Community Meeting Q&A

On March 18, 2014 from 6–8 p.m., Seward Co-op convened a community meeting to discuss the new Friendship Store. The meeting, held at Sabathani Community Center, was designed and facilitated by Yvonne Cheek of Millennium Consulting Group. The community had the opportunity to submit questions to Seward Co-op covering a range of topics. Seward Co-op management and staff collected these questions. They have provided their answers below.

Q: In the Bryant-Central neighborhood and the broader Powderhorn community there is a growing awareness among young people regarding the importance of healthy eating. This awareness is supported by the proliferation of urban agriculture projects and community gardens that are led by youth groups across the community.

One of those groups is the WE WIN institute, our April 2014 SEED grant recipient. We are committed to work with groups like WE WIN in order to enhance access to healthful food and increase the presence of urban agriculture in the community.

Over the past three years, Seward Co-op has contributed to a number of youth-oriented agriculture and food education programs. Each of the recipients below received at least $1,000 from Seward Co-op:

Additionally, we realize that parents and caregivers work hard to provide for their families. Our new Nourish initiative, which we will introduce this summer, will help shoppers identify products in the store that can be used in the creation of affordable meals.

Q: In what ways does an expanding co-op market share (both for Seward and metro-wide) help bring prices down?

In the short run, Seward Co-op's expansion, along with the expansion projects by other Twin Cities co-ops, will not have a significant impact on our prices. In the long run, we hope our growth, and the growth of the cooperative economy, will encourage more affordability in the natural foods world.

Seward Co-op prices products in a manner that allows us to pay farmers and producers a fair price for their product, provide a fair wage and benefits to our employees, and bring value to our owners and shoppers. We work with over 300 vendors and farmers. The majority of these farmers and vendors are small, independent operators. As we continue to grow, our hope is that our farmer and vendor partners will grow with us. We have invested in several of our partners’ projects, which include the installation of solar panels, the construction of hoop houses, and pre-harvest financing for small farmer co-ops.

Seward’s largest supplier is United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI). UNFI supplies us with a significant portion of our overall grocery and wellness products. Our contract with UNFI is negotiated by National Cooperative Grocers’ Association, which brings together the purchasing power of more than 100 food co-ops from around the country. Seward Co-op is already one of the largest retail natural foods cooperatives in the United States, and currently pays the lowest cost on products from UNFI available through our contract. Unfortunately, a second location will not improve our pricing from UNFI.

Seward Co-op remains committed to working with small, local, and cooperative farmers and vendors. If you see the P6 logo next to a product on our shelves, you know it came from a farmer or vendor with two of those three characteristics. Our hope is that the Friendship store will provide more market opportunities for new farmers and for vendors in the area of the Friendship store. While an expanding co-op market share is not likely to lower prices, it will instead raise the individual — and commonwealth — of our farmers, vendors, employees and owners.

Q: How many new members do you project the new store will bring?

Since moving to our current location in January of 2009, we have grown from 4,500 to nearly 12,000 owners. This growth includes a surge in new ownerships in the months following our opening. Currently about 15% of our owners reside in the neighborhoods surrounding the Friendship store location. We anticipate many of those owners will shop at the Friendship location. However, it is difficult to accurately estimate how many new owners will join. We encourage everyone to become an owner of Seward Co-op. We offer three options of payment. More information can be found on the ownership page on our website or at the Franklin store Customer Service desk.

Q: Have you considered 10-20 cross-cultural staple items and really bringing those prices down?

We are developing a program called Nourish that will roll out this summer. As part of Nourish we will highlight around 50 of our most affordable staple items throughout the store with signage at the shelf. We will lower our price on many of these items.

Q: Could some features of the new store highlight the area’s rich history and people who contributed to it? – Former Mayor Sayles Belton, Playwright Kim Hines, mainstays of the NAACP would be some examples. So would the history of King Park, the 35W project, Central High School, and Bryant Jr. High.

Yes. We have designed the exterior of the building to include two locations for large murals. We will conduct a community procedure around determining the process for what will be displayed at these locations. There may also be interior wall locations where the area’s history can be highlighted. Once the interior design is complete we will have a better understanding of the potential locations.

Q: Will the Friendship Store have as much bike parking as the Franklin Store?

Not right away. In its first year, we anticipate the number of shoppers at the Friendship store will be fewer than half that of the Franklin store. Over time, we have added a significant number of bike racks at the Franklin store as the number of shoppers has increased. There are currently 66 racks at the Franklin store. We plan to have 30 bike racks at the Friendship store on opening day.

Q: How could you encourage customers to use alternate forms of transportation?

In addition to a large number of bike racks (30 racks, which is 25 more than required by the city), we will also continue our employee and customer biking incentive program. The program reimburses staff who regularly ride to work for bike-related expenses. We will add showers to the employee areas of the store for staff who bike to work, and we will reach out to Nice Ride and Hour Car about offering their services at the Friendship store. The Friendship store will be on a number of existing bus lines. We will assist any effort to improve or add bus shelters along 38th Street.

Q: How often will Sean and other managers be at the Friendship Store?

The Friendship managers and staff will be trained and empowered to operate the Friendship store in line with Seward Co-op values, policies and guidelines. We anticipate that the administrative managers — such as Sean, the General Manager, or Nick, the co-op Operations Manager — will frequently attend meetings and offer significant support during the start-up phase.

Q: Is there any chance the name for the store could reflect the area – like the name “Southside Coop”?

Though Seward Co-op will have two stores when the Friendship store opens, we will remain one organization governed by one board of directors (any owner can run for the board). The look of the Friendship store will be distinct from the Franklin store, but it will carry forward some of the elements that people have come to associate with Seward Co-op, including the name of the organization. We will, however, call the new store the “Friendship” store in acknowledgement of the former church building’s history and our commitment to build strong relationships within the community.

Q: Do you advertise in local community media?

Yes. We run regular ads in the “Minnesota Spokesman Recorder” and we air spots on KMOJ from time to time. We also plan to work with Spanish language media in order to reach out to the Latino community. We will continue to look at advertising options in neighborhood media as we move towards completion of the store.

Q: How can you compete with Sam’s Club or Costco where many local people go to buy food in bulk at low cost?

We cannot compete with them on price. These stores are essentially wholesale warehouses moving huge volumes of product. Economies of scale, along with their business models, reduce their costs and allow them to set low prices. It’s difficult to compare Seward Co-op with these warehouses because we are so different.

At Seward Co-op you’ll find local and natural products at competitive prices (please see other responses in this series for more information about our pricing and affordability strategies). You will also find helpful and knowledgeable staff. Seward Co-op is owned by those who use the business — our shoppers. Profits stay in the community through support for small local vendors, living-wage jobs, and profit sharing. While we may not be able to compete with Sam’s Club or Costco on price, we believe that Seward Co-op provides a different kind of value which enhances the health and economic well-being of our community.

Q: Outreach to Latino community

We continue to work at reaching out to the Latino community. We have translated several of our brochures into Spanish. Spanish language interpreters have been present at all of our meetings.

As a part of our outreach efforts, we plan to partner with Latino media (radio and print) to help us get the word out about the store, our events and meetings. Additionally, we will host Spanish language classes and meetings designed to encourage more interactions with the Latino community. We also work with HIRED, an area provider of job-skills and employment training, in providing job opportunities for individuals in the Latino community.

Q: How do I, a local vendor, get my product on the shelves of the store?

At Seward Co-op we are always interested in products that meet our customers’ needs and align with our values as a trusted retailer of local, organic and natural products. We welcome the opportunity to meet with producers and vendors and discuss potential partnerships.

The Grocery and Produce departments prioritize local products and are usually open to solicitations. The Grocery department looks for unique products that fulfill customers’ needs. Before carrying a product, they review ingredients, costs, and ordering and delivery systems. Additional consideration is given to local providers if their products are familiar (through exposure at farmers markets, for instance) or if the product has been requested by our customers. They may also ask providers if they are available for in-store samplings, so as to give their product increased exposure.

The Produce department is especially concerned with season extension (produce that’s available near the beginning or the end of the typical growing season). Although Produce has contracts and agreements with close to 30 local growers, we are always open to hearing about new products and ways of producing organic and sustainably grown produce. Like Grocery, Produce also likes to work with vendors who are able to come into the store and promote their products. Every year we hold our Know Our Grower Program, wherein several area providers come into the store to offer samples of their products and talk about what they do.

Find more information about becoming a vendor.

Q: Some of us would like to know more about how having the store in this neighborhood could lead to gentrification.

The topic of gentrification is a complex issue. The question of what is appropriate development is certainly an important topic in our neighborhoods. We are not interested in creating a situation wherein property values and rents make the community unaffordable. This issue is bigger than the co-op deciding to build in the Bryant-Central neighborhood. At the root of this issue is the price of real estate and whether it goes up or down. Prices are driven more by interest rates and public policy. Basically, the problem is an economy built on greed. We only need to look at the foreclosure crisis we all recently lived through as an illustration of our individual and collective vulnerability to the economic system.

We believe that cooperatives are a solution, not a contributor, to this problem. Co-ops build community-owned wealth that remains in the community. We believe that more neighborhoods need cooperatives because community ownership assures local control of the business. The profits of the business stay in the community because co-ops pay living-wage jobs, buy products from small, local producers (which keeps the money in our community), and share the profits earned with the owners who shop in the store.

Our mission, or Ends, states that “Seward Co-op will sustain a healthy community that has equitable economic relationships; positive environmental impacts; and inclusive, socially responsible practices.” Our intentions are not gentrification, but rather the improvement of access to healthy foods for current co-op owners and the broader community residing in neighborhoods near the Friendship site. We intend to build a store that is warm and inviting to all. We do not intend to force out any existing businesses or residents. We welcome everyone and look forward to learning more about how we can better serve the community around the Friendship site.

Q: Tell us more about the construction phases and agreements with contractors. Will they be hiring women and people of color?

Yes. We will require the general contractor to follow the hiring strategy in our Construction Workforce Plan. It stipulates a minimum of 32% of workers be minority, and a minimum of 6% of workers be women.

Q: I’d like to have a community agreement plan that addresses jobs.

Seward Co-op’s Scorecard provides a variety of measures that demonstrate our commitment to our mission: “Seward Co-op will sustain a healthy community that has equitable economic relationships; positive environmental impacts; and inclusive, socially responsible practices.” We recently revised the Scorecard to incorporate elements from our Long-term Hiring Strategy that outlines the co-op’s plan to more closely align our staffing practices with our mission.

Q: Co-op grocery prices are not cheap. How will the Friendship Store adjust prices to make fresh good food affordable for this neighborhood?

We strive to offer local and natural products at competitive prices. Because our mission compels us to have equitable economic relationships, we price products in a manner that allows us to pay fair prices to producers, pay fair wages to our employees, and bring value to our shoppers. We price strategically and intentionally in order to ensure the sustainable operation of our co-op. We regularly visit local natural foods retailers and conventional stores to compare prices on hundreds of key items. Our total price for a “market basket” of about 150 staple items is lower than the same total at other stores we audit. This strategy, and similar pricing, will apply at both the Franklin and the Friendship stores.

This summer we will roll out our Nourish initiative, which we hope will help customers shop affordably at the co-op. Nourish will highlight some of our most affordable product options with signs at the shelf. The program will include recipes, sampling, and classes that will help shoppers plan budget-friendly meals and stretch their grocery dollars at the co-op.

Nourish will complement some of the other things we are already doing to help ensure that co-op products are accessible to shoppers of all income levels. Currently we offer co-op ownership purchase options and an everyday discount for shoppers who have financial need (visit our Customer Service desk for more information and applications). Owners receive a 10% discount on one entire shopping trip each quarter. We support WIC (Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). We offer promotional savings on many items throughout the store along with bimonthly coupon books, and we make it easy to comparison shop by posting the price per ounce for most products. We hope that these commitments and programs serve Seward Co-op shoppers well.

Q: Will this building have a second story? If not, can you construct the building so that it will support an additional floor or two for expansion?

Yes. The Friendship store will have a second floor for staff offices, meetings, and breaks, just like our Franklin store.

Q: I would love to see a commercial kitchen where one could buy a large quantity of veggies to can in the late summer/fall so that we can enjoy the bounty over the winter and do it relatively inexpensively.

This is a great idea, and one that we have considered in the past. Unfortunately, a shared commercial kitchen is expensive to construct and maintain. It would require a consistent revenue stream in order to sustain it, which is something we cannot count on. The Friendship store also will have limited space for such a facility, as most of it will be occupied by sales and production spaces.

Q: Once I am educated on how to shop, I can save more.

Please join us for our “Shop the Co-op” class. This class is offered on a regular basis and includes a store tour and tips for shopping on a budget. We have also created the program Nourish that will roll out this summer. This initiative will include classes, product sampling, and recipes focused on affordable meal planning.