By Brandon Kane, General Manager

Even as recently as ten years ago, grocery cooperatives in the US had the niche market cornered as the go-to business for local and natural foods. The local and natural foods movement caught on rapidly in the ensuing years, to the point where we now have national chains, convenience stores, gas stations, and co-ops all fighting for the same business — which has gone almost totally mainstream.

In this marketplace, we must reexamine the purpose and desired outcome of our business in order to stay relevant and competitive. In this new marketplace, we must adapt or let the future of our business pass us by.

Natural food companies have always dabbled in crossover products to appeal to a wider audience. Vegan alternative-meat products, organic “pop tarts,” and the like are co-op mainstays, but such foods only appeal to a small group of customers who already shop the Co-op.

What would it take for GreenStar’s West End to truly be a one-stop store, widening its audience while still maintaining its identity? This is what needs to happen to ensure the Co-op will be around for decades to come.

While some aspects of expanding the West End store — such as construction — will come on fast and furious to meet an aggressive timeline, we can afford in areas such as product lines and services to take the time to explore our best options appropriately.

Having worked at GreenStar for more than 14 years, I’ve had the opportunity to receive a lot “wish list” ideas from our shopping owners. Often the suggestions take the form of “if only you carried this product” or “I can get a multipack of this at [fill in the competition].” The actual product wishes I’ve heard range from batteries to ibuprofen and also include more affordable natural product lines that GreenStar’s product line policies don’t allow for.

Let’s not overlook what is probably the biggest missed opportunity that our current small store format won’t allow: the ability to offer a wide-reaching and authentic international product line that meets all the dietary needs of our diverse community! Do our present offerings meet the needs of our Latinx, African, or Asian communities to the best of our abilities? Given what I hear from our owners, the answer is a resounding “no.” The questions then become: What is missing? What would you like to see? At what price point would you find these offerings affordable?

To be a truly inclusive cooperative business, we must grow beyond our traditional, self-imposed bounds and restrictions. We need to ask ourselves questions such as, “At what point is inclusivity more important than only allowing red meat from within 100 miles of Ithaca?”

A reexamination of our product line and services is in order prior to reopening an expanded West End store. We want to hear from you what you would like to see in the new location. Please keep an open mind! Know that we will offer the same great products and services. The imperative is to grow and build upon our established history. Please chime in so our decisions going forward can be representative of our whole ownership!

Any and all feedback on product lines, services, and expansion in general can be directed to expansion@greenstar.coop.

Happy spring, and thank you for your ongoing support.