Sustain and Flourish— The Food Co-op’s Annual Meeting

Lisa and Monica talking board service.

Lisa and Monica talking board service.

by Lisa Barclay, Board Secretary

We had a lovely annual meeting the last weekend in May out at Fort Worden—the weather was perfect, the food tasty (and local), the music fabulous, and the guest speaker intriguing.

The first hour was devoted to Food Co-op matters:  Board President Owen Rowe unveiled our renewed mission and values statements; General Manager Kenna Eaton reviewed our financials and our expansion; and Marketing Manager Andrea Stafford explained how we came up with our new look. Next, speaker Carol Sanford helped us “re-image” co-ops. And then Jack Dwyer and Sue Thompson played while we enjoyed local salads, bread, and cheese.

Renewed Mission and Values Statements

Before revealing the new mission and values statements, Owen described the process we used to create them. We began almost a year ago by educating ourselves about the history and purpose of mission and values statements. Then we gathered input from staff and members, which informed the first draft written by Owen and Juri. They brought the draft to the board, and we discussed the nuances of pretty much every word. Then they revised and refined again. Next the board and all the department managers met, discussing both the statements and how they would be used by the various departments to further their work. Then more refinement, more board discussion, and at last, the final version.

I must say I’m very pleased with the result. There were so many ways revising our mission and values statements could go wrong—saying either too much or too little, being too flowery or too vague, promising too much or too little. The renewed mission statement says clearly and concisely what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for. Our values statements cover how we plan to fulfill our mission, while the details of “how” are in our strategic plan and other detailed documents.

So, without further ado, our new mission and values statements:

Mission:  Working together to nourish our community.

Values Statements:

Inclusion             We work to welcome and include our whole community.

Respect              We respect our community as individuals and treat each other with civility and respect.

Participation      We participate whole-heartedly in our community, our local food system, and the governance of our co-op.

Integrity              We commit to integrity in our work, governance, and community relationships.

Love                    We love what we do, and we share that passion with our community.

Stewardship      We steward our resources to sustain and regenerate our community.

Resiliency           We build resiliency in our community, economy, and food system so that future generations can thrive.

Year in Review

Next, Kenna reviewed our expansion and remodel (you can see her expansion blog on this website for more details) as well as the year’s numbers, and then she announced that we will be distributing a patronage dividend again this year. I think that is a pretty amazing accomplishment during a remodel! We had actually budgeted for a net loss in 2018, because expansion and remodel work usually dampen sales, but while sales were down a little from 2017, we still made a profit, thanks to the hard work of our staff and the dedication of our members. You’ll be receiving your notice about the patronage dividend soon.

The Co-op’s Refreshed Look

When Andrea joined the Co-op at the end of 2017, Kenna told her 2018 was going to be a busy year—we would be working on the expansion, a new brand, and a new website all at the same time. The expansion seemed a great time to refresh both the store and our “brand”—that is, how we tell our story to the world. Andrea worked with a consultant from the NCG (National Co+op Grocers, a co-op of food co-ops, to which we belong), who did an assessment of the store, surveyed members, and met with both staff and the board. We wanted to stay true to our roots, but we needed some updates. For instance, we needed a new logo because the one we’d had for the last few years did not translate well into different sizes and media. We decided our look would focus on the fact that our co-op sits where the land meets the sea, and that influenced everything from our color palette to the recycled cedar signage to the murals Andrea and Mindy painted around the store.

Question and Answer Session

Next, Kenna, Monica, and Owen took questions from the audience. As Monica noted afterward, our members asked a lot of good questions. See the appendix at the end of this blog for all the questions and answers.

Guest Speaker Carol Sanford

Carol likes to rile people up a little to get them to think in fresh ways or, as she would probably say, to see things as they actually are instead of as we want or expect them to be.  She described some of her experiences getting large corporations like Dupont to “re-image,” to think systemically rather than just react to immediate needs—that is to think about the repercussions of their actions and modify their behavior to achieve truly long-term positive results in the corporation and in society.

She applied this idea to co-ops with the example of Mondragon in Spain, which she said did not look at the whole system to see what was needed, but instead just tried to create jobs, with the result that their products were not always successful. She encouraged us to look around to see what our community needs—for instance, anything we buy that comes from more than 50 miles away, we should make here. Finally, she touted the benefits of “stacked” or “nested” co-ops—related co-ops situated in the same place—as a way to strengthen a community.

Closing Comments

Retiring board member Marty Canaday closed the meeting by relating that she joined the board because she believes in what the Co-op does, and she hopes others will follow her foot steps and serve on the board. Then she gave away two gift baskets as well as Midori Farm Francs and Red Dog Bucks, before introducing musicians Jack Dwyer and Sue Thompson, who played amazing old-time tunes to conclude the meeting.

Thanks to all who attended and we hope to see you next year!

Appendix—Questions and Answer Session

1)        What is the time-frame for paying back the loan on the expansion?

Answer:  We have 10 years to pay it back, with an opportunity to refinance for a longer term. If we have excess funds, we can pay our debt faster. We did feasibility studies and created a series of possible scenarios with pro formas, etc., to determine the best option for us.

2)        Are you considering reaching out to members to donate their patronage dividends to help pay down the loan?

Answer:  Dividends donated to the Co-op will be put in our Twin Pines Foundation Community Cooperative Fund. The fund loans money to fellow co-ops, and the interest comes back to us as our GROW Fund, which enables us to give grants to nonprofits here in Jefferson County. However, if you are still interested in donating your dividend, please ask our staff at the Service Desk about it.

3)        When are we going to get our seating back for the deli food?

Answer:  As soon as possible, but not for a few more weeks.

4)        Are you going to offer member-owners tours behind the scenes of the addition?

Answer:  Yes! There will be a grand opening on August 16, from 3 to 6 pm, which will include tours for member-owners as well as other fun things.

5)        How have sales been holding up during the expansion process?

Answer:  Much better than we anticipated and budgeted for. We budgeted for sales to be down 5% during the first quarter, and instead, we came in equal to the first quarter of 2018.  With the deli reopened, we are doing even better. We are extremely grateful for how our members have supported us throughout this project.

6)        Will there be only one entrance?

Answer:  The main entrance will be on the north side, but there will be a single door on the south side exiting from the dining room, but without any shopping carts. This door will be a fire exit as well as a way to reach the outdoor seating area.

7)        A member voiced concern that the alcove vendor booth seems blocked off.

Answer:  We are looking for ways we can make it more attractive and inviting, but we don’t have another place for it in the store. We want to continue to provide this free space for local vendors, but it is a squeeze. As we knew from the beginning, there are lots of trade offs, and while everything looked good on paper, reality is often different. Better lighting has helped, and we put up a chalk board to let shoppers know who is in the alcove. Many vendors also have been very creative in making their displays attractive and inviting.

8)        Will there be a salmon cart this year?

Answer:  They will be starting June 13th. Remember, don’t park in the lots of neighboring businesses.

9)        How is the flow going to work from the deli to the seating area?

Answer:  When you reach the end of the new salad/hot bar, it will be a straight shot through the wider-than-usual aisle that heads straight to the two quick-check stands. The seating area is just past the check stands, and you can also go through the new single door to get to the outside seating.

10)     Will there still be a cashier at the deli counter?

Answer:  No, customers will need to go through the quick checkout. Both quick check stands will be open during peak dining room hours.

11)     Is the door in the bulk area (formerly the dining area) going to be open?

Answer:  No, it will be an alarmed fire-exit-only door.

12)     The expansion and remodel seem like a medium-range success for us all, but what is it going to look like when when sea levels rise significantly. Has the board thought about a strategy?

Answer:  We had an expert come in to give us a sense of what might happen over 10, 20, and 50 years. The feedback was that in 50 to 100 years this could be very much a concern, but the waterfront zone should be stable until then. They also suggested that if the Co-op was the lone survivor on a hill somewhere while the rest of the town was under water, having a dry store would not solve our problems. The town’s long-term viability is a community-wide concern, and the whole community needs to address it. In the meantime, the board decided to take a middle of the road approach. In addition, twenty to 50 years is a very long time in the life of a grocery store, and we could have a variety of concerns and solutions arise in that time.

13)     Compliments to the staff, who have remained so friendly and helpful throughout the expansion. Is there going to be some sort of special acknowledgement for that?

Answer:  We made a profit last year, and so we were able to give staff a Gainshare of over $1 for every hour they worked for the previous twelve months. When we make more than a 1% profit, we keep ½ for savings and pay ½ to staff in a Gainshare.

A staff member in the audience added that, while he can’t speak for the entire staff, he believes the Gainshare has helped many. He noted that there are some pretty young kids working at the store, and it makes a big difference to them, because living in this town has gotten very expensive. He added that they really appreciated it.

14)     Where is the bike parking going to be?

Answer - We’ve had to frequently move the bike parking, and at this point, we can only speculate where it may end up–it is a big challenge with our space.  We hope to have racks on both sides of the building.

15)     Are you considering establishing a juice and sandwich bar?

Answer:  There will not be a juice bar as we didn’t do well with it. Kenna noted that the Owl Sprit has a juice bar and recommended members go there. We don’t know yet whether we will do a sandwich bar; we’ll see how things go with the hot/salad bar first.

16)     Are we considering bringing back bulk foods for cheeses, tofu, and olives to get rid of clam shell plastic use?

Answer:  There are a lot of maintenance issues, plus health department standards, but we are looking at whether we have the space and how we could do it.

17)     The Corner Store has a vegan sandwich – could the Co-op institute something like that to offer to people that don’t eat meat and dairy.

Answer – The deli kitchen is looking into the possibilities. Keep checking back.

18)     Is the binder of suggestions and feedback together with the responses coming back?

Answer: Yes. We get a lot of comment cards, and we answer them all if they have good contact information. With the expansion/remodel, the binder has moved around, but it will have a designated place for members to review, or it might be online.


The Food Co-op