As you may remember, after our fiscal year settles out I report to our Board of Directors how well we have achieved, or attempted to achieve, our “Ends” during that period. These aspirational goals have guided us since 2007, when the then-Board of Directors adopted them. I think you may be comforted to know that this conversation takes place every year, without fail, and is supported by a wide variety of data collection to evaluate our progress. I will communicate as much as possible in these pages.
We had noticed a bit of a sluggishness in sales over the past quarter, so we were excited when the Indigenous People’s Day/foliage weekend pushed us well over recent sales levels in the store. The ramp-up that we experience this time of year sometimes takes us a week or so to catch up to, but this year we expect to have a more difficult time getting product on the shelves. I had mentioned in a recent article that service levels from our main natural foods distributor had been trending negatively, and this trend is sure to get worse before it gets better.
We had a visit not too long ago from Tracy Shriver, the Windham County State’s Attorney. She, along with Mel Motel from the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, proposed a program whereby the Brattleboro Police Department, on our behalf, would refer persons caught stealing items under a certain dollar amount from the Co-op to the Restorative Justice Center to work on confronting their behavior and making things right, for us, our shareholders, and our community.
In June of last year, the news broke that Amazon was purchasing Whole Foods. This was the biggest news in the natural foods sector in some time, and the effects of this acquisition continue to merit our attention. This summer, the news broke that United Natural Foods, Inc., had reached an agreement to purchase the conventional distributor SuperValu, based in Minnesota, for $2.9 billion. Many of you know UNFI as the warehouse in Chesterfield, NH, the former site of Stow Mills way back in the day.
The relationship that you as our owners have to our retail operation is quite different from that between customers and other stores, in so many ways. We have a large staff working on your behalf to bring you the products and services that you need, in a manner that is consistent with how humans shop in retail stores these days. But the details of what we do are still just beyond what you experience in your shopping trips, and I believe that we all gain from a better understanding of how our individual actions impact things like prices on the shelves and profits at the end of a fiscal year.
In the early days of our Co-op, around 1975, folks used to gather to place orders, then meet to split up cases, and come together to unload produce picked up from Boston Market. It was about accessing food that those friends and neighbors wanted and needed, but it was also about collaboration, and having fun along the way. In our world today, we live lives that don’t include too much time (or, depending on your energy level, desire) for this type of hard work, but the collaborative joy we experienced then can be felt in multiple ways today. Sometimes, it’s a celebratory event that only requires your attendance.
It seemed as though summer would never arrive this year, least of all spring. But I noticed how we rejoiced in the smallest of signs as our world thawed out, from peepers to colors. Regardless of the length of winter’s release, every April, our store and town explode in crazily festooned pinwheels, symbols of support for our friends over at Kids Playce. Every spring, like so many cycles, our intentional entanglement with our community partners is announced like a blare of trumpets from these fun wind-driven splashes of color.
I just returned from a national co-op meeting that included a presentation by Ari Weinzweig, one of the founders of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI, from whom we have adopted a few business practices, including customer service training and open book management. He’s been thinking a lot about how we take actions based on our beliefs, a lesson that is all around us lately. Further, he thinks that focusing on positive beliefs engenders positive action, and that there is a chain reaction to this approach.
Much has been said about how we as human beings have been communicating with each other, especially when we disagree. There is plenty to be grateful for, in the discourse that is happening around a very problematic cultural fabric we live in and contribute to—namely, that we are finally beginning, very slowly and painfully, to grapple with differences. But the impulse to
In recent conversations, I have referred multiple times to an article that I read last fall, and its conclusions never fail to surprise the listeners. In a Harvard Business Review article,1 Eddie Yoon observed some consumer trends over a fifteen-year period, which have direct impact on how the grocery industry interacts with its customers—or rather, how the customers interact with the industry.
We are asking you to take some extra time this month to give us feedback. Not a lot of time, mind you, and although we have already heard from many of you about recent changes, this will be a more holistic survey that we conduct every couple of years to check in on your view of the entire range of Co-op activity. The results of our survey certainly inform us about things, but also get aggregated with
At the turn of the millennium, the leadership of our Co-op, both on the board and on the management team, worked on understanding where our business could make changes in order to not only reduce its footprint, but actually to work towards becoming “a regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impact.” This became our fourth Ends policy. We have reported on the sales of local products in our store, which—due to how much of it we sell—clearly has some effect on our overall impact. These products clearly burn