National Cooperative Grocers Helping Bloomingfoods Be Better Grocers

June 19, 2015

When shopping at Bloomingfoods, it’s difficult not to notice our branding includes the catch phrases “Co+op Deals” and “Stronger Together.” Where do these tag lines come? What do they mean?  And how to they make Bloomingfoods stronger in the fast changing natural foods marketplace?

The Stronger Together brand belongs to National Co-op Grocers. NCG is a co-operative association made up of 143 food co-ops across the country, including Bloomingfoods. According to its website, “NCG helps unify natural food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power, and ultimately offer more value to natural food co-op owners and shoppers everywhere.”  NCG is a secondary level co-op, comprised of independent co-ops collaborating together. In the same way that each Bloomingfoods member has one vote in our co-op elections, each member co-op has a vote in NCG elections.

Bloomingfoods success over the years has in no small part been attributable to the fact that our co-op is part of something much larger. With food co-ops across the country all trying to achieve similar goals, it only makes sense that our food co-ops collaborate to strengthen our mutual position in the marketplace. Looking at the numbers, we see the combined impact. With 143 food co-ops operating over 195 stores in 38 states, NCG has combined annual sales of over $1.7 billion and over 1.3 million consumer-owners!

NCG is a culmination of many years’ efforts of dozens of food co-ops from coast to coast. Many food co-ops that opened during the 60’s and 70’s didn’t survive past the 80’s. Those that did looked to one another to strengthen their mutual position.”Most were unable to escape the same problems that troubled older, earlier co-ops”, states the Stronger Together website, including “insufficient capital, inadequate membership support, an inability to improve operations as the natural foods industry developed, a stronger commitment to idealism than to economic success, the lack of adequate support from their wholesalers, and resistance to consolidation. But the ‘new wave’ co-ops that survived are strong and well-established.”

This is where the 6th Co-operative Principle, Co-operation amongst Co-operatives comes in. Starting in the 90’s, food co-ops began collaborating regionally, sharing best-practices, joint trainings, and strengthening their purchasing power. NCG first formed in 1999 as a gathering of regional associations, including four regional associations in the Midwest, three on the West Coast, and two on the East Coast.

In 2004, co-op leaders saw the need to collaborate and unify on a national scale in the face of the “opportunities and threats presented by continuing growth and consolidation in the natural/organic industry,” wrote Dave Gutknecht, editor of Co-op Grocer trade magazine. NCG’s board proposed that “unless we become more aligned on a national basis, we will continue to lose relevance in the sector. Unless we take advantage of this opportunity, we will never be stronger than we are today.”

Fast forward to 2015. NCG’s combined member sales have more than tripled in that time. Yet at the same time, food co-ops across the country are facing mounting competition from major retailers entering the organic/natural market. So now more than ever, NCG is there to help food co-ops compete in the quickly changing marketplace.

NCG provides its member co-ops a national purchasing contract with our largest food supplier (UNFI), plus other purchasing contracts for non-core goods and services. In fact, NCG ranked as the seventh largest purchasing co-op in the nation last year. Shoppers see this impact in our co-ops’ competitive pricing, especially with the Co+op Deals flyer promotions.

In addition to joint purchasing, NCG provides its member co-ops professional development and training, promotes operational and merchandising best practices, supports the development of new and expanding co-ops, and acts as a powerful advocacy voice for food co-op issues. NCG strives to create a “virtual chain” of food co-ops, especially evident in the Stronger Together brand we see on our coffee cups, grocery bags, recipe cards and more. Readers can go NCG website, strongertogether.coop, to find food and nutrition information, recipes, news about co-ops, and advocacy information regarding organics, fair trade, and local farmers.

So on your next shopping trip to Bloomingfoods, when you see Co+op Deals and the Stronger Together brand throughout the store, know that Bloomingfoods is part of much bigger movement of food co-ops who are working together to make us all stronger and better community-owned grocers. And by shopping the co-op, know that you’re playing your part to strengthen the bigger co-op movement too!

by Brad Alstrom