A CEO once asked a futurist how to stay in business for the long haul. Rather than peer into the future, the futurist reviewed history; what were the characteristics of companies that lasted a long time? Agility was the key. Coca-Cola was invented in 1896 as a medicine. In 1930, the “Motorola” car radio was invented, the name a blend of “Motoring Victrola.” These companies and many others figured out how to reinvent themselves and remain relevant to consumers’ changing tastes.

Here are five trends our Co-op is facing. Are we agile enough to remain relevant?

1. Clean Food.
I first heard the term “clean food” a few years ago when I was seated next to the British author Charles Landry (The Art of City Making) at a dinner party. Charles is affable and well traveled, a terrific dinner companion. When Charles’ meal was set in front of him, I looked at his plate and wondered aloud, “Is that cheese on your fish?” Even in Wisconsin, I’d never seen that. Charles scraped the cheese off to the side of his plate and replied, “Yes, it’s a bit like over-egging the pudding isn’t it?” Then he said, “This food isn’t clean.”

I instantly understood what he meant by clean food by taking a bite of the dirty food on my plate. More recently, I’ve come to understand clean food as natural, organic, local, sustainable, fresh, safe, ethical, and healthy. And more Americans are interested in clean food: parents, folks who’ve developed food allergies, even kids.
Research shows that younger generations—who are benefiting from school and community gardens and more healthful school lunches—are showing greater interest in clean food. Hopefully, we’re creating future generations that demand clean food. It is the trend line beginning with millennials (b. 1982-2001).

This is one case where the market moves towards a business (versus a business changing course to appeal to customers). Willy Street Co-op is well-positioned to benefit from the trend towards clean food.

2. Is there an app for that?
Have you noticed that Willy East and Willy West both have zippy, free wi-fi? That’s because more of our Owners’ lives, including their shopping lists, are online. For example, my partner and I use a smart phone app for creating and sharing our grocery list. Often, as I’m driving to the store, Rebecca is updating Grocery Gadget, so that when I arrive to the Co-op, all our needs are documented by department: Produce, Bakery, and so on.

It’s taken me a while to get away from a paper list, but I understand the efficiencies. Having wi-fi provides opportunities to leverage our smart phones, which are increasingly being used in our shopping experiences.

We also have a shopping list function on our website, as well as a mobile version of our site.

3. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your groceries.
Have you ever ordered groceries online? I have to admit there have been some weeks that I’m up to my ears in the eternal list of to dos and have ordered groceries online, for either pick-up or delivery. This trend will continue as many families downshift from two cars to one, and as millennials and the iGeneration (b. 2002-(est)2020) delay getting their driver’s licenses or buying cars. For all of these reasons, online ordering will continue to grow. Willy Street Co-op offers a robust online inventory and enhanced online ordering experience that is worth checking out if you need to free up time or energy, or need an easier way to get groceries home than your bike or the bus. Log onto www.willystreet.coop/shop.

4. Let’s eat in tonight.
Another growing trend is preparing more meals at home to reduce dining out expenses. Shoppers have a variety of opportunities to trying to save money wherever they can at Willy Street Co-op: using coupons, buying in bulk, watching the discount bins, and using the Owner Rewards program. Also, Willy Street Co-op is there to support those new to spending more time in the kitchen with weekly classes that range from learning knife-skills to making your own pasta. And the free Saturdays from Scratch series shows how you can make the most of your dollars and time.

5. I have a special diet.
A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with 59 food allergies. My naturopath was so freaked out when she saw my results—the highest number of food allergies she’d ever seen—that she called me before sending me the test results. “I want you to focus on what you can eat,” she advised.

This is something the Co-op really specializes in. Not just from the standpoint of providing an array of clean food options, but also from the care the staff takes in labeling its own Bakery and Deli creations and the items in the bulk aisle.
Research shows that for the generations of us who were raised on processed foods, food allergies are growing. And with new studies showing the benefits of eating clean, the Co-op must source products that meet all kinds of diets including raw food, gluten-free, sugar-free, wheat-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.

The Co-op has a lot to pay attention to besides just putting clean foods in its stores. Your Board and staff are committed to keeping pace with these trends.

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Mark E. Saunders, CFP