Food Co-ops Help Consumers To “Get Local”
By Al Norman, Food For Change
October 2018 is National Co-op Month. This is the first of three articles produced by Food for Change about the dynamic role of co-ops in America’s community-based food network.
Along the retail supply chain, there is nothing more ‘local’ than a food co-op. The food chain moves from farm to co-op to table—and this fact has been noted in the shopping habits of a growing number of hungry Americans.
A recent survey of consumers who value a healthy and sustainable lifestyle found that nearly 7 out of 10 grocery shoppers seek out local or regional products when they shop. ‘Local’ food slightly outpolled shoppers who searched for ‘organic’ foods on store shelves.1 “One of the bigger surprises of this study,” researchers found, “might be their focus on local and regional products.”
According to another study last month, six in ten shoppers deem locally sourced meat, produce and dairy products as important, while less than five in ten prefer organics, when given a choice.2
Traditional grocery chains and big box superstores have all invested heavily to promote their ‘organic’ products. Costco and Whole Foods combined sold nearly $8 billion in organics in 2015. 3 But try to find local meat, eggs, milk or honey at most corporate grocers. The Big Chains have very little slotted space for small local producers, or their presence is symbolic only.
But if you go the Morrisville, VT. (pop 2,050) Co-op website, their “Meet the Vendors” page contains 33 local farms and producers selling homestyle breads, pies, bundt cakes, berry jams, grass fed beef, chicken, pork, wild salmon, eggs, maple products, honeys, kombucha, wines, and switchel. “We have outgrown our vendor list,” Morrisville Coop explains. ”This list just can’t keep up.” 4
A few hours drive south of Morrisville, the River Valley Co-op in Northampton, MA, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. River Valley ran a full-page ad in an area publication carrying the slogan: “Wild About Local.” “In those 10 years,” River Valley wrote, “we have made over $33 million in local purchases—money that goes back into our local economy.”
The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a federation of over 35 food co-ops and start-up initiatives across New England and New York. purchased over $60 million from local and regional producers annually. 5
“Food co-ops, both urban and rural, are the most intrepid local retailers,” explains filmmaker Steve Alves, whose movie Food for Change is being screened in communities across the nation during October National Food Coop month. “The coops do ‘local’ better than anyone, because they are passionately selling their own communities---not just as any one product---but as the vision of the whole business venture. When it comes to ‘local’ food, coops run circles around the Big Box stores.”
Food For Change is a documentary film focusing on food co-ops as a force for social and economic change in American culture. It is the first film to examine the important historical role played by food co-ops, and their pioneering efforts to create regional food systems. Food co-ops across the country, including Mountain View Market Co+op, will be holding special screenings of the film for the public during National Co-op Month. See map: http://foodforchange.coop/screenings2018/