Co-op Discounts

  | Board of Directors

Co-op Projected to Give Over $700,000 This Year

As hopefully most Shareholders know, our Co-op has just had its first profitable year in many, with a net profit of about $30,000. This is great! This is something we should celebrate and of which we can be proud, while continuing to push for further business success.

Little known is the fact that the Co-op will offer over $700,000 in customer discounts this year. In my opinion, this $700,000 is money that helps to put good food into the diets of our Shareholders and customers.

Yes, our Co-op is, in essence, a grocery store, so let’s not get too, too carried away with our righteous selves. But equally essential to the Co-op is that we Shareholders have a say in the goals and outcomes of the business. And, overwhelmingly, we the Shareholders have chosen good food at good prices as that outcome. (Sure, there are expensive items alongside the great value items, and if you love the smelly cheeses from Lazy Lady like I do, we can commiserate all day long about how expensive they are.)

For its part, a major outcome of our Co-op is that we give away money just about as fast as we bring it in, and for the good of the community—in the form of customer discounts, lots and lots of discounts. While it was a true feat of financial prowess, staff commitment, and good management that the Co-op just turned its first official profit in a great while, the reality is that the Co-op has been giving away over half a million dollars per year in discounts since 2013 (see graph). Know any other businesses in town doing that? Nope.

These discounts are structured from 8 to 12% and currently are available to: Seniors, Employees, Working Shareholders, and Food for All participants (in order of the magnitude of discount dollars given). This is a structure that we have inherited from previous generations of Co-op Shareholders and leadership. Is this the “best” structure? I don’t presume to know, but I feel pretty darn sure that it’s worth talking about.

Now, whether you like capitalism or not, the Co-op must make money—to pay down debt, expand, or save for a rainy day when the ice cream freezer finally breaks—so this is a baseline for discussion. After this, here are few questions for further consideration:

  1. I’m on the Board, so I’m technically a “Working Shareholder.” Do I really need to get an 8% discount? And for working as little as two hours a month?
  2. A discount for employees seems like a no-brainer to me.
  3. Our Co-op “Ends Policies” (aka goals) state that we are to be a “welcoming community marketplace” and provide “reasonable access to participation in the cooperative.” So, should there be a larger percentage of our discounts offered to make the Co-op more affordable to those on WIC, Food Stamps, and other qualified assistance programs, or those just beyond qualifying for these? Everyone needs access to good food.
  4. Should all senior citizens be granted an equal discount based upon age alone, or should there be a more needs-based system?

Anytime we contemplate changing benefits around, we do really pick “winners” and “losers,” so there will inevitably be some tension, but with that also comes an opportunity for rich discussion. I hope for conversations that reach beyond personal desires into how we want our community to work. The Board of Directors will be working on this topic over the next months, and we will be setting up many opportunities to hear from you. If you would be interested in working on this, please let us know.

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By Arion Thiboumery