Happy 2019 and Greetings from the Co-op! We hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday season and are looking forward to the new year with optimism and gratitude. It was a busy December here at the Co-op and I am excited to embark on another year of cooperation, conversation, and great food.
Of all the aspects of our Co-op people ask about, product selection is among the most common. Each year we sell around 14,000 different products. How does the Co-op choose and why? This month, I want to share an overview of how we go about it.
The process of product selection and promotion is guided by our mission to “create and sustain a dynamic community of healthy individuals, sustainable local food systems and thriving cooperative commerce.” In pursuit of that mission, we have had buying policies for many years that assist our team of buyers in selecting specific products. These policies include two parts:
- A list of more than seventy ingredients that are not allowed. Most of these are artificial ingredients such as aspartame or many colors and preservatives. Some are heavily processed ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or anything irradiated. Finally, there are ingredients that research has shown to be clearly unhealthy, such as partially hydrogenated oils. The bottom line is we screen these ingredients out because we believe our customers largely want to avoid them. Strict standards provides shoppers convenience and confidence.
- At the same time, our buying policies call for giving preference to products that are locally or regionally produced, organic, GMO and hormone-free, certified fair trade, produced by cooperatives, sold in minimal or recycled/recyclable packaging, and humanely-raised in the case of animal products. That’s a wide variety of values our buyers are trying to satisfy along with offering reasonably priced items that taste great. It is a significant challenge to maximize these variables while meeting the expectations of 9000+ members and other customers, but our buyers do an excellent job monitoring trends and evaluating new products as they become available.
And things change over time. With hectic lifestyles, shoppers are generally far more interested in convenience these days, which favors prepared or easy-to-prepare options. Dietary restrictions and preferences are constantly shifting as we see with the rise of gluten-free and low-carbohydrate diets. Buyers field hundreds of requests for new products each year and we try to be responsive without sacrificing things that other customers value.
Sometimes, new information will change how we think about a product or ingredient. Palm oil, for example, has grown in popularity over the past decade both as fuel and as a shelf-stable substitute for partially hydrogenated oils. However, this sudden growth in popularity has led to a proliferation of palm plantations in Indonesia and other countries leading to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and unfair trade practices. Our Co-op has responded by trying to avoid palm in some cases and in others, sourcing products with a certified sustainable palm oil option when possible. As the issue of palm oil evolves over time, we will share information and adjust our practices as the buying agents for our cooperative community.
See you in the aisles,
Kari Bradley, General Manager
Photo Credit: Richardson Photography