NCGA Report: Sunny Seattle and a Bright Future for Co-ops

NCGA Report: Sunny Seattle and a Bright Future for Co-ops

by: Troy Bond

I lived in Seattle for five years, and at that time I was a member of the Puget Consumers Co-op. During those years, September was always a cool and cloudy month when you had to put on your fleece sweatshirt again to be outside. But when I returned to Seattle this September for my first National Cooperative Grocers Association  (NCGA) General Assembly, it was warm and sunny. And you’ll be happy to know that the forecast for co-ops across the country is just as bright!

In 2007, the Oneota Co-op joined the NCGA, an organization that supports independent co-ops with combined purchasing power, marketing and operations support. The annual General Assembly is a chance for all General Managers from co-ops across America that are members of the NCGA to discuss our future and to network.

The agenda heralded a number of significant changes, so much so that one long time GM from the Eastern Corridor gushed during the closing comments, “I was struck by this being a memorable experience. This was the most productive General Assembly I’ve attended in seven years. We have turned a corner!”

While this was my first GA, I can understand his excitement. The NCGA rolled out a new marketing plan with a fresh new logo and a tagline “stronger together” that you’ll see soon on ads, flyers, and signage in the store.  With the logo came the first (I suspect of many) discussions of adopting some common standards on operations and store cleanliness and merchandising. In other words, the GMs agreed that whenever you visit a co-op with a NCGA co-op logo in the window we want the experience to be a positive one no matter where you are. That said, the GMs were adamant that each co-op express its own individuality and uniqueness.

Also, talks are underway with our main grocery supplier, United Natural Foods, to recognize our combined buying power. Currently, the co-ops in the NCGA represent a huge chunk of the UNFI’s sales—only the largest natural food retailer in the world, Whole Foods Market, buys more product from UNFI.

In addition to better prices, our shoppers will be happy to know that the co-ops approved a new sales schedule with UNFI. Soon we will offer new sale items every two weeks instead of once a month. This will mean you’ll see more products on sale more often.

Our organization is growing at a fast clip. More co-ops are set to join the NCGA. In our Central Corridor alone, at least three more co-ops have been identified as new members in 2010.

Another bellwether of good to come were the financial reports. While Whole Foods suffered under the storm of economic collapse last year and turned in negative year-to-year store sales, co-ops nationally went from double digit percentage sales increases down to a very respectable single digit growth in the past year. We’re on a quick rebound back to the double digits. My take on those impressive numbers was that co-ops benefit by being independent: we are more nimble and can adapt to economic troubles faster, and we have a committed membership base to support us.