Breakout Sessions by Track

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Track 1: The Foundations of Grocery Greatness

Shifting Shelves: Prioritizing Inclusion in Product Procurement

Aiesha Babu, Fresh Department Buyer, Seward Community Co-op
Gabrielle Davis, Racial Equity & Food Justice Manager, National Co+op Grocers
Allanah Hines, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, Weaver Street Market
Roderick McCulloch, Loan Officer, Shared Capital Cooperative
Krish Srinivasan
, CEO, PCC Community Markets

A moderated discussion with a panel of food co-op experts who have been leading their organizations toward improving supply chain diversity. The conversation will focus on how to get started, challenges or obstacles that have arisen, and learnings/next steps for each of the co-ops represented.

In recent years, many food co-ops have recognized the importance and value of pursuing a greater degree of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations. One avenue to demonstrating the cooperative principle of concern for community is by increasing access to products from historically underestimated producers. Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, and women-owned businesses have for too long been faced with obstacles to gaining market share access due to systemic racism, colonialism, heterosexism, and sexism.

Several food cooperatives are finding ways to define their goals, create inclusive selection criteria, and increase their marketing and promotional support for overlooked brands. This work does not have an established methodology, and as a result, many co-ops are figuring it out for themselves. This panel is a chance to hear from and learn from co-ops actively engaged in these efforts.

Learning objectives:

  • How to facilitate conversations with management and staff about whether supplier diversity is a priority for your co-op?
  • Unique challenges and opportunities to keep in mind when working with a new supplier, particularly if it is across cultural differences or they are new to the co-op business model.
  • Providing ideas and tools to get started diversifying your own co-ops sourcing practices.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Store Department Staff

Small Store with Big Plans

Sarah Christensen, General Manager, GreenTree Co-op Market
Sara Moffett, Prepared Foods Manager, GreenTree Co-op Market

Just because you’re a small operator doesn’t mean you can’t have a great business plan. GreenTree Co-op Market has served the central Michigan community of Mt. Pleasant for the last 53 years. Over those years, GreenTree has grown from a small buying club to a $4.4 million in annual sales co-op that just relocated to a brand new building quadrupling its size! A great business plan has assisted the co-op’s success over the years.

GreenTree’s leadership team uses a multi-stakeholder process to develop their annual and/or multi-year plan engaging all levels of the organization, beginning with staff input, and ending with a presentation back to staff. In this session, attendees will learn all about our process from start to finish including understanding the elements of a business plan, what resources can help inform your business plan, and how to write a plan for the first time.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Store Department Staff – grocery, wellness, deli, meat, etc.

Dissecting the Definition of ‘Healthy’

Gabrielle Davis, Racial Equity & Food Justice Manager, National Co+op Grocers

After first dipping my toe in the world of food co-ops in January 2022, I immediately realized that there was a stark difference in the definition of ‘healthy’. Since joining NCG last year, I have had the privilege of being in community with past and present co-op members, shoppers, and employees. The adjacency to that community has helped me realize that we all think differently about what it means to ‘eat healthy’ and what ‘healthy foods’ are and can be. In mid-2022, I asked my social media networks what their idea of ‘eating healthy’ was and what ‘healthy foods’ are, and got an array of responses (over 100) that served as reminders that we may be ousting and alienating members and potential members by pushing our own thoughts about ‘eating healthy’. It is imperative that on a regular basis we critically evaluate the messages we are sharing in a variety of mediums if we want to truly attract more shoppers, members, board members, and employees. Movement toward inclusion involves inTRApersonal work before inTERpersonal work, and hearing the thoughts from additional voices could be the start of a journey or a stop on the journey towards inclusion that has already begun. This presentation will provide alternate ideas garnered from responses to the social media prompt and conversations with fellow cooperators about what ‘healthy’ means in order to provide awareness and to truly change the idea of what it means to say ‘everyone is welcome’ and for that statement to be true.

Learning objectives:

  • Attendees will be able to identify ways to be accepting of all ideas of what it means to eat healthy.
  • Attendees will be able critically evaluate differing opinions and their own opinions about eating healthy foods.
  • Attendees will develop new tools to use when interacting with people who have different reasons for choosing what foods to consume.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Store Department Staff, Administrative Department Staff

Prepared Foods as a Profit Center: A Case Study in Sales Solutions & Margin Management at BriarPatch Co-op

Jared Capellari, Executive Chef, BriarPatch Food Co-op
Sam KoneffKlatt, Food Services Manager, BriarPatch Food Co-op
Allen Seidner, Principal, Thought For Food Consulting

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on co-op kitchen and deli operations, but ours has grown back most of our sales, improved margins, and generated as upbeat a staff and customer spirit as before. We’ll share our success story, insights into the evolution of our sales programs, and pro tips about our work on several key programs, initiatives, and strategies. The speaker will share their approach to staffing, cross-training, and managing a smaller crew while maintaining quality and volume of their prepared foods operation. They will also share their approach to costing and pricing and how they use data to track and project the sales and margin performance of their prepared food products. They will provide fellow co-op leaders with practical strategies and techniques for improving their prepared foods programs.

Learning objectives:

  • Ideas for analyzing your deli operation’s programs, menus and product mix in an era with rising ingredient costs and in a tight labor market.
  • Ideas for making the most of your data – sales movement reports, recipe costing, portioning, pricing, and margin analysis – to ensure your laborious operation is a profit center.
  • Specific program and product ideas to take your operation to a creative and successful next level!

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Store Department Staff.

A Century of Grocery Retailing and Food Cooperation in America

Jon Steinman, Author and Educator, Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants

How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don’t know where we have come from? This session explores the fascinating, frustrating and inspirational history of modern grocery retailing and the waves of food co-op formation that emerged alongside. The session is informed by the research that went into the writing of the book Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants.

Areas of Focus:

  • The rise of the grocery giants in the early 20th century and the introduction of self-service stores.
  • Early examples of vertical integration among the chain grocers.
  • Introduction of the “low-price” food culture that shaped the food system of today.
  • Introduction of the supermarket format and its effects on consumers relationships to food shopping.
  • Resistance to the rise of the chains: antitrust laws/enforcement, post-depression-era mechanisms, chain-store taxes.
  • Reaganomic’s effect on the food system and grocery retail.
  • Walmart’s entry into grocery and its impacts.
  • History of the cooperative model.
  • Co-ops as a natural response to overly-liberalized markets.
  • Black-led co-ops from the 19th century through the 20th and to present-day.
  • The food co-op waves (early 20th century, 1970s, and the newest wave).
  • The early influence of CLUSA (NCBA) on the growth of cooperatives in America.
  • Food co-ops today: numbers, scale, multi-store co-ops, expansions, openings/closings, maps, efforts in food deserts.
  • How the cooperative model today is serving more diverse communities through new co-op development and how some established co-ops are reconciling their histories of non-inclusion.

Learning objectives:

  • Knowledge of the history of the two distinct lineages food co-ops descend from — grocery retail and cooperatives.
  • A deeper appreciation for the ‘alternative’ that the cooperative model represents vs. the privately-owned model.
  • Stronger sense of solidarity with previous generations of co-op developers and the values that are embedded within the organization that they are a part of.

  Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers, Store and Administrative staff.

Track 2: Being a Great Employer

Managing Operations – Next Level

Stephanie Merriman, Director of Training and Development, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
Brian Munn, Interim General Manager, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

This past year, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op embarked on a process of training and coaching to level up the strength with which they manage their operations. This project included six phases and reached deep within the organization to focus on assistant managers and department managers developing a unified team to achieve important outcomes focusing on the customer shopping experience, store conditioning, and daily effective operations management. Brian and Stephanie will share the process, their approach, key findings, and continued efforts.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Store Department Staff, Administrative Department Staff

The Common Thread – Introduction to the Cooperative Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Scorecard

LaDonna Sanders – Redmond, Consultant, Columinate

Distinguished by the cooperative identity, cooperatives are different from corporations. In many areas, food cooperatives are trendsetters, particularly in the area of natural food. Compared to their competition, cooperatives are behind most mainstream companies in implementing and evaluating workplace initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Cooperative Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CDEI) Scorecard is designed to help leaders of co-ops assess their current practices in nine core areas to produce data for decision-making.

The CDEI scorecard is an evaluative tool that centers on accountability and transparency in determining cooperative effectiveness in diversity, equity, and inclusion in several areas: hiring, assessment, organizational culture, accountability, training, budgeting, and data practices.

The CDEI matrix is a tool designed to help cooperatives bridge theory to practice by committing to interventions that lead to equity, diversity, and inclusion within the co-op. While the cooperative principles do not explicitly acknowledge “race”, the scorecard acknowledges racialized differences and aligns with international values of cooperation.

This workshop will introduce participants to the CDEI Scorecard. Workshop participants will learn about the research behind the tool. Participants will also practice using the tool in the workshop and discuss how to use it in their respective cooperatives.

Learning objectives:

  • Participants will get insight into the effectiveness of cooperative’s current DEI initiatives and gaps in implementation.
  • Leaders will learn and how to use the CDEI metrics to better understand staff training needs and what kinds of guidance or support are needed to reach their CDEI goals.
  • Lastly, workshop participants will leave the workshop feeling confident in their ability to assess the DEI needs of their co-operative.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Administrative Department Staff – marketing, human resources, finance, IT, etc.

Talent Acquisition in a Post-Pandemic Workplace

LeAnna Nieratko, General Manager, Erie Food Co-op
Christopher Wrobel, Human Resources Manager, Erie Food Co-op

Being a great employer doesn’t just mean you focus on the employees that are currently in your organization; it also means you focus on those “future” employees who are looking for their next great employer.

Since 2020, organizations (and co-ops) have dealt with many changes in hiring trends. Recruiting has become more active than passive, where recruiters and hiring managers cannot rely on applications to “just appear.” Candidates are applying for more than one job, also known as “mass applying,” due to the ease with which they can apply to job postings and the increase in jobs available. Organizations are now competing more than ever for the best talent. Candidates are also negotiating job offers more regularly as they are seeing more offers at a time and are empowered to find the best offer that benefits them. Lastly, organizations are seeing changes in job duties and responsibilities; job descriptions that were once accurate for the work being done need to be updated to accommodate changes or organizational changes.

This presentation will take a fresh look at finding, attracting, and hiring the best candidates throughout all the stages of the talent acquisition process. Throughout the presentation, we will discuss a variety of topics, including: reevaluating your hiring strategy, assessing your hiring needs, assessing the needs of your candidates, taking an active and innovative approach to recruiting, and maintaining candidate relationships throughout the hiring process.

Learning Objectives: After the presentation, participants should be able to:

  • Reevaluate current hiring strategy and implement new initiatives with a DE&I lens.
  • Think more innovatively about the recruiting process to attract more diverse candidates.
  • Learn how a positive experience for candidates, whether hired or not, builds your brand credibility.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Administrative Department Staff

Is Anybody Listening? Cultivating Culture Post-Pandemic

Laura King, Leadership Development Coach, Columinate
Eilis McNamara, Life Coach, Coaching Into You

Leading people is more complex than ever. The skills needed to lead through the pandemic are different from the skills needed right now. Leaders need ways to connect and grow in a learning community. And providing a space for managers and workers to share their experiences and ideas is vital to the overall and ongoing health of the organization. Are you ready to reset and reconnect with what is essential?

With a primary focus on intentional leadership, we will examine the personal impact on the culture of our organizations and communities. Culture isn’t a backdrop painted on a workplace wall. It is active and relational. Individuals create it and shape it daily. It includes what is openly talked about as well as what is whispered, what is noticed, and what is ignored. What is the impact on those around you? What is the impact on you? With leadership development, learning is as essential as unlearning.

In Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, she defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential”. In this workshop, we will give you tools and strategies to help you practice leading with courage. Through small group discussions, written reflections, and embodied learning, you will build your intentional communication and relational leadership skills, which you can then bring back to your organization and help develop the potential of your people and your culture. Together, we will explore what matters most and elevate leadership skills in a trusting environment.

Learning objectives:

  • Strategies for leaders to connect with their teams.
  • Tools to develop Intentional Leaders – holding difficult conversations, exploring values, active listening.
  • Bring your organizational culture into focus.

Who should attend:  Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

Bringing Joy and Balance to Your Work

Mark Mulcahy, Inspired Retail Visionary & Management Mentor, Columinate / Organic Options
Samuel Vandegrift, Provocateur of Vinous Joy & Retail Futurist, Columinate

You work hard. You remain dedicated to the cooperative principles. You remain true to your work, your team, and your values in spite of the challenges of our age. This has come at a cost, and many of us need to recharge to bring balance back to our daily work.

The answer is JOY.

Joy is the “it” factor to achieve true retail greatness. When we live and work with JOY at the center of our focus, good things happen at all levels of our personal and professional lives.

Our seminar will reset your compass and help you ask the correct questions to help find JOY in your work and create an atmosphere that is contagious amongst your staff and customers.

In this session, Connoisseurs of Workplace JOY and Inspirational Retail Operators Mark Mulcahy and Samuel Vandegrift guide you on a journey through their own retail joys and provide hands-on exercises and materials to craft your own narrative of JOY. This interactive workshop will harness your senses and memory to draw upon your own experience and expertise to transform your day-to-day operations.

Participants will collaborate and support each other in guided activities from start to finish. You will leave with a whole new perspective and call to action.

Come learn how to be part of the retail revolution that YOU discover as an ambassador of JOY.

Learning objectives:

  • Participants will leave with tools to begin reimagining their work to incorporate joy. This will allow for the transformation of a broader work environment for them and their team, which will in turn improve the customer experience.
  • Participants will be taught how to use a skill and joy self analysis so they can see where the two intersect. This tool will allow them to facilitate other people doing the same, which will help combat burnout and manifest healthy staff engagement.
  • Participants will learn how to create healthy staff engagement, which will improve morale and reduce staff turnover.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers, Store and Administrative Department Staff.

Track 3: Members: The Roots of the Co-op

The Co-op Identity: Maintaining the DEI Momentum Past the National Trend

Allanah Hines, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, Weaver Street Market

Three years ago, the world was shocked by pandemic lockdowns, with the primary focus being everyone’s survival. Supply shortages challenged retail shelves, and cooperatives across the country were forced to pivot based on the newfound needs of communities required to shelter in place. Months after lockdown began, world news repeatedly aired the racially charged act of violence of police on a Black-bodied man mere blocks from one of our sister food cooperatives. In those moments, ever-present conversations about civil rights were reignited, and food cooperatives, as with other companies, were faced with what the new DEI acronym meant to their core mission and values. Nationwide, we questioned, “How do we apply diversity, equity, and inclusion to the food system?”

As we write into our projections a plan for establishing a new normal, industries are decreasing intentional DEI positions that support the outward statements against racial injustice made three years prior. Many seek to return to business as usual, perhaps prioritizing the conversation around “The Co-op Identity” and incorporating an 8th Principle of Diversity and Inclusion. All this begs the question, “Are food cooperatives maintaining DEI momentum past the national downward trend?”

Food is a basic right and required for survival, and, as cooperatives, communities cannot afford to be left out of the mutual aid that cooperatives provide. Food is, across many cultures, both love and language. Most importantly, food creates a gathering space. As cooperatives reclaim their stake in the community as entities built to serve community need, we owe it to ourselves and the food system that we continue to maintain a sustainable system of inclusion, led by equitable diversity that is interwoven in the fabrics of our cooperative foundation.

This presentation will address the following questions: Continuing forward, how are cooperators holding themselves accountable for creating and cultivating inclusive environments through all interactions? What are we doing to ensure that we do not stand immobile in shame and continue to progressively integrate inclusivity through all cooperative doors?

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Administrative Department Staff – marketing, human resources, finance, IT, etc

(Re)imagining Your Volunteer Program

Courtney Tarrant, Community Engagement Coordinator, BriarPatch Food Co-op
Rebecca Torpie, Director of Marketing, BriarPatch Food Co-op

BriarPatch Food Co-op’s PatchWorks Volunteer Program has been awarded two Progressive Grocer awards and the Creative Choice Awards for Community Engagement by the National Grocers Association (NGA).

As food co-ops transition away from the in-store working-member program model, they are looking for creative ways to fill the gap left behind for owners’ desire to participate and engage in co-op life. We’ll discuss how we implemented our community-based volunteer program that supports both local nonprofit organizations and incentivizes and encourages co-op owners to become active members in our community.

PatchWorks is a reimagined iteration of BriarPatch’s outdated volunteer program. It offered similar “discounts-for-work” incentives but lacked reliable hour-tracking and significantly cost the co-op.

By switching to this new volunteer model, the co-op was able to engage with nearly 7 times more owners, create partnerships with 16 nonprofits, and save nearly three-quarters of the costs.

Since PatchWorks was launched in 2020, it has more than doubled the number of volunteer hours contributed to the local community, making a tangible difference to nonprofits struggling after the pandemic. Today, the “Nonprofit Neighbor” organizations that benefit from PatchWorks include local food banks, environmental organizations, a farmers’ market, a homeless shelter, and an organization dedicated to DEI.

We will discuss the steps we took to launch PatchWorks, the logistics of tracking hours and distributing discounts, and growing our volunteer program through active engagement and communication with owners and nonprofits.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Administrative Department Staff

Inclusive, Exciting, and Impactful Owner Perks and Benefits

Jill Holter, Marketing Director, Twin Cities Co-op Partners
Josh Resnik, CEO, Twin Cities Co-op Partners

Twin Cities Co-op Partners (TCCP) recognizes the ever-changing competitive retail grocery landscape, and we know acquiring, retaining, and engaging owners takes creativity, research, and specific tools to achieve those goals. In this session, TCCP leaders will share recent changes in their owner perks and benefit programs.

Twin Cities Co-op Partners had an end-of-the-year cash back owner benefit that was not particularly valued by customers, did not lead to incremental sales, and was costing us over $300,000 per year. While there was concern by some that we would alienate owners by eliminating the benefit, we made the decision to cut it and re-invest the dollars into 2 new programs that were more incremental, better supported our mission, helped build more owner loyalty, and cost significantly less money. In a world where we need to make every dollar we spend count and we are in a battle on many fronts for owner attention and loyalty, we are seeing success with this shift in owner benefits.

Loyalty Bot: TCCP’s Owner Perks program, relies on owner data about shopping behaviors, spending, trends, and history. For several years, we have tried to figure out how to best use our owner data in a way that customers valued but did not seem like “Big Brother”.  We know many co-ops have had similar challenges starting loyalty programs. We are finally seeing some great momentum, as measured by increased owner loyalty and strong sales growth. In the first year of use, offers and deals sent to owners have resulted in consistently high redemptions, increased basket sizes, strong ROIs, and sales growth. By sending owners an attractive offer and bringing them into the stores, they are introduced to new brands, departments, or categories.

Owners Love Local is a bi-monthly sales promotion, that offers a locally made product only to owners at a discount of 30%. This reinforces TCCP’s commitment to supporting small, local food entrepreneurs and fulfills the number one request from owners to see more local products on store shelves. Wherever possible, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Woman, and Veteran owned brands are chosen for these promotions, and their stories are amplified on the shelf and in digital marketing campaigns. Sales during these two-week periods often see a growth of 3-5 times compared to the previous two week period, and new brand champions are created.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

The Cooperative Promise: Community Development through Food Education

Matt Gougeon, General Manager, Marquette Food Co-op
Sarah Monte, Outreach Director, Marquette Food Co-op

Cooperatives are an excellent example of asset-based community development, utilizing the strength of individuals and organizations to mobilize towards a goal or vision for their community. As co-ops across the country demonstrate, the power of the cooperative model for social good expands beyond an economic model, supporting education and environmental sustainability. The Marquette Food Co-op (MFC) is no exception and demonstrates that co-ops can be an unexpected but integral partner in building strong and resilient communities.

In the early days of the co-op, the Outreach Department attended health fairs and community events to promote healthy food, the cooperative model, and shopping at the co-op. MFC has grown tremendously since then, and not just in sales and store size. The scope and depth of MFC’s work in community health and food access have also matured.

The cooking class program, now over 15 years old, is a community institution with varied programming that runs the gamut from medicine programs and youth education to private parties. The program has expanded beyond the cooking classroom to farmers markets, youth drug treatment centers, hospital group visits, and community centers in housing developments. Using their food education experience, the MFC developed a sampling and recipe program at Feeding America mobile pantry distributions across the Upper Peninsula, a project that also required identifying and training partners within other communities to administer this program at locations far from the Co-op.

As the fiduciary and administrative base for the U.P. Food Exchange, a U.P.-wide collaborative dedicated to growing the local food system, the MFC is a leader in food-related community development projects, even taking an active role in the creation of local zoning ordinances that enabled small-scale agricultural work within city limits. It was a planning partner for the 2022 Indigenous Food Sovereignty Symposium and the 2023 U.P. Food Summit and is a primary partner in an ongoing effort to address aggregation and distribution needs for local, regional, and charitable food networks. It also is a key organizer for one of the largest Prescription for Health programs in the state of Michigan, helping to develop marketing materials, identify and train market managers, and create and administer a cold storage grant program to help farmers expand production.

Forces at the local, regional, and national levels create systems that impact the community, and co-ops exist within and are limited by that system. But the MFC believes that the strength co-ops have in mobilizing people and resources can be put to work to make systemic changes for their benefit and the benefit of their community. When cooperative boards think big picture, management supports creative thinking, and innovative partnerships are formed, the co-op can become a central player in the social, cultural, and economic development of their community.

Who should attend: Board of Directors,General Managers or Department Managers

Advocacy & Identity

Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund
Erbin Crowell, Executive Director, Neighboring Food Co-op Association
Joanne Todd, Board of Directors, Willimantic Food Co-op

“Membership.” It’s one of the most basic terms that communicates the co-operative difference as people-centered businesses with both social and economic goals. The primary purpose of a co-op is not to generate a return on capital but to empower members “to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” As noted in the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles, members are “users of a co-operative’s services or participate in its business enterprise as consumers, workers, producers or independent business owners.” This unique relationship is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which affirms that co-ops are “user-owned businesses that are controlled by—and operate for the benefit of—their members, rather than outside investors.” For more than a century, co-ops have been defined by their not-for-profit nature and the linkage between membership and use of or patronage of their shared enterprise, as opposed to capital investment. Governments around the world have enacted legal statutes based on the Co-operative Principles, enabling people to organize people-centered enterprises, usually in under-resourced communities with limited means, without giving up control to capital or other interests. In the U.S., co-operative law is defined at the state level, meaning that there can be considerable variability in legal statutes, their alignment with Co-operative Principles, and the ability of people to form co-ops to meet contemporary needs and goals. Our panelists will share diverse experiences with advocacy to protect the Co-operative Identity, update outdated laws that made it difficult to form a co-op, and establish legal statutes in states that do not recognize the co-operative business model to empower communities to have more control over their lives. As we work to address the challenges of racial and economic inequality, climate change, and corporate influence over our lives and communities, co-operative Values and Principles are more important than ever. Together, we can build a more inclusive, sustainable, and democratic economy and society. To do so, we must advocate for co-op law that reflects our shared Identity, is relevant to people’s lives today, and is available to people seeking an economic alternative that can empower everyday people to transform their lives, their communities, and our collective future.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers, Department Managers

Track 4: Growing Resilient Boards

Creating a Culture of Inclusion

Jade Barker, Governance and Leadership Consultant, Columinate

Over the past few years, many established co-ops have increasingly focused on including diverse voices in our work. Some of us are inspired by issues of social justice: the murder of George Floyd brought to national attention the serious inequities that have been experienced by some of us in black bodies. Others are motivated by the awareness that diversity creates strength.

Simultaneously, there has been a significant change in the racial make-up of co-ops nation-wide. As historic inequities related to race and income have decreased access to healthy foods in many communities, more and more people of color have been drawn to the co-operative model as a way to combat these inequities. While these are exciting and welcomed changes, change also creates challenges.

As many of us see ourselves as the “good guys,” striving to bring positive changes to our communities, when we are confronted with ideas different from our own, our first instinct is often defensiveness. However, welcoming diversity requires that we approach new ideas with openness and curiosity. We must pay conscious attention to ways our organizational culture may limit or discourage engagement and strive to change that culture. Otherwise, the way we work together can prevent us from reaping the full benefits of the diverse perspectives we work so hard to bring to the table. As increasingly diverse voices join our co-ops, how do we ensure that everyone’s voices are heard? We must create a culture of inclusion.

What are some of the features of organizations that are truly inclusive? This interactive workshop provides opportunities to learn some of the science behind inclusion, to practice inclusive skills, and to begin planning how to put these skills to use.

This workshop can be useful for anyone hoping to create a more inclusive environment in their organization or to embrace more diversity in their everyday lives.

Who should attend: Board of Directors

Investing in your greatest asset! Supporting your GM during these challenging times

Mark Mulcahy, Inspired Retail Visionary and Management Mentor, Columinate / Organic Options
Wells, Retail Specialist and GM Support Consultant, Columinate

Being a GM has always been hard, but never as hard as it is right now. Current market conditions plus a tsunami of GM departures have left many co-ops feeling vulnerable in their GM stability. But boards of directors have the power to stabilize and strengthen their relationships with their GMs right now, and by focusing on this key relationship, we can stabilize and strengthen the whole organization. Now is the time for us to reinvest in our GMs, find out how they are doing, and what support they need to make them strong and resilient. Come join Jeanie Wells and Mark Mulcahy, who both have been general managers and currently provide GM development support for co-ops. They will guide you through hands-on and small group work to learn new skills and tools to take care of your co-op’s greatest asset during this demanding time.

Who should attend: Board of Directors.

Creating a Strategic Vision

Samantha Conselman, Treasurer, Davis Food Co-op
Sanchez, General Manager, Davis Food Co-op
Sharon Tobar, President, Davis Food Co-op

In 2020, the Davis Food Co-op released its Five-Year Strategic Plan, which included a holistic vision for the future of the cooperative designed to maintain the co-op’s core characteristics while preparing for a rapidly changing marketplace. Shortly thereafter, a global pandemic threatened the Co-op’s ability to accomplish many of the goals that were laid out. These new challenges could have derailed the Strategic Plan entirely, but instead they strengthened the co-op’s resolve to see it through. In this session, members from the Davis Food Co-op’s board and general manager will detail the process that took place to write the 6-point plan and share examples of the resiliency necessary to continue its work during a pandemic. The session will include information about the implementation of a reserve study, long-term capital budget planning, the process of escheatment, and the issuance of a patronage refund in consecutive years. There will also be an update on the Co-op’s current progress towards achieving the goals of the 2020 Strategic Plan as it prepares to create another one in 2025.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

Preparing your co-op for a leadership transition: GM succession planning

LaDonna Sanders-Redmond, Board President, Seward Community Co-op and Consultant, Columinate
Tony White, General Manager, Skagit Valley Food Co-op
Ray Williams, General Manager, Seward Community Co-op
Kelly Dean Wiseman, General Manager, Community Food Co-op (Bozeman)

Recent estimates suggest that GM turnover has been 25% annually since the pandemic began. While some of these are long-planned retirements, others have been unplanned exits. In this session, we will talk with co-op leaders about how they are preparing their co-ops for a leadership transition, from deepening the bench, to discussing the transition planning process.

Learning objectives:

  • Attendees will gain an understanding of the complexities of being a GM of a co-op.
  • Attendees will learn about the general timeline for recruiting for a new GM.
  • Attendees will gain insight into what board directors can do to set their new GM up for success.

Who should attend: Board of Directors and General Managers.

Track 5: Strategies to Compete

Gem City Market: 5 Stories about the co-op

amaha sellassie, board president, Gem City Market
Dennis Hanley, IGM for Gem City Market, Columinate
Goehring, Manager, Columinate

Many things attract people to food co-ops, and there are many stories that can be told about them. In fact, there are so many ways to talk about a food co-op that sometimes the notion of selling groceries can get left behind. From an organizational leadership perspective, it can be helpful to have a handful of stories to focus people’s attention on priorities, trends, or purpose, and, for food co-ops, it might be helpful if some of them were about selling groceries!

So, what if we played with this idea?

You can have five stories about the co-op, and three of them have to be about selling groceries.

This session will feature Amaha Sellassie, board president of Gem City Market; Dennis Hanley, Columinate manager on contract and IGM at Gem City Market; and Anthony Goodwin of NCG Development Co-op, who will share five stories about Gem City Market (with at least three about selling groceries!).

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

What comes up, must go down: using collective data to manage through the evolving inflationary environment

Paul Giudice, CEO, CoMetrics

Join CoMetrics’s CEO Paul Giudice as he shares insights from CoMetrics’ work supporting food co-ops and independent food retailers nationwide with benchmarking data. This session will focus on the impact of inflation on the natural food industry, tying in the latest macroeconomic trends and investigating the impact of inflation broadly on the economy, retail grocery, grocery distribution, and food manufacturing. Paul will connect this macro data with the micro trends we see “on the ground” in grocery retail. The focus will be on actionable insights for grocery retailers and posing strategic questions for the future of their co-ops.

For example, in recent months, inputs into food manufacturers have started trending negatively after reaching an eye-popping high of 59.2% in April 2021 (see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Producers Price Index). This has the potential to relieve inflationary pressure on manufacturers, which will trickle down through distribution and retail. As inflation eases, should retailers start to chip away at the perceived price premium in natural food? Can the industry work together across manufacturing, distribution, and retail to make healthy food more accessible to everyone? What pricing and product strategy should grocery retailers deploy in an evolving inflationary environment?

Join Paul as he navigates the metrics and learn how to use data as a competitive advantage to endure and thrive. Paul will share case studies from CoMetrics users who have successfully turned data into insights and impact.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

How Expansion of a Local Food Cooperative Challenges and Engages Multiple Financial Partners

John Krueger, Board Treasurer, Belfast Community Coop
Chris Linder, Loan and Outreach Officer, Cooperative Fund of the Northeast
Ben Sandel, Capital Campaign Consultant, Columinate

There is hardly an activity that fosters more connection, regeneration, and community vitality than an expansion project. The Belfast Community Coop has been planning a major renovation project for more than six years and has now started construction. This project has challenged our board governance, management, workers, national consultants, and owners. Much of the challenge has been centered on financial capacity, trust in financial models, and a better understanding of the financial capacity and needs of our community.

In summary, the Belfast Community Co-op opened in 1976 in Belfast, ME, and since 1993 it has been in a former A & P building built in the 1960s. The Co-op joined National Co+op Grocers (NCG) in 2012. In 2014, the Board of Directors adopted policy governance and the Cooperative Ownership Reaching Everyone. In 2016 and 2017, the launch of the Co-op Basics program resulted in sales growth.

What currently distinguishes co-ops from other grocery stores is as much about providing healthy, nutritious, and affordable food as it is about being an alternative business and economic model that emphasizes shopping small and keeping money local. A major $6.4 million expansion project for an $11 million/year coop stresses many functions so critical to our cooperative principles.

In 2016, the Co-op’s board and GM began working with co-op consultant Bill Gessner, talking to and surveying owners about their needs, conducting feasibility studies, and figuring out renovation costs. Some five years have been spent debating these decisions. Meanwhile, during these many years, the Co-op engaged in a rebranding effort to emphasize Owned by you. Food for all. The BCC has also significantly increased its presence in the local community and as an example this year the co-op raised over $62,000 with a roundup of their purchases for a different local non-profit each month.

The Belfast Community Coop is now in one of its final phases to renovate its facility and reach out to our community.  The goal of this panel is to provide an oversight of the many financial and decision-making factors associated with this expansion project and how BCC got comfortable with taking on such an expensive project, mission-wise and financial-wise. Comfort factors include issues such as board support, policy governance, and owner input. Local community efforts include the development of a capital campaign and significant worker contributions to media messaging. This effort has also included assistance from national and regional cooperative organizations. The panel is intended to include representatives of partners that were necessary contributors to this expansion project.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers


Cruz Conrad, Cafe Operations Manager, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative
Larkin, Marketing Director, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
Brian Munn, Store Director, Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative
Thaleon Tremain, Co-Founder and CEO, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative

In 2022, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and Pachamama Coffee Cooperative formed a strategic partnership to open a business within a business cafe. This cafe represents a revolutionary business model where the coffee producers themselves benefit directly from each and every transaction through the cafe.

Together, we create a global co-operative supply chain connecting thousands of consumers to thousands of coffee producers. The two most important people in the coffee chain are the consumers and the producers. By linking the two, we form a more efficient, sustainable, and equitable coffee trade for all. Further, we offer a powerful model for others to follow.

We partnered to better serve the needs of responsible coffee consumers and the smallholder farmers that sustainably produce quality coffee. If coffee growers remain only producers of raw commodities, they will never achieve true financial independence. The most efficient way for a coffee consumer to support their farmer is to buy the finished product directly from the producer, who now owns and democratically governs a coffee roaster/brand in the USA. By paying the producer first, the consumer also benefits, securing a sustainable supply of organic coffee.

Who should attend: Board of Directors, General Managers or Department Managers

Introduction to Digital Transformation for Co-ops

LA/Ahzjah Simons, President, Digico Global Business Solutions LLC/Georgia Cooperative Development Center

This session will explore the previous and current digital landscape in this new economy. It will offer the why, when, and how to digitally transform in a stress-free manner, considerations for co-op-specific transformation, and recommended tools to get a co-op started in the area of their choice. Participants will also look at considerations in a digital transformation plan as well as explore a new digital tool in real time in groups during the session.

In order to reconnect after a disconnect, we reflect on the past, assess our current needs and state of mind and soul, and look for ways to repair the disconnection. In our efforts to build resilience, we reflect on the past, assess current needs and resources, and prepare for the future. How do we do that? We adapt.

Coming out of turbulence such as a pandemic, social unrest, adversity, bad relationships, or some type of loss, whether business-related or personal, is somewhat the process we go through. Many co-ops have been through difficult recent challenges in the wake of the pandemic and are in the process of restoring and rebuilding. Some are still struggling. Many have also succeeded or thrived during or after the pandemic. Many businesses of all kinds also succeeded, and it’s estimated that 70–90% of businesses that survived the pandemic did so by digitally transforming or hybridizing with some type of digital integration.

Now that we are post-main event, we are reflecting, assessing, inventorying our resource pools, and acquiring tools to move forward. Tools of the trade can assist in reconnecting and building resilience. We are also using old tools that still work. We’re adapting and innovating our way forward. We can see that digitalization can provide value, convenience, service, efficiency, expediency, and operational seamlessness. However, many still put off digitally transforming because it’s not familiar and because we already have so much on our plates, stores to run, and not enough hours in the day to add yet another monumental project to our task list. Meanwhile, little by little, the future comes and goes, and we find ourselves unable to compete with our conventional retail counterparts, who have teams dedicated to researching the resources needed for their next move.

From locator technology and business automation to operations, fundraising, scheduling, and digital marketing, there is a tool for just about any business or cooperative need. But they often go unexplored or unimplemented. Co-ops have a lot of needs. Many tools are very simple to implement. But, often, old manual systems, duplicating efforts, and sometimes resistance to change are inhibitors to seeing the benefits that these tools add. Tight schedules, little resources, learning curves, additional costs, and just thinking about one more thing to do can make the digital transformation of business seem overwhelming and add stress without even considering it.

Who should attend: General Managers or Department Managers, Administrative Department Staff