Board President’s Letter
Looking back on the Co-op’s last fiscal year, I’m struck by the many transitions that we faced as a Co-op, and I am proud of the ways we responded to those changes. Throughout the year, our community wrestled with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, from relaxed mask use guidelines and an end to customer capacity constraints in the summer of 2021, to the rise in case counts driven by the Omicron variant in the winter of 2021–2022, to the gradual but steady decline in cases through the second half of the fiscal year. I am proud of the Co-op’s ability to continually adapt to the long-term impacts of the pandemic by focusing on the safety of Members, customers, and staff.
As the Co-op adapted to pandemic-driven changes, our Board also worked to turn transitions into opportunities for growth. Due to the transitions of two Board Members, we had a total of five Board seats open in the 2021 election cycle—three seats for three-year terms, one seat for a two-year term, and one seat for a one-year term. Our election was held from October 6 to October 27, 2021. I’m pleased to report that we recorded our highest voter turnout ever in this election cycle, with more than 1,100 votes cast. Those voters made up close to 10% of our Membership at the time. Thank you to all Members who voted!
Throughout these transitions, I was excited to see our Co-op’s efforts to enhance the value of membership. Programs like quarterly 802 discount days for local and made-in-Vermont products and two seasonal membership drives led to membership exceeding 12,000 for the first time in several years. Welcome, new Co-op Members!
Our Members remain key to building a more resilient and connected community. Member volunteers completed over 11,000 hours of community service through our Member Worker program. Even more, during the pandemic, Member Workers accounted for over half of Feeding Chittenden’s total volunteer hours! And with new Community Outreach Partners including the Fletcher Free Library, the People’s Farmstand, and Spectrum Youth & Family Services, the impact of Member Work will only increase. I couldn’t be more proud of the work our Members do to make our community stronger.
As we look toward the new year, I am so grateful for the hard work and dedication of our Co-op staff, who have demonstrated resilience and a commitment to our community throughout this year. Thank you for making the Co-op a welcoming place for our Members and customers, and thank you as well to our over 12k Members, who sustain and nourish this community. I am honored to represent you on our Board and look forward to seeing you at the Co-op in 2023!
General Manager’s Letter
As I look back on the many challenges and successes of our 2022 fiscal year at the Co-op, I find myself incredibly grateful. Throughout this year, we faced ongoing challenges navigating the ever-changing impacts of COVID-19 and worked hard to ensure we were making the best possible operational decisions to support our staff and best serve you, our Members, customers and broader community. I want to recognize and deeply appreciate the incredible work and adaptability of our staff as they adjusted to new communication technologies, integrated evolving guidance on contact tracing and masks, and developed our COVID-19 online case dashboard, which set a new high-water mark among area employers for transparency and communication for staff, Members and customers. And to you, our Members and customers: Thank you for your patience, cooperation and good humor with our evolution as we continuously adjusted and evolved our safety measures.
We would not have been able to build this resilience without the tireless work, dedication and creativity of our amazing staff. This was especially true as we faced significant understaffing throughout the year and responded with substantial investments in recruitment, training, retention and communication efforts. Further, I’m proud of the work of our Management and Union teams to extend our staff appreciation bonus for a total of nine months, from October 2021 to June 2022 - an additional investment of over $535,000. This work laid the foundation for a truly cooperative and collaborative process to reach a new two-year contract between our Management and Union teams. Our new contract includes starting wages between $15.50-$21.00 per hour, a new paid parental leave benefit, and a continuing commitment to comprehensive and competitive benefits for full and part-time staff.
Throughout the year, while navigating the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and all its downstream impacts, we nevertheless achieved considerable milestones for Member and customer experience, our community and our environment. After years of observing shopping patterns and listening to your feedback, we redesigned our South End Produce area, displaying organic and conventional items closer to each other. We also launched a redesign of our website focused on accessibility. And we built on our environmental commitment by replacing and retrofitting the open case dairy coolers at our Downtown store. This change will deliver savings of 73,245 KWH annually, decreasing the Co-op’s energy demands. It also reduces product loss and crowding in the aisle, leading to a better customer experience.
We found many ways to rethink and rekindle our connections with our community, including hosting our second virtual Member Meeting in October of 2021. We moved to a hybrid events schedule including both in-person and virtual classes and events, creating accessible options for community members with diverse needs. Through the generosity of our Members and customers, our flagship Rally for Change program has raised over $185,000 since 2014 for Feeding Chittenden and other community organizations, strengthening our local food system and making meaningful change for our neighbors. And finally, we celebrated 20 years of serving the Burlington community at our Downtown store. If you didn’t get a chance to join us for our in-person celebrations in February – or even if you did! - we invite you to watch this video about how we moved into our Downtown location.
For our overall revenue, the impacts of COVID-19 made our daily operations much more complex. This required us to prioritize the safety of our staff, Members and customers and while it may have resulted in an underperformance against our plan, I believe it is something we can all be proud of.
Looking ahead, we anticipate ongoing uncertainty as the Co-op faces more challenges, from a variety of areas and with more frequency. However, we are moving into the next year having built resilience. As I think about the Co-op’s next chapter, I am excited for all the ways we will continue to collectively support a healthy local food system that serves everyone in our community.
In Cooperation and with Gratitude,