One of the Cooperative Principles addresses providing the education and training so all involved in our co-op can effectively contribute to the development the co-op & its mission. Tim Sanderson from Prepared foods, Allen from Produce, and Neil from the Meat & Seafood Department had the opportunity to attend a National Co-op Grocers (NCG) conference recently, and Tim shares what he learned about the rapidly changing landscape of organic and natural food sales:
Focus On Fresh Conference 2016
Upon arrival we were greeted with a substantial breakfast, copious amounts of coffee and other refreshments – this is a conference for food co-ops, after all. After breakfast on the first day, a single and thought provoking question was directed at us by NCG’s National Fresh Program Manager Fred Ruehl: Why are you here?
The answer then to us, the newcomers, was modest at first. We were there to listen, to take notes, to talk to people from other co-ops across the country. We were there to watch people like Dave Olsen, the NCG’s National Co-op Development Director, speak about the New Normal, and how competition from big box stores is causing food co-ops to embrace new strategies. Ever more consumers are developing concerns for health, wellness, value, and convenience, and this is driving the natural and organic world to evolve drastically. Big corporate stores are adapting to the historic co-op strategy of providing organic and non-GMO foods, but at more competitive prices because of their vast buying power and low wages. This has also driven a change in advertising, as large companies are fighting dirty in the battle for higher sales. Throughout the presentation, Dave was specific about one thing: this competition is a good thing, because it means the cultivation and distribution of healthy, wholesome food was making an impact globally, and the conception and aspiration is rising.
Learning the methods for our co-op to stay competitive with the changing market was poised on the concept of “Courageous Leadership.” NCG’s Linda Mcann, the National Prepared Food Coordinator, spoke about the fundamentals of being a Leader, and how setting the expectations or outcomes and then stepping out of the way is necessary for departmental success. She told us that trusting your co-workers and allowing them to grow on their own is essential for happy staff, and how being inclusive of all employees, focusing on their strengths and researching and sharing ideas is a great form of motivation. Linda also gave many examples of strategic seasonal and holiday ordering, the planning of menus and the elimination of waste – many of which you can watch for this upcoming season!
Bob Beckerman, a man with over 50 years’ of experience, gave an energetic and commanding speech full of methods to success, proving that we needed to recognize that today’s food trends are now dependent on an intrinsic Focus on Fresh. He told us that in order to address the ever increasing demand from consumers for nutritious, organic food, we needed to chronicle the story of where the product comes from, how it was grown and why the local farms are growing it. He said that we need to relate it back to the consumer, because the disposable income for food is decreasing, and essentially that people are spending less money on food than in past decades.
All of this is only barely scratching the surface of all that we learned and experienced while at the conference. We spoke to partner companies, sat down with product manufacturers and networked with our peers to gain knowledge and establish relationships. We took part in various breakout sessions about motivation and accountability through leadership. We learned that our cooperative devotion was integral, that coming together and learning from each other was our real purpose. We were told to “be a sponge” and absorb the concepts and stories of success and failure, to learn from the mistakes and the triumphs of others and emulate that back home, to exhibit our ability to grow and thrive and be simultaneously a part of our store and something much bigger. That was why we were there.