(How) Should We Grow?

(How) Should We Grow?

By David Lester, General Manager

After attending the spring meeting of the NCGA in Albuquerque in mid-April, it is clear that the competition in the natural and organic grocery business is getting fierce.

Oak Hill Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, has acquired an 80% interest in a chain of natural grocery stores called Earth Fare.(1)  Stores like Earth Fare and privately owned businesses like Whole Foods are seeing rapid growth in opening new stores across the country.  Sunflower Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market are merging to form a larger natural-foods grocery chain.(2)  I’ve shopped in all of these stores, and I’ll have to admit they are doing a lot of things right to persuade shoppers to buy from them.  However, in the next few months, I plan to run a few stories about why shopping at your local food cooperative invests more resources in the local food chain, puts more money into the local economy, has less of an impact on our environment than conventional stores, and is a better model for long-term sustainability.

Data from a recent survey of cooperatives will be available that compares the impact of the cooperative business model with conventional stores.  Fellow GMs and I got a sneak preview into some of this data at our spring meeting.  There will be data in areas like environmental sustainability, employee satisfaction, organic and fair trade products, and impact on the local economy.  We plan to use this data to influence the market and grow the cooperative business model and look at growth opportunities.

Conventional grocery retailers are taking advantage of the growth opportunities that the natural foods market is experiencing, about 7.5% growth according to Natural Foods Merchandiser’s 2011 Market Overview.  Food cooperatives are also seeing a dramatic increase in communities across the country wanting to start a cooperative in their community, but probably not at the same rate as the private investors.  It is time to roll up our sleeves and think about growth.

Think about it, why wouldn’t we want to grow?  Why wouldn’t we want to extend more purchasing opportunities to more local producers?  Why wouldn’t we want more sales of organically grown and Fair Trade products?  Why wouldn’t we want to hire more staff and provide more decent jobs, wages and benefits to more individuals in our community?  The question isn’t “should we grow?” but rather, “how should we grow?”

I am asking our member/owners and customers for help on this question.  The staff and I will be discussing opportunities for our store and writing plans to implement these growth opportunities as we become more financially viable each year.  Feel free to email me (gm@oneotacoop.com) or fill out one of our Customer Comment cards at the Customer Service Desk when you’re in the store.  Also, look for our customer survey which will be available to take electronically or by paper sometime this summer.  We need your help to make our store an even better one that can filter even more resources back into our local economy.  Thank you