2021 Annual Meeting Follow-up
Thank you to everyone who virtually participated in our 2021 Annual Meeting. Attendance and engagement were fantastic. We were unable to respond during the meeting to all questions from participants. Below please find responses to the questions we were unable to answer during the meeting.
2021 Annual Meeting Video
New and Returning Directors Elected to the Co-op Board
Congratulations to first-time Co-op Board Directors James Erb and RJ Halloran and to re-elected Board Director Randy Rydel. We welcome our newly elected representatives as they begin their Board service on behalf of the Co-op membership.
James Erb brings years of public service acumen, prior board experience, and a track record with non-profit organizations to his new role. He is currently the Senior Assistant City Attorney for the City of Bellingham. His commitment to give back to the community and contribute to the continuing success of the Co-op is at the heart of his desire to serve on the Co-op Board. James told us, “I appreciate the opportunity to work with members to support positive change on issues important to our community including equity, diversity and inclusion, homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity.”
Along with the perspective of Gen Y, RJ Halloran brings strengths as a networker and changemaker with an ability to connect people to the Board. He said, “I want to engage more people in our community to partner with the Co-op and see how working together makes our community stronger.” We look forward to having RJ’s energy and ideas as part of the Board’s visioning and member engagement work.
Randy Rydel is the Financial Services Manager for Whatcom County Public Works. He brings strong analytical skills and financial sense to Board discussions and planning. The Co-op is also personal for Randy, as he explained, “As a steward of the Co-op and a parent, I want to ensure that the Co-op continues to thrive, building healthy food access for us all.” Randy will continue to serve as the Finance Committee Chair, providing oversight and leadership.
Thanks James, RJ, and Randy for volunteering your time and skills to steer the Co-op into the future. Find more information about the Co-op Board of Directors here.
The Co-op is aware of the impacts of food deserts on our community and if we start to look at expansion options, this type of consideration will be part of the analysis. We are happy to join with community partners in thinking how to serve and meet the needs of our community in a way that is functional for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Dividends are determined by the profitability of the Co-op. We are focused on returning to and maintaining profitability for the Co-op, which will lead towards dividends and long term economic success. Profitability is also balanced with other initiatives such as community engagement, local food system development, being an exemplary workplace, diversity and inclusion, and stewardship and advocacy. We are mindful of ensuring the long-term economic resilience and profitability that allows us to offer dividends and member-owner benefits while striving to be a business that considers our impact on the community and employees.
Debit card, cash, or check. Cash and checks have no fees attached but cost us in terms of labor preparing them for deposit. Debit cards have a small fee and no labor. Credit cards, especially rewards cards, have the highest fees for us associated with their use.
We do purchase recycled products, particularly in our office. We purchase as many products with recycled content (preferably post-consumer) as possible.
We’ve looked into providing compostable plastic bags several times, but they are much more expensive and if they aren’t composted in a commercial setting, they don’t biodegrade so they remain “plastic” in the landfill. Their performance also isn’t great, which could cause more bags to be used and lost product due to spills and leaks in the bags. We do offer paper bags as an alternative, which can be used for storage for some items or provide a mechanism so customers can transport their bulk purchases home and transfer them to a reusable container, and we will reintroduce reusable containers when WA Food Code changes in March of 2022.
We have been looking for viable alternatives to plastic containers for our grab ‘n go items for several years and had plastic reduction goals we were going to announce in March of 2021, but the pandemic caused us to put the majority of our sustainability goals on hold. We are aiming to get back on track in 2022, when the WA Food Code is set to allow reusable containers in many more settings in grocery stores.
One local business that is trying out a low waste approach is the Living Pantry in Blaine. Check them out! They are facing some of the same constraints as us with respect to reusables but their business model is encouraging and we hope they are a great success.
We did manage to eliminate one stream of plastic from our Forest St deli last year (change coming very soon to our Cordata store deli!); we started packaging sliced meats and a few other deli case items in lined freezer paper. While the freezer paper does have a poly lining, it is more sustainable than most alternatives as it is made primarily from minerals instead of petroleum. It’s still not fully compostable, but it is heaps better than the plastic saddle bags that we used to use.
Now! Hot soup and salads are available for take out in the delis. We also have cold soup and additional salad offerings in our grab-and-go cases and salad bars.
We are following the phased approach outlined by the state. Capacity limits make some spaces challenging to open until the state has fully reopened.
We did not have a drop in membership in 2019. In fact, 2019 we had a record year for membership and member retention.
It's usually a blend of local and national financing. On the national end, groups like National Cooperative Bank (NCB) and Shared Capital Cooperative are often involved as are regional credit unions. Before a food co-op opened in a food desert in Greensboro, NC in 2016, many organizations came together to make it happen.
In “Grocery Story,” Jon explains:
It took $2.53 million to open the store. Funding came from many sources. In 2015, the co-op was awarded a $250k economic development grant from the City of Greensboro. Another $90k came in the form of grants from two local churches — one deeply rooted in the black community and a largely white church from the other side of town. More than $143k in loans came from the co-op’s 1,200+ member–owners. Each of those members also invested $100 into their member shares. Grassroots investor group Regenerative Finance secured over $250k in 0 percent loans from 29 investors. Other financial partners supporting the co-op’s launch included Fund for Democratic Communities, Cone Health Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Shared Capital Cooperative, and The Working World.
No question that food co-ops are already stimulating considerable social change and I do believe there's significantly more work that can be done in this regard. The co-op movement's capacity to serve a wider diversity of people and communities is one area for development. I do believe that for co-ops to continue to effect social change more deeply, food co-ops will need to first invest considerable attention into ensuring their business as a grocer is finely tuned and competitive. A food co-op can't stimulate social change if it's not around! This has been a challenge for many co-ops as they are all now competing directly with the largest grocers on the planet. When co-ops were in a more comfortable position—having carved out a niche in their communities (pre-2005)—they could invest considerably more attention into their roles that extended beyond being just a grocery store.
A big one is the threat that co-ops have been navigating for 15 years now—the entry of most competing grocers into the natural food channel and with that a new need for co-ops to differentiate themselves and remain relevant. Digging deeper into that threat, is the threat that member-owners of food co-ops will forget about the vital importance of their grocery store's governance model and in forgetting, be tantalized into shopping at competing grocers.
GingerO: Jon, how did some of the new co-ops get new member-owners? Did they have enough invested member-owners (invested both with interest and ownership dollars) before getting established, or was there a small group of dedicated people that established the co-op and member-ownership started small but grew?
New co-ops (startups) almost always begin with a core dedicated group of 8-20 people who spend years recruiting new member-owners. The co-op can incorporate at any time but usually incorporates immediately so that new members do indeed become owners immediately. There are then particular thresholds of member-owner numbers that are often needed before moving into subsequent stages of development. In some cases, existing organizations in a community may lead the initial efforts. This was the case in Butte, Montana recently when two grocers closed in the span of a few weeks. Some local non-profits focused on improving economic and social well-being initiated their successful efforts there.
BrittaE: Jon, you talked about the importance of diversity and connecting with the communities where the co-op happens to be located—if a group is interested in opening a store in a community where connections need to be established, what are a few examples of what are the most effective ways to do this (I am thinking of existing co-ops who are thinking about opening second stores in an adjacent community for example)?
I don’t have a lot of experience in either of these areas but would suggest on the diversity question to contact Seward Co-op to learn about their efforts. There are also two Columinate consultants who specialize in this area. On the broader question of connecting with communities for possible second locations, no better place to glean wisdom than from co-ops that have undergone multi-store expansions like the Community Food Co-op, others include PCC, Outpost, People’s (WI/MN), and Weavers Way.
As a community-owned store that prides itself on strengthening the food system, being an exemplary workplace, community engagement, advocacy, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion much of what we take for granted as common practice was put to the test in 2020. Through this we have had to look at each of these areas and how to improve them for the long term health of our Co-op and to best meet your needs.
The Board of Directors is extremely proud of all Co-op employees and we hope that you also feel a similar sense of pride and support for our front-line grocery workers. We'd also like to express our gratitude for your continued support of the Co-op, and we hope to continue seeing you shopping for the freshest local food in Bellingham.
Contact Jean Rogers, our board administrator, with any questions regarding voting or meeting accommodations.
Email email@example.com or call 360-734-1858 x 311.