Celebrating National Co-op Month
Happy National Co-op Month. While you probably didn’t know that about October until you read this, it’s nice that co-ops, of their many assorted colors, are recognized for the contribution they make. It has been great helping our sector, food co-ops, grow and gain national recognition. It has been even more rewarding to expand as an active part of our local community. We find ourselves, however, at an interesting juncture.
Awhile back someone said to me, “Safeway has so many of the same products the Co-op has, is there any reason for the Co-op to still exist?” I was dumbfounded. I just didn’t think of it as a question. I thought that the unique aspects of the Co-op were so many, and so apparent. I do realize, though, that the market has changed dramatically, with many businesses adopting one or two practices that had been unique to the Co-op. Let me point out a few areas where there is little similarity between the Co-op and those businesses.
For starters, the Co-op is owned by the community—it remains a not-for-profit, community-owned business in an age when most other businesses (certainly groceries of similar size and scope) are corporately owned by distant stockholders—people who neither live, nor work, nor invest in the community, and who, in almost all cases, prize deep profits above any other value.
Yet the Co-op is not just owned by the community – the nearing 20,000 households that have invested equity to make this business successful – but is a deep-seated fixture of the community. There is no other business that reaches out and affects people the way the Co-op does. There is the 4% Friday program, which has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local non-profit organizations, extending the Co-op’s impact further into the community. The Tokens for Tomorrow program also provides donations, locally and beyond. The Co-op’s two conference rooms are used a couple hundred times a year by local non-profit groups, providing much needed meeting space. These same spaces house over a hundred educational workshops yearly.
The Co-op also does a lot to have a positive impact in communities beyond our own. For instance, our It’s One World program in Mercantile. We have over a hundred vendors we carry products from that have a specific practice of giving back. It might be a portion of sales going to charity, or a free pair of shoes for a needy child for every one you buy. We are always looking to build the ranks of vendors who share our desire to make a difference. It might be in Mercantile, or as a new Fair Trade chocolate bar or through the coffee we roast every day.
At its core the Co-op is an environmental steward. No other local business comes close to achieving what the Co-op does. It’s great that other stores are now carrying organic products–an industry that food co-ops nurtured and helped bring to maturity. But, none of those store selections come close to the breadth and depth of the Co-op. We have thousands of products that are organic, or contain organic ingredients. That is a tremendous amount of harmful agricultural chemicals that you keep out of the environment.
The Co-op was the only area store that actively campaigned for, and contributed toward, passing the Right to Know, GMO labeling bill. The Co-op has spoken out, or taken action, on many other food related issues. Irradiated foods will not be knowingly carried by the Co-op. We stay away from products with HFCS, RGBH, and trans fats. We dropped all products that contained parabens, as well as those tested on animals. This, along with our product guidelines, which screen out products with artificial preservatives, flavors or colors, stands alone in our marketplace. The Co-op is not only supporting your health and wellbeing, but having a positive environmental impact as well. And by the same token, when you support the Co-op, you end up supporting a healthier planet.
Local suppliers and producers have always been a large part of the Co-op. Through working with the Co-op many of them have been able to grow and even get their products out into the market. It’s great that “Local” is getting a lot of play in supermarkets these days, but, keep in mind, you own a store that is not just selling local products, it’s making them. We (you) are making organic ice cream, roasting organic Fair Trade coffee beans, curing and smoking bacon and salmon, grinding and stuffing sausages, baking bread, bagels and pastries, and, a whole slew of deli products. Not only are these all fantastic products, they are manufactured, packaged and sold right at your store, supporting local workers while reducing the impact of shipping. You’re keeping it local in a big way—thank you.
Remember, you don’t just own a grocery store, you own a restaurant as well (use that to impress your in-laws). All of the things that make the Co-op special carry over to the Third Street Café as well. Made from scratch, delicious products using many organic and local ingredients. Composting, recycling, LED lighting (and even solar panels) are part of everyday operation. It is another place where people congregate and socialize. It’s a place owned by you and your thousands of partners. Pretty cool.
The Co-op does all these great things, but, remember, we are still a business. Unique in many ways, but similar in others. We often are told that we should be doing this, or shouldn’t do that. We are told that “we are not really a co-op”, or, “we are being corporate”, because we may carry certain products or fail to make the level of commitment to an issue someone wishes. But, we feel that in order to do all the good things that the Co-op does, we need to be open to all members of our community, regardless of their levels of commitment to certain issues, and, that by growing and being successful we continue to have more positive impact on people, local and afar, and on the world we live in. So, if you feel that the Co-op lets you down or doesn’t deliver in some way, please look at the bigger picture. We do a lot of great things. You own a great store. No, I think you own a store that is freakin’ awesome. Way to go!
by: Todd Wood, General Manager