Board members present: Board President Jerelyn Wilson, Vice President Judy Fink, Johanna Zalneraitis, Michele Meulendyk, Calvin Dame, and Vanessa Vadim.
Directors absent: Anneka Kindler.
Approximately 45 shareholders were in attendance.
Vice President Report: Board Vice President Judy Fink welcomed shareholders to the 47th Annual Meeting of the Brattleboro Food Co-op. She introduced Board members, including incumbents Michele Meulendyk and Vanessa Vadim, who are running in this year’s elections. Candidate statements are available on the BFC website. She thanked Board members who recently stepped down (John Hatton and Denise Glover, who is also running for a seat on the Board).
Board President Report: Board President Jerelyn Wilson shared the Board’s perspective on FY23. She noted that the Board was sad that General Manager Lee Bradford left the Co-op on September 1. He was fully engaged and a pleasure to work with. She stated that the Board has become concerned about how the Co-op can create resilience given the widening income gap as well as the impacts of climate change. She called attention to the new Ends Policies, which guide the work of the General Manager. These will set the expectations for a new General Manager to commit to supporting regional agriculture, sustainable practices, and addressing food insecurity. In the past year, the Co-op has expanded markets for local farmers via a catering contract with the Marlboro Music Festival, created a staff sustainability position, and shifted to a needs-based discount program. The Board is now focused on leading the search for a new General Manager while the Core Team (a subset of the management team) runs the Co-op. She encouraged shareholders to be able to articulate all the ways the Co-op builds resilience in the community.
Board Treasurer Report: Anthony Santorelli, BFC Chief Financial Officer, reviewed the highlights of FY23. Our sales were nearly $25 million, and we are projecting a net income of about $80,000 (this is subject to adjustment pending the audit.) Specific numbers are available in the annual report.
General Manager Report: Former Lee Bradford shared the context for many decisions and activities carried out in FY23.
On the external front, he described continued consolidation at the supplier and retail level, which makes it increasingly difficult to compete as independent/single-store operations in terms of buying product. We’re also seeing continued inflationary pressure in the short term and income disparity/vanishing middle class in the longer term. Our goal is to serve everyone, so we need to find creative ways to provide financial access to low-income/low-access populations, in a world where we have to charge more to stay afloat. We are also experiencing increasing disruption due to climate change and other challenges like cybersecurity. Overall, this is an environment that creates a lot of challenges for BFC – our costs are going up, labor costs are going up, yet many people have less to spend.
Internally, in FY23, we’ve focused on investing in our people – in staff and union relationships – to ensure we remain an economic anchor for the area. On the process side, we have adopted a new approach to financial planning – focusing on increasing revenue with minimal investment. We’ve developed food service, catering, and/or strategic partnerships with Potash Hill and the Retreat Farm. On the technology front, we’ve made investments in our ‘new building’ that isn’t new anymore – specifically, to equipment, electric, plumbing, and a new point of sale system.
Cooperatives continue to offer a compelling alternative to the massive industry consolidation, especially with groups like NCG supporting our channel.
Questions and Answers
Rikki Risatti asked that management reconsider their request for signage clarifying ADA regulations about unleashed service animals. Operations Manager Erik Hansen stated that we will look into this.
Deb Tramposh commented that Hannaford’s prices are higher than those at the Co-op. She wondered if we order too much chicken, as in her experience, it’s not as fresh as she thinks it should be. She wondered if we had looked into sourcing “ugly” produce. Store Manager Meg Sellarole responded that yes, all of our meat “turns over”, meaning, it is sold to customers within the appropriate time frames.
Dan de Walt spoke to the perception that the Co-op is elitist. He applauded the FY23 pay increases, acknowledged the growing income inequality, and wondered how the Co-op could be accessible to people without means. He noted that the downside of patronage dividends is that shareholders have to wait for a year to receive one. He suggested the Co-op sell food at cost.
World Café Conversation:
Shareholders responded to three questions in small groups whose members changed with each question:
Shareholders enjoyed a Co-op made lunch.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:00 p.m.