The West End Food Co-op

The West End Food Co-op has just opened the doors of its first community centered / organic food hub.

This humble business has adopted a unique approach for undertaking two daunting obstacles that often face organic / ethically produced focused businesses. Keeping costs low and ensuring the producers are fairly compensated for their goods don’t always bode well for your cost-benefit analysis.

However, one of the biggest challenges for mid to low income consumers today is that we’re often too broke to afford healthy organic fair trade anything!

That’s why the west end food co-op’s intrepid objective of “making healthy food accessible for low income households” resonates with its Parkdale community stakeholders.

Strategies

It is a marriage of progressive management structure and creative marketing incentives that have made this dream a reality. The co-op has introduced “market bucks” a tact similar to familiar “Canadian Tire Money” only with a socially conscious swing. A customer can purchase these Market Bucks and use them at the store or at partnering farmers markets and have the option to purchase additional market bucks for social programs similar to food banks that distribute healthy organic food items. The second approach is co-op credits; volunteers partake in bike-a-thons to raise money for co-op credits that cycle money through the store and distribute healthy food to low-income families.

The co-op is a multi stakeholder business that involves four member categories:

1. Producer members (farmers)

2. Worker members (store / head office staff)

3. Eater members (customers)

4. Community Members (social service providers)

All of these categories have equal decision-making power; as this company is run exclusively democratic. The integral part of this structure is in the copious amount of communication between stakeholders. So much so that producers are invited to the store to host workshops and meet eaters, workers visit the farms their products are produced on, some eaters even own company bonds.

Advantages

  • Farmers who cannot afford to conform to Organic Certification standards but do use non-traditional Organic methods are afforded a chance to sell their products with that advantage.
  • A board of directors allows for equal interest of all parties to be recognized leaving no sub group disenfranchised. 
  • Contributed to a culture of socially conscious consumers.
  • Very little waste produced in house.
  • Trusting and close relationship with all stakeholders. 
  • Bond holders are also often customers giving the consumer an additional  loyalty and personal interest in the success of the business. 
  • Already established clientele built from vast network of farmers markets  

Disadvantages

  • Coming to a unanimous consensus within the Board of Directors can often slow the decision making process.
  • Targets a very specific market, not optimal for mass consumption (yet)

Pricing

While certain products are sold at par or less than larger food corporations, this model makes arrangements for low income shoppers by integrating marketing strategies to provide food to social assistance programs. This company recognize it's responsibility to it's community and at this point is honoring it's promise to provide healthy food for low income families. 

Insight

Not everyone has interest or time in canning his or her own pickles. However, we cannot deny that this harmony of community and business is a vastly growing trend; particularly in up and coming artistic cultural hubs such as Parkdale. This would indicate that people are thrusting for a deeper relationship with their food suppliers and that eco- consciousness is vastly becoming and integral part of our individual identities.

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