The 2017 Annual Meeting, our 42nd, was outstanding in many ways: it was held in downtown Brattleboro at the New England Youth Theatre on a Friday evening, it was a celebration, there was a children’s circus yoga class, people danced right up to the 9.30 meeting finish, and the business portion was concise with a rich Q&A that followed.
A resounding thank you to all of you who attended and made the meeting what it was, and to those of you, often behind the scenes, who worked hard to make it as successful as possible. I am immensely grateful.
Following is a snapshot of the meeting for those who were unable to attend.
Attendees began arriving at 6pm, and quickly the NEYT lobby area filled with conversation, laughter and people queuing for food.
The business portion began at 7pm with Emilie Kornheiser, Board VP, welcoming everyone and framing the meeting by encouraging us all to understand our Co-op and our food systems more fully in order to support, improve and continue the success that the Co-op is and can continue to be. Chad Simmons, the meeting facilitator, formally introduced this year’s board candidates so anyone who hadn’t had a chance to speak with them in the lobby at least had a person to link to a name.
I delivered the Board President’s speech next. I described the board’s work this past year, the relationship we built and norms we adopted in order to work effectively. My speech ended with the following – applicable at the Annual Meeting and now as we begin a new board year: “Here’s how you can continue to support your Board: Vote. Get to know us. We serve your interests. Talk to us when we’re tabling and when we’re not. We listen and take what you say seriously. Read Food for Thought. Give us feedback. Serve on a board committee. We’ll let you know what the 2018 committees will be and what their focus is. Attend a board meeting. We welcome you. Talk to us about running for the board.”
Our General Manager, Sabine Rhyne, began her speech with the opening of the new store five years ago and reminded us of challenges the Co-op has faced since then. She talked about how the Co-op achieved the small but significant financial success it has had this year, and after thanking staff and board for their hard work and commitment to a stronger, more prosperous store, she highlighted facts that illustrate our Co-op’s role in, and contribution to, the community: 37% of the budget returned to the local community in the forms of wages, taxes and increased purchases from local producers; 74% of the waste stream now diverted from landfill; a donation program that has benefited local 62 local organizations this year; a vibrant education and outreach program that works collaboratively with local organizations and schools, young people and adults; and a 6% rise in the number of new Co-op members this year. Sabine ended her speech by emphasizing that the Co-op will continue to work to be a welcoming community marketplace inside and outside; she encouraged us all to keep shopping at the Co-op and to address misconceptions about what the Co-op offers and who it serves.
John Hatton’s Board Treasurer’s report concluded the speeches. He cited figures from the unaudited FYE 2017 report that provided evidence of the financial progress the Co-op achieved. In brief the numbers included: Sales of $20,523,448, up 3% over FY 2106; Gross Profit $8,023,319 up, a more modest 1.3% from FY 2016, reflecting the downward pressure of reduced prices and efforts to make products more affordable; FY2017 Operating Expenses were $7,661,806, down 0.4% from FY 2016 due to better control over expenses; and finally, Income from Operations was $361,513, a rise of 12.6% above FY 2016; and Net Income, $31,889, was our first profit since 2012. The numbers provide hope for continuing modest growth and increased financial stability in FY 2018. For more numbers and discussion of the FY 2017 figures, please see the Co-op Annual Report.
Questions and comments ranged widely, reflecting diverse concerns and ideas. The following is very much a short list of topics that were raised: the Bulk reset, what was behind it, concerns about pricing and the introduction of clamshell packaging to replace the plastic bags with twist ties used previously; changes in board relationships and process that have resulted in a sense of greater inclusiveness and welcome this year; the rationale for changes to the voting period; the positive shift in tone of Food for Thought articles; BFC involvement in taking the cooperative movement into other types of co-ops such as energy and credit unions; addressing the perceived costliness of the Co-op by reframing our advertising and marketing message to focus more on the benefits of healthy food; focusing on the history of the cooperative movement and what it is; and finally a question about the ShurFine brand and its place in the Co-op.
For much more detail, please see the Annual Meeting notes, which will be posted at Shareholder Services once they have been approved at the December meeting.
I’d like to thank each of you for supporting the Co-op. I look forward to talking with more of you during 2018 and seeing even more of you at next year’s Annual Meeting. A very happy New Year to you.
By Beth Neher