October is for Co-ops

John Tashiro, General Manager

Hello everyone and happy fall! While I enjoyed the record setting sunny summer weather, I am a true fan of Vermont’s harvest season and all the breathtaking magical colors of foliage that spread across our landscape this month.

As you know, October is a very special and busy time at the Co-op for a variety of reasons. For starters, October is Fair Trade month, which aims to raise awareness and share the importance of fair trade. As you may know, fair trade is a transparent trading system that supports sustainable livelihoods primarily for small and disadvantaged cooperative farmers and producers and their communities in developing countries. The system addresses these cooperative farmers and producers who are most vulnerable and ensures fair prices, good working conditions, and long-term partnerships to fight against poverty and exploitation, climate change and the economic crisis. Here at the Co-op, we support and have over 360 fair trade items like bananas, avocados, flowers, chocolates, coffee, tea, sugar, soaps, shampoos and many others. These items have various fair trade certifications that guarantee your purchase helps improve the lives of several million small scale farmers and producers and their communities around the world.

October is also National Cooperative Month; a time for us to reflect on the ways all different types of cooperatives build stronger communities and more resilient local economies. This year’s theme is “Co-ops See the Future,” which embodies what co-ops envision and work to achieve every day—a more sustainable and inclusive tomorrow.

Since 1930 co-ops have celebrated the benefits of being Member-owned and governed, rooted in principles such as community, voluntary and open membership, economic participation, and cooperation, to ultimately serve the needs of the community. Today, we have more than 40,000 cooperative organizations and businesses in this country ranging from food co-ops, farmer co-ops, and worker co-ops to credit unions, housing co-ops and energy co-ops just to name a few.

Nationwide, co-ops create 2.1 million jobs and generate more than $650 billion in sales and other revenue annually. Because they are Member-owned, co-ops are driven by the needs of the people who work there or use their products and services, rather than maximizing profit. Nationally, 1 in 3 people is a Member of at least one type of co-op. In the New England and New York region alone, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association represents and supports more than 35 food co-ops and start-ups that are locally and collectively owned by more than 144,000 Members and employ over 2,300 people. Together, these co-ops generate annual revenue of $330 million, including sales of $90 million in local products.

Last year at City Market, we exceeded $48 million in annual sales, with 70% of these sales to Members and 40% from local products. Our 2018 financial year, which concluded in June, was indeed better than we expected. However, as I shared throughout last year, we still expect that it will take another five to six years before the Co-op returns to profitability due to the significant investments we made with our expansion. This means that for the first time since we started the program in 2009, we will not be issuing Patronage Refund checks. This is a very common situation for co-ops going through expansion and one that we expected here at City Market. I am mindful that the Patronage Refund is often referenced as a key benefit of Membership, so I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you about all the other great benefits of owning a Co-op with your friends.

These benefits include participating in a locally-owned, locally-run business with a democratically elected Board of Directors that represents our Members. As a Member, you can vote in the Board of Directors election between now and October 21. You can review information on the 6 candidates online (or in the Elections Flyer we mailed to Members) and cast your ballot for up to three candidates. Candidates were invited to speak at last night’s October Annual Member Meeting, and we’ll post videos of those statements on our elections page soon!

Last night’s Member Meeting was a grand success with over 500 cooperators coming together at the beautiful ECHO Leahy Center. We enjoyed a fantastic meal, heard from our Board of Directors candidates, and applauded this year’s Don Schramm Community Service Award recipient. Thank you to everyone who turned out to share in your Co-op’s success. We’ll share pictures from one of our favorite annual events soon!

As always, thanks to all of you for your on-going support of the Co-op! We will continue to work to best serve you, our Members, our customers and the broader community as part of our commitment to continuous improvement. We look forward to seeing you at the Co-op this fall!

With gratitude and in cooperation,