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Food Access: Surcharge Removal, WIC and Double Dollars

Your Co-op has been cooperating with you and our growing community of Owners for over 40 years. Your equity investment, your purchases, and your voice continues to make your Co-op one that can support growth, support local farmers and businesses, support our employees, and support the community. Your Owner equity supports a business that was locally grown, remains 100% locally operated, and is increasing its economy of scale, giving us the ability to provide better prices all the time. Thank you for your investment. Ownership is the backbone of our success. Bringing value to you and your neighbors’ investments past, present, and future will always be at the center of the work we do for you.

Wait, what's changing?

NOT CHANGING: our Ownership structure; people will still pay equity to become a Co-op Owner.
IMPROVING: Owner benefits; some sales are switching to
become available only to Willy Street Co-op Owners.
REMOVING: as of August 1st or the opening of Willy North, non-owners will pay shelf price and not the 5% surcharge currently imposed.

The voices of Owners urged us to seek a third store during our 2014 vote and your voices gave us the confidence to embark on our project at Willy North this summer. Your Board representatives listened to you and provided your staff with an Ends Policy that asks your Co-op to “be at the forefront of a cooperative and just society that has a robust local economy built around equitable relationships; nourishes and enriches our community and environment; and has a culture of respect, generosity, and authenticity.”

Meeting your needs and meeting community needs is what our grocery business is all about. Which is why we are excited to announce some changes and opportunities for you and the neighborhoods we serve together.

Non-owner Surcharge Removal
As we reported in the May Reader, it has been our practice for our 40+ years in existence to include an additional surcharge on top of our shelf prices for non-owners shopping our store (it was a 10% surcharge on purchases until we opened Willy West, when it was reduced to 5%). Since May, we have continued to discuss removal of the surcharge with staff and Owners through customer comments, the customer survey, and social media. In total, we received feedback from 611 Owners, and less than one-third of respondents requested that we maintain the non-owner surcharge. From the responses collected, we found some of the people who provided feedback thought we were suggesting that we stop accepting Owner equity, not that we were suggesting removing the non-owner surcharge, which is different. Owners who invest equity, or “membership” in our business receive a variety of Owner benefits such as special Owner sales. The non-owner surcharge is an additional fee for those not investing equity. We’re keeping Owner equity; our Co-op depends on Owners to exist! We want to stop penalizing those who are trying out our store for the first time by forcing them to pay additional surcharge fees.To do so, we are improving the sale benefits for Owners that invest equity in our business (details later in this article).

Due to low Owner interest in maintaining the surcharge for non-owners, the non-owner surcharge only accounting for 0.1% of our total operating budget, and our desire to be a cooperative that provides fairly priced products and supports accessibility for all in our community authentically and generously, we are pleased to announce that the Board has agreed to support a Fiscal Year 2017 budget
that discontinues the non-owner surcharge starting August 1st or when Willy North opens, whichever comes first.

Better Food Access in Our Community, Great Deals for Owners, Owner Benefits Increase
On Tuesday, June 7th, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued their Hunger & Food Security In Wisconsin & Dane County report. In it, they mention that 12% of Wisconsin households are food insecure and “in Dane County, some groups experience much higher rates.” Their suggested “Four Legs Of The Table” model for food security includes “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food” as one of the legs (if a leg is absent, the table becomes unsteady). Food access matters to our Owners and we have heard time and again that providing a wide range of products, priced for a broad range of our community’s consumers, is important to you. We do not believe economics should be a barrier to participating in our Co-op, or to purchasing affordable and nutritious food. We want to be a strong leg in the model for food security. For those reasons, your staff and your Board of Directors agree that all shoppers in our stores deserve the advertised price for our products, no additional markups. After August 1st, anyone who wishes to shop our store will receive the regularly advertised shelf price, and also enjoy our IDEALS and Co-op Deals sales.

In addition, all current and new Owners will enjoy the following exclusive and increased benefits of Ownership:

  • Weekly Owner Rewards sales (our BEST fresh produce prices)
  • Wellness Wednesday sales on the first Wednesday of the month (10% off health and wellness products). Owner-only benefit as of August 1st.
  • Weekly Meat Sale Thursday sales—see Facebook or store for the weekly special. Owner-only benefit as of August 1st.
  • All Flash Sales (limited-time deep discounts on select items). Owner-only benefit as of August 1st.
  • The ability to pre-order products we currently stock at volume, and receive a 10% discount on most of those products.
  • The ability to special order products that we do not carry, but have access to.
  • A patronage refund based on a percent of your annual purchases, in years when we are profitable pending Board approval.
  • $10 off classes for which we charge a registration fee.
  • Free meal and drink tickets for our Annual Meeting & Party.
  • The right to run for the Board of Directors and vote on important business matters.
  • The ability to ask for cash back when writing checks.
  • The ability to enroll in our Access Discount Program to receive 10% off everyday purchases if you are in need of financial assistance.

Ownership is Affordable, Your Investment Saves You Money and Keeps Business Local
Some Owners indicated that they were unsure that their Ownership investment was worth its value if the non-owner surcharge were to be removed. Your staff can confidently debunk that notion. Here is what your Ownership does for you and your community:

Your Ownership costs $56 for one person (as an Individual) or $91 for two people who live in the same dwelling (as a Household) total—it is not an annual fee. The price of an Ownership investment has remained the same since 1979, and it is currently one of the lowest equity investments of any consumer grocery cooperative nationwide. Owners do not pay $56 or $91 annually, though Owners may opt to pay their equity inseven (7) installments, for as low as $8 per year for Individuals, and $13 per year for Households. Owners who are eligible for the Access Discount Program may pay off their investment even longer, over a period of 14 years, at $4 per year for Individuals, and $7 per year for Households. Once an Owner reaches their full $56 Individual or $91 Household investment, the only thing an Owner needs to do is shop once a year using their Owner number to continue to receive all the Owner benefits. And do the Owner benefits pay? Statistics say yes! They do! The average Owner currently saves about $20 annually shopping sales available to Owners only. Owners who spend more than $500 with the Co-op each year (about $10 per week) save about $45 per year. Owners who spend more than $2000 with the Co-op annually (about $40 per week) save about $80 per year. These statistics do not include Owner only Flash Sales and our annual Owner Appreciation sale in October! 

The bottom line is that your total investment of $56 for one person or $91 for two people saves you money year after year, and for those of you paying Ownership in seven or 14 installments, you save more money each year than you invest in your Ownership annually. Also, your investment is what makes and keeps your Co-op a local business! Your local Ownership investment supports a local business that has 100% local employees and because we defer to you to make major decisions, it’s your choice to keep us in business. It’s simple: You decided to incorporate, your equity provides your Co-op the assets to remain fiscally viable, you elect your Board, you decide if we grow our business, and you decide if we dissolve. So thank you for continuing to remain invested all these years, for continuing to choose us to meet your shopping needs, and continuing to support us as part of your local economy.

Women, Infants and Children Program
As we reported last month, “Willy North is applying to be a grocery vendor in Wisconsin’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC is a program that helps pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and children under five years of age purchase food.” We are very pleased that the size of Willy North (being larger than Willy East and Willy West) will accommodate carrying the products required to participate in the State WIC program. The former tenant at Willy North, Pierce’s NorthSide Market, was a WIC authorized vendor, and so we feel that it is an important service for your Co-op to continue if possible. This program would be offered in addition to our continued participation in FoodShare, the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for consumers with low income (which we offer at all locations). Currently, WIC participation is one of the qualifiers for our Owner Access Discount Program at all locations, and so if you are a WIC participant, and are not already using this program to receive 10% off your purchases, visit to learn more about this valuable Owner benefit.

If the State authorizes our participation in WIC at our Willy North location, we will be the first grocery co-op in Wisconsin to participate. In order for Willy North to receive WIC licensing, we need to meet various criteria. The State will review whether we have an acceptable history with the other food and nutrition service programs we already participate in through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They will also verify that we have regular hours of operation (Willy North will be open at the same times as Willy East and Willy West: 7:30am-9:30pm daily). We will have to demonstrate that we can charge prices for WIC-approved foods that are comparable with the average price charged for those foods by other WIC vendors of similar size in our service area. Once we can establish that we will meet that criteria, either the State or County WIC office will send a representative for a site visit, when they will determine whether we are maintaining the minimum stock requirements of WIC-approved foods; whether we are appropriately posting the pricing of WIC foods; whether the prices of the WIC foods in-store are comparable to the prices we submitted in our initial application; whether we are compliant with other applicable Federal, State, or Local health protection laws and ordinances; and whether WIC-eligible foods are fresh and dated appropriately. If the site visit goes well, our Willy North Store Manager will need to participate in a WIC training program, and then we will be formally certified to offer the WIC program to eligible customers.

The application process is underway! We are hoping that we will be able to become a WIC-Approved Vendor by the time that we open Willy North, however, processing can sometimes take about three months to complete. We will keep you posted on this important offering. In Dane County, residents may contact Public Health Madison and Dane County at 608-267-1111 to find out how to apply for WIC services. Other Wisconsin residents may receive more information and be connected with their local WIC office by calling 800-722-2295. You may also visit to find out more about WIC.

City Receives USDA FINI Grant, Will Extend Double Dollars to Co-op This Fall
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the City of Madison received a grant through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program on Wednesday, June 2nd. The grant awarded $93,055 to support the City’s now four-year old Double Dollars matching incentive program for SNAP participants at farmers’ markets. The grant funds will go directly to SNAP participants in the form of a dollar-for-dollar matching incentive at farmers’ markets to purchase fresh produce. This grant will allow for the program to extend to more farmers’ markets in the area than previously participating, and it includes a new, exciting partnership with your Co-op to establish a similar fresh produce incentive program at all locations during the outdoor farmers’ markets’ off season. The Double Dollars program will be available again starting this month at participating farmers’ markets and the pilot program at the Co-op will begin in October. Participating markets (which can be found at include the Sunday Northside Farmers’ Market and Monona Farmers’ Market; the Tuesday Eastside Farmers’ Market, South Madison Farmers’ Markets (Labor Temple and Villager Mall), and El Mercadito de Centro; the Wednesday Dane County Farmers’ Market; and the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market and Westside Community Market.

We will receive about $45,000 for the Co-op’s pilot program from the FINI grant. Our plan, starting mid-October, is to hold Double Dollars Tuesdays for FoodShare/SNAP participants. For every $5 spent, up to $20 using FoodShare for any EBT eligible items in the store, FoodShare Participants will receive a $5 Double Dollars coupon to be used at Willy Street Co-op for a future purchase of produce department items between date of issue and March 31st, 2017. The coupons would be issued at all store locations through March 31st or until funds run out. We are so proud to work with the City on this program, and we are grateful to the USDA for their generous funding. We look forward to working with all of the partners on this grant to promote fresh produce purchases and to bring this program to our customers for the first time this fall.

Equitable Relationships and Nourishing the Community the Co-op Way
It has been a pleasure cooperating with you this fiscal year to learn how to bring a new store to new customers and to discuss how to make our Co-op a store where truly anyone can shop and anyone can join. Thank you for giving the removal of our surcharge a try, and for being open to seeing new products and multiple community programs available at our stores. We’re looking forward to cooperating with you again for a great Fiscal Year 2017, one that is more equitable, more nourishing, and even more respectful of your Co-op and your community needs.

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