by Michael Elkins, Grocery Department
Grocery Assistant Managers Chuck Marston (front) and Travis Meyer (back) align product to keep the Downtown grocery shelves looking just right for Co-op shoppers.
When I was asked to compose an article about the grocery department it seemed like it could be a daunting task. There are so many things to talk about—product selection, pricing, promotions, the staff, and on and on. I thought I would start off with a little bit about the staff.
There are 23 grocery team members at the Downtown store and 13 at Cordata. Not everyone works full time, and a few folks also work shifts in other departments, but there is a cumulative total of 285 years of Co-op experience working in the grocery department every week. We have a couple of new hires still getting their feet wet, and one of our team members is coming up on her 30th anniversary in September-hi there, Sandy Hanson!
“there is a cumulative total of 285 years of Co-op experience working in the grocery department ”
The grocery department is comprised of all the packaged dry goods, bulk foods, frozen, dairy, refrigerated goods, beer, wine, and mercantile. Specific staff are responsible for making sure these sections have the goods you buy, and that they run smoothly year in and year out. The grocery department, overall, is responsible for approximately half of the Co-op’s total sales. We work hard, and we have a really good time doing it!
You may see a lot of these folks when you’re shopping, but one HUGE piece of how we provide you with products happens behind closed doors and after hours. The grocery department has a crew of incredibly hardworking individuals who receive the majority of our freight after hours, and work well into the night and early morning stocking those shelves that always seem to be full. Combined, the freight crews at our two stores receive, on average, 35 tons of goods three times every week that they break down and stock to store shelves in a matter of hours. That’s more than 100 tons of product every week. While many things are done by the folks who run the individual sections within the grocery department, and we also receive many additional deliveries during business hours, we would never be able to achieve the success we have without the hard work of the unsung heroes on our freight crews.
At any given time the grocery department houses about 7,500 different items. We add about 100 new items every month, but, of course, that means we drop about the same number to make room for the new ones. We meet monthly with food brokers that are hired by manufacturers to show us new products, and we also receive up to 50 product requests per month from member-owners through our website. While we can’t bring in everything that we’re shown, or asked for, we do our best to stock our shelves with what we think our shoppers want. We taste nearly every single product for quality, and we have fairly strict guidelines on what we will carry, including a list of “Not Acceptable” ingredients. Our most recent addition to our product guidelines is the Co-op’s commitment to decline any products with high-risk GMO ingredients. This means if it’s not organic and has any ingredients sourced from potential genetically modified crops, we will not make room for that product on our shelves. We are hopeful that through our working product guidelines, and the work of many other co-ops and natural food stores that are taking a similar stance, we can send the message to food manufacturers that we do not want GMOs in our food.
It has long been thought that co-ops are higher in price than other grocery stores, but the reality is if you compare organic apples to organic apples we are very competitive in our community. Just know that we strive to offer you our best possible price on all of our products.
“part of our commitment to make high-quality, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food more accessible”
Our co-op is part of a larger group of co-ops nationwide called National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) that helps us stay competitive with our everyday prices, as well as offering some tremendous savings on sale items in our stores. Check out the percentage savings that appear on our sales signs; some offer more than 40 percent savings. Each store has aisle-end displays that highlight some current sale items, so if you’re not already looking there for savings, you should certainly start checking it out. We also started the successful Co-op Essentials program last year; look for the red and white signs in every department throughout the store—the largest number of which are in the bulk department. The program is part of our commitment to make high-quality, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food more accessible to every customer who walks through our doors.
I’ve worked at the Co-op for more than 18 years and have been a part of the incredible growth we’ve experienced in that time. I always feel good when I come to work, and I always feel even better when I go home at the end of the day, because of the work I am fortunate to be able to do. Whether it’s once a month, every week, or every day, I hope that every time you shop we’re offering you the same great experience that I enjoy. Thanks for supporting the Co-op. We couldn’t do it if we didn’t have each other!