December 2003

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Readers’ Write!

GM Report

Board Report

Bakery News

Produce News

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Producer Profile: Wisconsin Cheesecakery

Our Newest Savings Program: ESP

Specials (PDFs)

Community Reinvestment Fund Information

Cheese Compendium

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Community Calendar

Our Newest Savings Program: ESP (Everyday Sale Prices)


We last reported on how we fared in price comparisons with other Madison area grocery stores in August 2002. While the weather was nice at the time of our report, the news we had to share about our prices wasn’t as favorable. We went to five different stores, including Willy Street Co-op, with the same shopping list. The Co-op finished with the second highest cost total on our list of groceries. During this exercise we chose to not to play to our strengths but to buy predominantly conventional items and nothing in bulk or on promotion. Our list was comprised of foods we would need to make a simple lunch and dinner, nothing fancy. Once the results showed us to be second most expensive, we committed to reviewing our buying processes and service from our venders so that we could become more competitively priced and, ultimately, a more affordable place to shop.

About Our Prices
If we could we’d price everything we carry at low prices. But the fact is that most natural foods we offer are just flat out more expensive for us than conventional foods. Small businesses rather than mass-market manufacturers produce many natural foods, which means their prices are higher because they have no mass production efficiencies. The natural foods movement always had “fair goods for fair prices” as a tenet of its philosophy. The hope is that when we buy a product at its real cost, rather than one that’s subsidized by government programs and big agribusiness, we are supporting sustainable business as well as sustainable foods. In addition, Willy Street Co-op is one of the only co-ops in the country that has a benefits package for its workers that includes full medical, vacation, sick, dental, profit share and retirement. We also offer the Dane county living wage.

Lowering Conventional Prices
That being said, as promised, we did review our vendors and the prices they offer us on conventional items. We discovered that often times the wholesale price Willy Street pays is close to what grocery chains are able to offer to their customers off the shelf. Conventional suppliers don’t consider us to be big customers, so we can’t compete for better prices in that arena—all we can do is try to achieve prices that are in the ballpark. We decided that, while we don’t have enough volume purchases on these items to demand better prices from our suppliers, we would lower our standard margins (the difference between what the Co-op pays to vendors and what you pay) on these goods anyway to achieve better prices. Consequently, we chose to offer 177 conventional items from packaged grocery to frozen foods at prices that barely cover the cost of offering them. They still aren’t as cheap as some stores, but they’re better than before.

Everyday Sale Prices (ESP)

This brings us to the present day. We do a pretty good job offering competitive prices on natural brand items, organic items, locally produced items, promoted items and now we do a better job on many conventional brands. We have identified one significant area, however, that could truly use price cuts: staple items.

Introducing our newest savings program, ESP, or Everyday Sale Prices. This program has the objective of offering value prices on co-op staples (i.e., products from natural brands that are basic to stocking a natural kitchen—peanut butter, canned beans, and bananas, for instance). ESP will start out offering about 20 items throughout the Co-op. This program is open to all Co-op shoppers and will be available every day, unlike our specials programs that change bi-weekly or monthly.

Help Us Select the Items
It is our hope that you, the membership will help us select a few of the items by participating in a small in-store survey this month. We just have one question for you: What three items would you buy at the Co-op if they were more affordably priced? There will be a voting kiosk at the end of register six (the one closest to the Customer Service desk). Members and non-members are welcome to give us feedback. The top three voted items will be featured on ESP; the other popular items will guide us in additions to the program. The voting kiosk will remain at the front of the store until December 14th, so that we can get everything done to start the New Year with our new ESP program.
Wynston Estis
Store Merchandiser