The Co+op Forest, on the Huayabamba River in northern Peru.

By Brandon Kane, General Manager

I believe it’s time to write about the collective impact our cooperative movement is having on a national and international level. Of course, this  relates to our local expansion efforts, because GreenStar plays a significant role in the larger cooperative movement.

GreenStar itself is a member-owner of a national cooperative of co-ops aptly titled the National Cooperative Grocers. NCG had its beginnings as a series of regional cooperative alliances in the late nineties before growing to its present-day capacity — more than 147 co-ops operating over 200 stores in 37 states, with a combined annual revenue of over $2 billion. The main strength of this cooperative alliance is that it allows NCG member co-ops to negotiate distribution and service contracts on a level none of us could achieve individually. Over the years, NCG has increased benefits to its owners through many supportive components — including helping our local co-ops to operate better stores in the face of increased competition, providing critical professional development, and engaging in political advocacy on a level that could only be achieved by our co-op network acting stronger together.

While our combined cooperative annual revenue of $2 billion is not minor in any way, it does pale in comparison to over $600 billion in total U.S. grocery sales in 2017. There’s also the fast-growing behemoth of online grocery sales, which is estimated to have surpassed $100 billion in the U.S. in 2017. Cooperative grocers’ age-old direct competitor, Whole Foods, exceeds our combined sales eight-fold with their sales of about $16 billion in 2017. You may have already noticed: the competition for co-ops is stiff out there and continues to grow each day.

Cooperatives in the U.S. continue to finds themselves with massive challenges in how to remain relevant in a market saturated with organic and so-called natural products. Our largest obstacle appears to be in how to strike the balance that keeps our stores competitively priced with the competition while we still remain genuinely invested in putting our money where our cooperative mouth is in term of embodying our co-op values. For example, GreenStar’s starting wage of $12.98 plus benefits is well above starting wages offered by any other grocer in our region. Everyone wants to see higher wages paid at their local businesses, but sometimes no direct line is drawn between the markup on products for sale and the profit needed to maintain a business model. So, if you see an item that’s cheaper at Target than at your co-op, know that the cost is directly related to the wage and benefits of the employees at their business versus ours.

This brings me back to the NCG, which collectively helps co-ops lower operating costs wherever feasible. In turn, this allows those co-ops to focus, on the local level, on paying their employees a fair wage and supporting the development of local foods systems. Through NCG, GreenStar and our 146 other sister co-ops have been able to remain competitive through promotional programs such as Co-op Deals, Co-op BASICS, and our low-income discount program (also known as FLOWER). But leveraging our collective co-ops’ balance sheets is only one example of many positive outcomes brought about by our cooperative efforts.

Support of other co-op enterprises is top among our values. In 2017, NCG co-ops, GreenStar included, were the exclusive retailers in the U.S. of products from the Argentinian co-op La Riojana. All told, our co-ops brought $2.4 million in sales to La Riojana in 2017, helping to facilitate an expansion of the cooperative economy in Argentina. (Don’t you love being part of that?)
NCG offsets its carbon footprint related to our collective travel through its Co+op Forest Initiative. All told to date, NCG has planted more than 1.7 million native Amazonian trees in Peru through this project! NCG also provides leadership on a federal level in pushing for the mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

In 2017, 21 percent of total NCG co-op sales entailed local goods as defined by each co-op (within 100 miles for GreenStar). The math on that comes to more than $440 million going to local farmers and vendors through our cooperative network! In an area of some crossover, over 44 percent of our collective sales last year were attributable to certified organic products. That works out to be over $900 million in sales of organic products by co-ops in 2017.

I think it’s pretty clear that GreenStar has certainly got it going on in a local way! The above examples also make clear that our co-op is part of something so much larger that’s having a very real, cumulatively positive impact on our communities throughout the nation. I’m proud to be a part of this movement and I’m so excited to see how GreenStar specifically will continue to be one of the leaders of this movement as we keep heading for higher ground. Our future is bright, together!