by Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
As the Purchasing Director, one of my most foundational duties is to oversee our Product Selection Philosophy. This is the document that outlines, in very broad strokes, our approach to deciding which products we do (and don’t) carry.
Since the opening of Willy North, with its new vision of what a “co-op” product mix can and should be, we have had to think long and hard about how we choose the products we sell. I recently undertook a rewrite of the Product Selection Philosophy to illustrate where all of that thinking has brought us.
As I was drafting this new document, I looked for inspiration from similar documents published by other grocery co-ops across the country. What stood out to me the most was just how unique we are. Most other co-ops and natural food stores have a product philosophy that highlights what they exclude from their shelves almost as much as what they include. Many have lists of banned ingredients, items they refuse to sell, and vendors they refuse to purchase product from.
Rather than take an exclusive tack, we have chosen to be intentionally inclusive in what we choose to carry. Yes, we carry a vast array of the highest quality local, organic, Fair Trade and artisan products, but we are not exclusive. As a consumer-owned grocery co-op, ultimately we carry what you, our Owners, wish to purchase, and as Co-op Ownership is inclusive of everyone, our product mix is inclusive to what our diverse community of Owners wishes to purchase from their Co-op.
So, without further ado, here is our new Product Selection Philosophy:
Willy Street Co-op Product Selection Philosophy
As a neighborhood-based, consumer-owned grocery cooperative, Willy Street Co-op is committed to carrying a wide selection of products that meet the changing needs of our growing community of Owners.
We use the following guidelines as we choose the products for our stores:
- Preferring local, organic, natural, sustainable, fairly traded, and humane products that contribute to healthy, just, tolerant and viable communities.
- Providing fairly priced, convenient, and culturally appropriate products to support accessibility for all in our community.
- When available, preferring products with limited packaging or packaging that is recyclable, compostable, and ecologically mindful.
- Fostering supportive and transparent relationships with small, local, and cooperatively-operated farms and businesses that share our commitment to operate in ethical and environmentally sustainable ways.
- Preferring products that provide our customers with transparency in sourcing, supply chain, and suppliers’ business practices.
- Being sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation, and avoiding products that contain imagery or messaging that is harmful or exploitative.
We recognize that there is an inherent and at times uncomfortable tension between some of these guidelines. For example, products that are organic, fairly traded, humane, and environmentally sustainable are not always within the financial reach of some of our Owners and community members, even at fair prices; some items that are culturally appropriate for some Owners may not fall within the organic/natural guideline; and some items that some Owners value for their convenience may not have packaging that is ecologically mindful. We have chosen to lean into this tension and find a balance that is constantly evolving as our Ownership and food system grows and changes.
Because we are committed to the cooperative principle of democratic owner control, and because we want our stores to be places that welcome all members of our community, we interpret the above guidelines in an inclusive rather than exclusive manner. We include as many products as possible that meet the above guidelines, but we are not limited by the guidelines—we also provide products simply to meet our Owners’ diverse needs and tastes as requested. However, with the exception of items removed per our boycott policy, we do not exclude or remove products from our shelves based on individual Owner desires to limit the choices available for others.