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Sum of Its Parts

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More Than the
Sum of Its Parts

Brendon Smith
Communications Manager

The 94 independent natural food co-op members of the National Cooperative Grocers Association voted on April 23, 2004 to restructure as a direct-membership cooperative rather than remain a collection of 11 regional associations as it had for over a decade. After 10 months of proposals, discussions and debates, 89 of the 91 votes were for the consolidation. (Willy Street Co-op was one of the 89.)

Power for Food Co-ops
“Thirty years ago when this industry was just getting started, co-ops gave birth to and nurtured the natural foods market, using creative and innovative ways to bring organic and sustainable foods to the consumer’s table,” says Robynn Shrader, executive director of NCGA. “But as business has grown and larger players looked for bigger sales, single-store independents lost their clout. The NCGA reorganization restores and enhances this power for food co-ops.”

The Benefits
How will this change benefit co-op members? First of all, it helps to give co-ops in general a fighting chance against nationwide chain-stores. Second, it greatly increases our ability to communicate to the public how a co-op differs from other businesses. Third, rather than sharing resources predominantly with other co-ops in our geographic area, we’ll be sharing with co-ops from Arcata, California to Williamstown, Massachusetts. Fourth, the nationwide Association provides a solid foundation for the development of new co-ops. Fifth, NCGA will be able to offer business services to us and help reduce redundancy—and these savings can be passed on to our members.

Points of Distinction
This certainly does not mean that Willy Street Co-op will have to conform to some kind of “co-op template” or participate in anything contrary to our beliefs and attitude. “All of our stores have something unique to offer,” says Robynn Shrader, “and we [NCGA] will cooperate to leverage our combined strength in our similar business activities, allowing our member stores greater opportunity to focus on their commitment to their local members and communities. As we protect our relevance in a changing food industry, we can promote better consumer understanding of the points of distinction of cooperatives.”