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State of the Co-op; Access to Fresh Produce; & More!

February 2017 is here, believe it or not! This month there is plenty to celebrate. Between the Super Bowl, Wellness Wednesday, and Valentine’s Day, we are working hard to provide all the nosh, wellness remedies, chocolates and flowers that you could possibly need! 

State of the Co-op

Over the last five-plus months, since Willy North opened, I am frequently asked by Owners, “How goes it at the new Willy North store?” and I have generally replied, “Things are going pretty well; we are settling into operating three retail sites and balancing product selection to meet the needs of the community. Sales at Willy North are nearly hitting budgeted sales; however, sales at Willy East and Willy West are down slightly more than we anticipated.” 

Sales drive everything we do. We are continually reviewing and managing expenses to keep pace with sales; so if sales are down compared to budget, we also need to tighten up on expenses. And, no wonder sales are down; competition is fierce with every other grocery retail vying for your grocery dollars. The current competitive climate coupled with fresh produce price deflation presents us with even more challenges to overcome. An example of this is that last year, organic broccoli was selling for $4.99/lb; the same product is selling for $1.99/lb this year. So, it’s great that broccoli is less expensive a pound, but we need to sell double the quantity to maintain the same gain in sales. 

I want to take this opportunity to remind you that we exist because of our Owners, and our continued success is based on you. I ask you in all seriousness to “mind your own business!”

Please let us know what we can do to better fill your shopping basket—is there a product you get elsewhere that you think we should carry? Do you have an idea for a new Deli item? Is there a service that you think we should offer? Talk with our staff while you are shopping and submit comments either in store or via the Contact Us page on our website. 

Access to fresh produce 

Willy Street Co-op has been part of the Double Dollars program launched by the City of Madison since October—offering coupons to those using FoodShare/QUEST for future fresh produce purchases. The program has been well-received, so much so that we expect to run out of Double Dollars coupons mid-to-late February, although coupons can be redeemed through March 31st. This was a pilot program, and from the looks of it, it has worked out very well. We are discussing with our partners ways we could continue the program next fall at the Co-op and also support both the Co-op and the farmers’ markets’ Double Dollars Programs.

The City also received grant funding to launch another program that also offers improved access to fresh produce. The Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program is a very exciting pilot to make it easier for food-insecure patients of UW Health Northeast Family Medical Center to add more fruit and vegetables to their diet. (See Kirsten Moore’s related article on page 9). We are so pleased to have great public and private partners working together to increase food access.

And finally, taking care of our talented and dedicated staff has always been important to us, so for the last two years, we have discussed how to offer a Livable Wage to entry-level staff. The National Co-op Grocer/CDS Consulting Co-op Livable Wage model calculates the Madison, Wisconsin Livable Wage for 2016 as $13.62 per hour. I am happy to announce that we’ve taken the first step toward meeting that by increasing the entry-level wage to $11.50 per hour, and giving all staff a wage increase as well. We expect it to take another two years before entry-level staff begin their first day of work at the Livable Wage, and we are pursuing ways to operate more efficiently in order to pay for it. Because these pay increases are part of our operational budget, we will not need to raise prices to cover it.

Save the date

We are already gearing up for our Annual Meeting and Party (AMP) scheduled for July 13th; opening night of the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center’s La Fete de Marquette. A business meeting highlight will include an introduction of the Board candidates running for the Board—and Owners are invited to cast ballots while attending the event. Look for more details as we get closer to summer!