shoes, jeans and intimate shirts.
The selection of fashion suppliers is based on similar criteria to those used for food suppliers. Thus, SPGs tend to prefer producers that work in Italy and realize garments in natural and organic fibres.
However, fashion purchases have never become central to SPGs and actually constitute a marginal experience. Today, the collective purchase of clothing exists only in few SPGs. However, some groups engage in activities related to clothing, organizing moments of sale of clothes for non-profit purposes, or exchanging garments informally within the group.
Below a not exhaustive list of SPGs of particular interest, divided by city:
“GAS Filo di Paglia” is an SPG of particular interest. Founded in Milan during the 1990s, it takes its name from the book “The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming” by Fukuoka. Over the course of three decades, the “Filo di Paglia” has tutored various SPGs in Milan and promoted the creation of a SPGs network to buy fresh fish. From 2021, it contributes to organize a farmers’ market which has multiple aims: promoting critical consumption in Milan, supporting local producers and purchasing high quality products for needy families in the neighbourhood.
“GAS Baggio” represents another interesting experience. Founded in Milan in 2000, it has developed a crucial role with the territory, supporting some small producers of the Parco Agricolo Sud Milano in their transition to organic farming.
Other interesting experiences have been developed in the province of Varese (Lombardy), with the creation of a project of small-scale organized distribution, and in Tuscany, Marche and Lazio.
In the South of Italy, SPGs are less widespread. However, the Sicilian experience deserves to be mentioned, as in this context SPGs were promoted by the producers themselves. Specifically, Roberto Li Calzi, a historic producer of organic oranges supported by Milanese SPGs at the beginning of the 2000s, together with other consortium producers, launched the SPGs experience in Sicily, with what he himself called "the landing of SPGs in Sicily".
a) Academic/peer reviewed
Baldi, L., Bertoni, D., Migliore, G., & Peri, M. (2019). How alternative food networks work in a metropolitan area? An analysis of Solidarity Purchase Groups in Northern Italy. Agricultural and Food Economics, 7(20), 1-21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40100-019-0139-3
Fonte, M. (2013). Food consumption as social practice: Solidarity purchasing groups in Rome, Italy. Journal of Rural Studies, 32, 230-239. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2013.07.003
Forno, F., Grasseni, C. e Signori, S. (2013). ‘Dentro il capitale delle relazioni'. La ricerca "nazionale" sui Gas in Lombardia. In Tavolo per la Rete italiana di Economia Solidale, a cura di, Un’economia nuova, dai Gas alla zeta. Milano: Altreconomia.
Fukuoka, M. (1975) The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. NYRB Classics.
Guidi, R., e Andretta, M. (2015). Between resistance and resilience. How do Italian solidarity purchase groups change in times of crisis and austerity?. Partecipazione e conflitto, 8(2), 443-477. DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v8i2p477
Mastronardi, L., Romagnoli, L., Mazzocchi, G., Giaccio, V., e Marino, D. (2019). Understanding consumer’s motivations and behaviour in alternative food networks. British Food Journal. 121(9), 2102-2115. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/bfj-01-2019-0032
b) Other sources
Retegas (1999). Documento base dei GAS. Testo disponibile al sito: https://www.economiasolidale.net/content/documento-base-dei-gas (consultato il: 19 novembre 2021)
Tavolo per la rete italiana di Economia Solidale, a cura di (2010). Il capitale delle relazioni: come creare e organizzare gruppi d’acquisto e altre reti di economia solidale, in cinquanta storie esemplari. Milano: Altreconomia.
Online webinar “Che fine hanno fatto i GAS?” 14/02/2022: https://fb.watch/bkzWrUaX17/