Oneota Community Co-op Update from the GM

By: David Lester, General Manager
This past year I’ve written several articles talking about the fierceness of competition in the grocery world, online sales, online boxed meals and technology that is transforming our business. This time I’d like to talk about something simple that we’ve been good at since 1974. Community.
In our 43rd year of business as a cooperative, we’re still building our connection to our community of member/owners, customers, growers and other organizations. It makes sense that the original founding members of our Co-op chose the word “community” as the second word in our legal business name. Our mission statement says that “the mission of the Oneota Community Co-op is to build vibrant communities and ecosystems by providing organic, locally produced and bulk foods, as well as other products and services that are sustainable for those who consume and produce them.” I like to simplify this statement by saying we are here to build a vibrant community by providing for it. Providing good, healthy, nutritious food and friendly service are a big part of our mission.
We will continue to look for more innovative ways to sell our products to our member/owners and customers and pricing these items at competitive prices. But, it’s not just about price. As our natural resources become more precious, we think customers will value smaller, more sustainable companies that are treating their animals and land in ways that match our mission.
In addition, we are putting more resources this next year into staff training and team building because we think the experience in the store is still what influences customer loyalty, or in our case, community loyalty. We know that community loyalty isn’t just something that happens. It starts with the friendly smile you get from a staff member when you enter the store. Then, it is the help and information you receive on the sales floor about a particular question you might have. It’s the sampling, the thank yous and the good, consistent food that keeps people coming back. And, if you have a suggestion of how we can get better at creating community loyalty, please send us an email, a message on our Facebook page or website, or do it the old-fashioned way with a quick hand-written suggestion in the box at the customer service counter. We would appreciate it.
Building community by selling local products is another thing we’ve been doing since 1974. It is interesting to see “locally grown” or “locally made” signage in other stores, however, when I read the fine print I sometimes find out that it was sourced 500 miles or more away from the location of the store. Some retailers consider local to be from the whole state where their store is located. I’ve even seen the whole upper Midwest as a local definition. Is this truly local? We think our “micro-local” definition of a 100-mile radius is a good one and has the most impact to our community of producers and growers. I’ve seen other Co-ops even define their local products as those that come from the watershed in which they are located. Others have more of a cultural definition, like “Ozark grown.” In either case, we truly only have an economic impact range of about 100 miles from our store. Last year about 70 different local producers benefitted with roughly $1.35 million in sales from their products sold at our store alone.
The Oneota Community Co-op also donates a significant amount of money back into our community. Two projects that we’ve made donations towards that I think have a potential to sustain our community into the future is Decorah Power and the Fast Fiber projects. Imagine a community-owned electrical utility that can control its electrical future of how it sources and charges for its power. Imagine a community-owned internet service with faster connection speed and local technicians to help provide better service. I encourage you to learn more about these projects by visiting their Facebook pages and websites online and help with the efforts to become a more energy and internet independent community.
I love this anonymous quote about community: “You won’t understand the unabashed power of a community until you’re a part of one.” Thanks for your patronage this year, and I look forward to collaborating with many of you to sustain this great community of ours into the future.