Typically, the distinction is clear: a grocery store sells food; a food bank gives it away to those in need. But a new supermarket in The Netherlands blurs the line between the two, selling food to those who can afford it and giving it away to those who can prove they need assistance, all without any government aid.
Swingmarket, located in one of Amsterdam’s poorest neighborhoods, is a nonprofit grocery store that covers its expenses by catering to paying customers while also giving food away for free. “Fruit, vegetables and bread are free, everything marked with orange dots is free, the rest is sold,” Marij de Ronde explained to The Daily Beast. Beyond the freebies, customers can also apply to shop with a free card that, unlike SNAP benefits in the U.S., comes from the store, not the government. Swingmarket reviews customers’ applications, analyzing their finances and decides who it can help, providing additional credit to shop on top of the already free items.
The store is able to keep costs down by working directly with wholesalers to grab excess stock, as well as by accepting donations that are given away for free. All the employees are volunteers. They even keep the heat turned off to save cash. But all these measures prevent the need for any government intervention—like some sort of libertarian fantasy.
“If you accept money from government it will demand things back from you, like data for instance,” said Jacob Meinardi, who works for the Met Zuid Foundation that runs the store. “We prefer to remain independent... That's why we combine free food with selling products like a regular store. If one kilo of potatoes is sold, I can give one kilo away.”
For now, Swingmarket seems to be finding its market. De Ronde says they had 2,900 paying customers in the past week, which she says should definitely be enough to cover the rent. Maybe if things really start to pick up, they can turn on the heat by next winter.