2019 Annual Meeting Speech
Welcome – Vicki
Welcome everyone! Before we begin, let’s all thank the Deli for an awesome dinner and Clint for pouring beer!
Alright, now let’s get down to business…
The economy. Personal wellness. The environment. It is no mistake that these issues are at the heart of our Ends. They are the core reasons Chequamegon Food Co-op exists, and they are all inseparably linked to each other and providing our community with an enhanced quality of life. To put it plainly, the Co-op’s economic growth and the health of our community are undeniably tied to the wellbeing of our environment.
Sustainability is at the heart of any successful business because focusing on continued growth and prosperity will sustain the operation well into the future. In other words, businesses that do not plan for longevity by creating and maintaining a sustainable operational system are destined to fail. But economic sustainability (or remaining financially viable) is not the Co-op’s sole purpose. Economic and environmental sustainability are tied directly to one another because we rely on the environment for our economic success. We sell food. Food comes from the environment. Therefore, we cannot ignore one for the other because the long-term viability of the Co-op will suffer.
We recognize that the current food system is flawed and needs to change, and yet we must delicately balance the economic needs of the business with the environmental footprint of running it. It would be easy to simplify things and say the Co-op is stuck choosing between environmental responsibility and economic reality. But we know that can and will change.
There is a saying in the co-op world, “There is no mission without margin.” It means that our Ends are who we are as a business (our mission). It is what we strive for when we work towards growing our sales. But we cannot accomplish that goal without selling products. The two go hand-in-hand.
Last year, our sales totaled about $4.5 million. We saw a small growth of 2.8% over 2017 and our unaudited net profit was $48,000. Our accountants did a complete audit of our financials for 2018 in March. At this time, we do not have the results. However, I can tell you that when they left, they told me that our co-op is financially healthy and stable. In fact, we were able to payoff $101,000 in member loans last year.
There is steady improvement year over year, and we have our staff, owners, and customers to thank for this. Did you know that almost 80% of our sales comes from you, our owners? It’s truly incredible! It shows us the dedication our community has to our co-op. Part of our Strategic Plan is to be a part of growing our local economy and we do that through our sales. We are committed to growing our percentage of local sales to 20% in 2020. Last year our local sales grew from 12% (where it has hovered for the past few years) to over 15% of total store sales. The economic impact to our community with just these sales alone amounts to over $1 million!
But this is only the start of our economic impact. In 2008, we started our micro-loan program, a revolving loan fund to help local farmers with small projects. The program became so successful that the need to grow the pot of money led to the creation of Chip for Change. We started asking you to chip your change at the register in 2012. Since then, we have collected close to $90,000 for the micro-loan fund through your generosity. With your help, the Co-op has awarded 53 micro-loans to date, ranging from $300 to $5,000. Because the payments that comes in is loaned back out, we have loaned out over $178,000!
Still with all this success, we have noticed some opportunities for growth. For example, bulk sales decreased from 2017 to 2018. EBT sales decreased as well. When looking at maintaining a sustainable business AND meeting our Ends, all opportunities need to be explored. Fortunately, we created our Strategic Plan last year to do just that.
Operations – Kiersten
As a co-op we are continually trying to do so much more than just sell groceries.
We are currently working on lots of extra things to improve not just our business, but also our community, the local economy, and our environmental impact.
So, some highlights:
In June of 2018 we launched the Owner Rewards program including our double points program for low income and senior members. As a co-op owner, you are automatically accumulating rewards points! However, owners who are low income or over 55 can apply for double rewards program. We currently have over 800 member households enrolled in the double rewards. It has been really fun to be working up front when people cash in their points. Occasionally we will have owners who are able to pay for their entire weekly shopping trip with their rewards points!
We recently started our Community Meal, $5 dinners. Consider joining us for an affordable meal on the last Wednesday of every month from 5-7 p.m. The food is homemade in our deli and often incorporates local and organic ingredients whenever possible. We generally have live, local music and it’s really been a lot of fun!
Our online store opened in January. You can now shop the co-op online for instore pickup and one of our awesome staff will pick your order for you. While sales have been slow, we do expect this service to catch on. It is extremely convenient if you just need to pick up a few items, if you find it tricky to shop with small children, or if you have mobility issues. With more use, we hope to expand our pickup hours and possibly add a delivery option. So, place an order and we will do the shopping for you!
As our membership is voicing increasing concern about single use plastics and packaging in general, we have been looking onto ways to up our game. Plastic bags in Produce have been discontinued as of Earth Day! We have a new selection of reusable bags available for purchase, but we also encourage you to use the containers and bags you already own. This will be an experiment, so we will be evaluating sales and customer feedback to see if this is something we can maintain permanently and possibly expand to other parts of the store.
We continue to offer a 5-cent credit as an additional incentive to people who bring in their reusable bags or containers. We gave out nearly 40,000 such credits to our shoppers in 2018!
We are currently investigating our options for installing a dishwasher and bringing in reusable dishes for the Deli. Due to the original configuration of the space, we’ve run into a few snags. However, we are hopeful that an affordable and workable solution can be found. In the meantime, all of our deli packaging is either compostable or recyclable and we are happy to extend our container credit to people who bring their own plates and bowls.
Speaking of compost, the majority of our food waste is sent to Northland College to be composted in their facilities. As you know, food waste rotting in landfills is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, so the fact that we can compost is huge!
Because we have so many coolers and lights, the Co-op is intensive when it comes to electricity usage. Last year, we also reached out to Cheqbay Renewables and Xcel Energy to learn more about our solar and renewable energy options. Unfortunately, we learned that our building is positioned in such a way as to limit efficient solar energy generation. We would also only be able to generate a small percentage of our electricity needs, even if we covered the parking lot in solar panels. Because of both expense of these projects and the minimal output, we are investigating energy reduction as a better solution. In fact, we completed an energy audit with Focus on Energy just yesterday and look forward to implementing their suggestions for improving our energy use. We’ve also been looking into offering an electric vehicle charging station and purchasing renewable energy credits.
You may have heard about the Community Mural Project – The big white wall alongside the parking lot is going to be a whole lot more colorful by the end of summer! Artists Rose Spieler and Mae Stoutenburg have put together a fabulous mixed media design with input from staff and community members. A poster of the final draft can be seen at the store. The work on the mosaic aspects are well underway with workshops in our community room. This is a community art project and they are really going to rely on community involvement to get it finished! Look for more workshops all summer!
Marketing & Outreach – Meagan
As Kiersten mentioned, last year we started checking off items from our Strategic Plan to-do list and have continued tackling more projects this year. We are currently working on our application to become a Travel Green certified business. Travel Green is the first-of-its-kind state sustainability certification program. Businesses are evaluated on their commitment to sustainable communication and education, waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, energy efficiency, conservation, and management, water conservation and wastewater management, air quality, wildlife and landscape conservation and management, transportation, purchasing, and local community benefits. So…a lot! The certification requires a minimum of 35 points, and we have 70! That is 70 points of a possible 136, so there is still much more that can be done.
As part of our Strategic Plan, we have also been cultivating more community partnerships. One of the main relationships we have developed has been with the Healthy CHANGE Coalition, a group of area organizations working together to help motivate the Chequamegon Bay community by implementing projects meant to increase physical activity and promote health and wellbeing. We are also working with local co-ops including Bayfield Electric, Midland Services, and credit unions to develop and present cooperative programming in area schools. Add our collaborations with Ashland Parks & Rec, Bay Area WIC, and Memorial Medical Center, and we are starting to see the power of community-led education.
Our Strategic Plan is a great start, but it will only get us so far because it details what the Co-op will do. While we work on changing our product selection, offering more education, and creating sustainable operating systems, we invite you to join us in this sustainable journey by becoming our ally.
So, what can you do? Buy in bulk with reusable containers. As Vicki mentioned, bulk sales have been decreasing, a disappointing trend for a business that wants to move away from single-use disposable packaging. We can’t ignore the fact that packaged grocery is our bread and butter, so to speak. But if we are really going to decrease packaging, then bulk is the answer. And remember to bring your own bags and containers. We’ll give you that 5-cent credit for each one you use.
You can also contact manufacturers. Let them know that while you love their products, you want them to come in reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging. As a consumer, you have more power than you think. And as a group gathered together around a common cause? Your voices will be heard.
Share your knowledge with friends and family. People are most influenced by the ones they know and trust, so become an expert. Learn more about how your product choices affect the environment and then share that information. Look for helpful information about your choices on our Facebook page, website, and in The Grapevine. You could also take a Co-op class or attend a community health fair. (And as an aside, if you have class ideas, we would love to hear them. Especially, if you would like to teach!)
What else can you do? Change your habits. This one is perhaps the hardest. It means giving up convenience in the short term to insure environmental health in the long term. Anne Marie Bonneau summed it up best when she said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” So, it is something that is perhaps easiest done gradually. Start from where you are and keeping going from there!
As we look toward making these changes as a community, it will require a lot of input from you. We’d love to hear your thoughts. You can stop by to speak with us at the store, send us a letter or email, or participate in our shopper survey this fall. No matter what, we want to know what you think about these changes and if you have ideas for other things we can do as well.
Conclusion – Meagan
As you can see, we are well on our way to sustainability. The choices we make together will be our path toward change.
Before we move on to elections, we want to recognize the efforts of our staff. Co-op staff, please stand up! Thank you all for your energy and enthusiasm, for stocking shelves and answering bells, for seeking innovation and constantly striving for improvement. You keep this place going!
And to our Board, thank you for your leadership. We especially want to recognize outgoing board members Steve Sandstrom and Carole Carlson for their dedication and hard work. Steve, in particular your guidance and wisdom as president will be missed. Thank you so much to both of you!
Finally, we want to thank you all! Our co-op is thriving, and we will continue to do so with your support. Your investment in this business will insure our community has access to healthy, environmentally sound food for years to come. We will truly be sustainable. Thank you all so much!