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