Customer Corner: Orcas Food Co-op

Welcome to our June edition of Customer Corner: a series where we give one of our customers a platform to tell you all about their mission and values. Today’s feature, Orcas Food Co-op on Orcas Island in Washington, just celebrated their five year anniversary! In only five years, they have accomplished an impressive amount of good for their community. Read on to see what they had to say, and be sure to check them out on their website, Facebook, Twitter, & Yelp pages!

Orcas Food Co-op – Community Grown, Community Owned

Since opening our doors in 2014 the Orcas Food Co-op has placed being a model sustainable enterprise at the heart of our mission. For our efforts, in 2017 we were the recipient of a National Co+op Grocers (NCG) Co-efficient Sustainability Stars Award. This award recognizes food co-ops that demonstrate outstanding leadership by making a positive impact on social, environmental, and local economic issues.

Community Conversation: Cooperative Economy.
Community Conversation: Cooperative Economy.

In five years of operation, our community impacts have grown as we have experienced rapid sales growth and reached profitability. Learner Limbach, General Manager articulates: “When our co-op thrives, our community thrives.” At our Spring 2018 Annual Meeting, we set sail on our first strategic planning process, gathering input throughout the year from our members, to chart our course for the future. In March 2019, at our 5th Annual Meeting, we revealed our adopted 5-year strategic plan.

One of our long-range goals includes being a model employer. Ken Katz, a former Board President, states: “Orcas Food Co-op is a full circular driver of our local economy. It allows the co-op to be a job creator in a way that didn’t exist before.” We seek to be a major employer that provides fair compensation in an atmosphere where staff, customers and members treat one another with warmth and respect. Our Co-op proudly employs at least 19 full time and 16 part time staff year round, in addition to seasonal hiring. In 2018, total wages grew to over $650K and the Co-op reached the milestone of 100% of staff earning a livable wage. The Co-op’s Grocery Lead, John Clancy says, “Working at the Co-op is more than a job. I look at the people here, my coworkers and customers, like a second family.”

With the addition of 126 new Member-Owners in 2018, overall membership in the co-op has now reached roughly 50% of all households on Orcas Island. The Co-op continues to see a steady trend in growth, averaging more than 100 new members every year since opening in 2014. In 2018 member sales growth outpaced that of non-members, contributing 62.5% of total sales. Co-op member-owners are the lifeblood of the Co-op and the Orcas Food Co-op could not be here without them!

Orcas Food Co-op's 5-Year Anniversary commemorating the next 5 years together!
Orcas Food Co-op’s 5-Year Anniversary commemorating the next 5 years together!

The Co-op conducted a member survey as part of the strategic planning process which showed that 84% of respondents favor growing the Co-op over the next 5 years. The majority of members like what the co-op is doing and many members are in favor of growth and want the Co-op to provide a wider selection of healthy and local products, and to find more ways to make the store accessible for all.

Orcas Food Co-op thanks it’s 1370 members and the 126 new members who joined in 2018 for being part of our Co-op family. It’s because of the membership that the co-op is here, and it is just the beginning of what can be accomplished to transform our island community and the world.

Equitable and affordable access to high quality, local and organic foods that support diverse nutritional needs is also one of our long-range goals. Natalie Menacho, Grocery Manager describes the Co-op’s ethos, “We are all about making healthy food available to everyone. We want to make sure that everyone in our community is welcome to shop here and finds it accessible and easy.” In 2018 the Co-op successfully expanded their
subsidized everyday low-price program, Co+op Basics, to include the produce department. The island community purchased 160 different Co+op Basics products, accounting for $170,000 in subsidized sales.

The Co-op's Community Hero Program raises funds for a selected community partner each month.
The Co-op’s Community Hero Program raises funds for a selected community partner each month.

Orcas Food Co-op is committed to nurturing community partnerships through sponsorships and their community giving programs, including the FARM Fund and the Community Hero Program. In 2018, community giving totaled $31,000 for local non- profits and community programs, a 300% increase from the $10,000 raised in 2017.

A sustainable local food system with strong regional connections is another long-range goal. Cultivating strong relationships with San Juan County local producers is fundamental to what the Orcas Food Co-op is all about. In 2018, the island community put more grocery dollars toward local products than ever before, supporting 60 local producers and accounting for over $400K in local sales.

Morning Star Farm, Orcas Island
Morning Star Farm, Orcas Island

Since opening the doors in 2014 the Co-op has paid over $1.2 million directly to local producers, helping to grow local businesses and keeping more dollars circulating in the local economy. Mimi Anderson, Owner, Morningstar Farm said, “We love having our food in the Co-op…knowing that in the Fall, in the Spring, in the Summer, that it’s going to our friends, it’s going to the families that we love.” We are so grateful to our island producers who supply our Co-op with amazing local products, and to all of you who bought local in 2018. When we buy local we are literally changing the world!

Environmental Sustainability is central to the Orcas Food Co-op’s mission. We strive to be a model sustainable enterprise that practices environmental stewardship. Regina Zwilling, Sustainability Coordinator speaks to this vision: “Working toward becoming a zero-waste organization is really exciting to me. Moving away from using plastic and creating land-fill is critical for a sustainable future. Helping to educate our customers and community about why this is so important is something our Co-op is in a really great position to do.” In 2018, 69 percent of our food and other discards were diverted from the landfill, amounting to more than 42 tons. 9,000 lbs. of imperfect organic fruits and vegetables were sold at a reduced price through the produce disco cart. Increased local purchasing and a high percentage of organic products helped minimize our carbon footprint.

Orcas Food Co-op 2019 Annual Meeting with the theme Community Conversation: Cooperative Economy.
Orcas Food Co-op 2019 Annual Meeting with the theme Community Conversation: Cooperative Economy.

The Orcas Food Co-op strives to be a successful business that demonstrates the cooperative model and furthers the co-op movement. As a cooperative enterprise, our success is measured by the value that we invest back into our community. When our co-op thrives, our community thrives! In 2018, our co-op continued to outpace projections, with sales growth of 9% over the previous year. Higher sales mean that we have the opportunity to continue to improve the services we provide to our members and pay our staff a living wage while ensuring the long-term sustainability of the business. A video was released in the Summer of 2018 telling the Orcas Food Co-op’s story! To see the video and learn more about Orcas Food Co-op’s growth and progress visit the website: http://www.orcasfood.coop/strategic_planning

Click to Read:

Orcas Food Co-op, A Leader in Sustainability in the San Juan Islands

Orcas Food Co-op Announces $10K Available for this Year’s FARM Fund Grants

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