The Brattleboro Food Coop (BFC) Board of Directors and General Manager Lee Bradford have been in conversation for more than a year now about our discount programs as well as our patronage dividends. Patronage dividends are divided among all shareholders while discounts are provided to specific groups.
Almost fifty years ago our founders formed the BFC to meet our shareholder needs for access to affordable, healthy, organic food. That need still exists to be sure, but our world has also changed. Our community has changed. Our industry has changed. Environmental sustainability and access to affordable food are now critical issues that we must address.
We must evolve and change not only to survive financially, but so that we can continue to serve our original mission. We must adapt to meet the emerging needs of our current and future shareholders. This includes a renewed focus on environmental sustainability and income inequality, which our discount structure needs to reflect.
One way to help address income disparity is to examine our discount structure, specifically shifting the focus of our discounts. By moving to a needs-based discount structure and allocating resources to those who truly need them, we can help make the healthy, organic, local foods that we carry accessible to more people.
Discounts represent an expense of over $500,000 in the BFC budget, which we can think of as an investment in our community. The question that Lee and the Board continue to ask is whether that investment is going to those who need it most.
We currently have three ways to earn discounts: Elder, Working Shareholder Discount and Food for All (FFA). Of the three discount types, Elder discounts account for the vast majority of the discounts we provide, and while some Elder discount recipients rely on this discount to be able to shop at the BFC, many do not.
Another consideration in the Discount Program is that, currently, discounts do not stack. For example, if a shareholder receives a discount and also works 2 hours at a Commitment to Community partner, they still only earn a 5% discount. The result is that there is no additional financial incentive to volunteer if you are already receiving one of the other discounts.
As we think about how our discount programs may look in the future, we have two main goals. We want to provide more help to people who need it, and we want to create more incentive for shareholders to volunteer in our community. We are exploring the following approach, which we believe will help us achieve these goals.
Second, allow these discounts to stack. This means that all shareholders, including those over 65 who receive Food for All and are also able to volunteer two hours per month, will see an increase in their discount over what they see today. Shareholders who may rely financially on their Elder discount but are not eligible for Food for All will still receive the same discount they do today by volunteering.
Current recipients of the Elder discount who are not eligible for Food for All and choose not to volunteer would forgo a discount, as the existing Elder program will be discontinued. The discontinuation of this program will, in turn, fund the increase in FFA and Working Shareholder Discount program participants. In this way, we provide greater support to people who need it the most and incentivize more volunteerism in our community.
This most recent discussion of changes to our Discount Program has been underway for more than a year. We are ready to implement these changes starting in the second quarter of fiscal year 2024, which begins in October of 2023. More details will be forthcoming.
By Calvin Dame