Chew on this

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 5, 2007

“Shoppers don’t have to sacrifice time and money by making a separate trip to purchase organic and natural foods at expensive specialty stores,” a Hannaford press release tells us. In other words, skip the hippie joint, and stick with the big guys.

But co-op cheerleaders say that food cooperatives do more than just sell organic, local, or natural foods — they create community spaces, encourage local investment by keeping most of the money within the region, and educate their consumers. The co-op, in other words, employs a business model that is unique enough to stand up against the industry giants.

“I wouldn’t want to compete against them,” Cooper says of Whole Foods. “Unless I was a co-op.”

But to capitalize on their niche opportunity, co-op organizers and supporters will have to be hard-nosed about book-keeping, customers, and inventory, because they’re venturing into well-trodden territory. They can get cost-cutting help from the National Cooperative Grocers' Association, which lets co-ops combine orders for greater discounts, but the uniqueness of a co-op will have to be something very special to get over the sleekness, the bulk-buying, and the familiar appeal of major supermarkets, natural or not. Essentially, the cooperative has to play by business rules, and make its social mission happen in addition.

“We didn’t treat Good Day enough like a business,” Gillotte says of his beloved former place of employment. “We treated it kind of like this non-profit that sold stuff ... I really don’t think you can treat a co-op that way and have it work.”

For more information about the PFC, visit www.can-so.org/foodcoop. Meetings take place on the first and third Sundays of every month, at the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization Hill House, 92 Congress St. Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

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