E-DEMOCRACY | Prices at the Seward Coop

From: wendy adamson Date: 4:18pm, Dec 02

Let me start by saying I am a HUGE fan of the Seward Coop. I am a member. I live within walking distance, and visit there at least once or twice a week. The staff is super friendly, tne produce fantastic and it is a wonderful amenity in our neighborhood.

That said, let me just tell you all about this experience. I buy a large bottle of V8 once a week, usually at Target. The other day I noticed the coop had it. The price was $4.49. WOW! I then checked three other places nearby: Walgreens on Lake Street ($3.89), Rainbow just off on Lake Street ($3.30), and Target ($2.93) So the coop price was a 50% markup from Target.

Now the coop is a much smaller business, and of course they need to make a profit and pay their employees fairly. But this discrepancy seems enormous to me. What does it indicate about other common products? And what does it say about the people in our community who must watch their budgets carefully? Can they shop at the coop?

Perhaps this is not an appropriate subject for the forum. If not, please delete this post! I am asking the questions in good faith, not trying to stir up an argument. I am just trying to understand the economics involved. I am NOT trying to criticize the Coop.

If anyone has any ideas, I would appreciate hearing them.

Thanks.

From: Marya Hart Date: 4:52pm, Dec 02

A few comments:

Many large grocery stores receive discounts from distributors because they buy large quantities. Walmart is famous for squeezing its suppliers.

Often too, large stores discount commonly-purchased items such as bananas or eggs to below cost, so as to draw customers in.

There is the concept of the "real" price of an item of food, and the question as to who pays the price. For example, if I purchase non-organic bananas, the people who grow and pick them may be exposed to pesticides and herbicides, thus paying a high price for my cheap produce.

MFH

From: Mary Mateer Date: 5:25pm, Dec 02

I am also a long-time member of the Coop. I'm also a huge fan of the Coop. I used to shop there several days a week. Over the past couple years, I've noticed a huge jump in prices, forcing me to go elsewhere for most of my grocery needs.

It's a sad day when members can't afford to shop at their Coop anymore...

Mary Mateer
Seward

From: Bob Hulteen Date: 5:47pm, Dec 02

One thing to consider: Target fights against union representation for its imployees in order to keep the prices down. Rainbow, on the other hand, has union employees, which means the employees have greater protections and slightly higher wages.

What that means to me is that when I want to sell my house at cost or at a profit, I am hoping one of those Rainbow employees is interested. I know that the Target employees will not be able to buy my house, which means I will have to sell at a loss if everyone is a Target employee.

I think that Coops, though not union, provide another needed function for the communal good.

But, as we learned with the food drive sponsored by a Walmart FOR ITS EMPLOYEES, these corporations that fight collective action by employees know that their workers can't survive on the wages they provide. So they have food drives or encourage them to use public services for health care, etc. We, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the corporations' ability to charge $2.93 for V8.

So, as the legislature considers raising the minimum wage in Minnesota, it might be a good time to suggest that we stop subsidizing huge corporations at the expense of more user-friendly institutions by raising the minimum wage.

It will make stores like our own Seward Coop more competitive if those whose wages are smaller receive more and the subsidies to the other business organizations are less.

(I know min wage discussions are bigger than this forum considers, but it does relate to neighborhood businesses.)

Bob

From: Jaxi Schulz Date: 6:47pm, Dec 02

I am a member of Seward co-op, Mississippi Market co-op and The Wedge co-op, so I clearly strongly support co-ops. Of the three Seward got the bulk of our co-op food dollars last year due to the fact that we really like the store - the location, the layout, the selection, the staff, etc. Although I must admit I hate the parking lot when it is busy and it is busy a lot of the time these days. We do love the store though and it is our go to place for day to day shopping needs.

But to make our food dollars stretch I also belong to Azure Standard (I am the Seward/Longfellow drop site and sent an email to Seward and Longfellow e-dem lists last Spring to see if anyone wanted to be part of the drop site). This is a great resource for buying natural/organic items in bulk. They have both nonperishables and perishables. For things I go through a lot of - say coconut milk, bulk nuts, coconut oil, parchment paper, etc - I find I can save a lot by going with Azure. Exactly the same items as the co-op but eliminating the middle man. I do have to plan ahead for these items as this is a once a month delivery versus an impulse stop and shop.

I ALSO belong to a local food buying club that I get fresh fruit and veggies through. This group gets their fruit and veggies from the same source the co-op does (J and J I think it is called). Again, cutting out the middle man. This is a twice a month order/pick-up so again planning ahead is crucial. I do this over a CSA because I have food limitations and wouldn't be able to use a lot of the CSA box but CSAs are another great way to extend those food dollars.

I buy 70% of my meat and eggs directly from the farmers. This saves a lot of money and I get to know where my food comes from.

The co-op carries an item like V-8 (not their typical fare) as a convenience to the customer who may not want to make an extra trip, but they just don't sell enough of it to order it in sufficient quantity to offer the sort of prices on it Target can. You can see this across co-ops even. Hampden co-op's prices are higher than Seward's for many items and Seward's prices are higher than The Wedge for many items. Same concept at work.

I don't think any of us can do all of our shopping in one place if we want to make the most of our food dollars. But there might be a time when I just really want that convenience item and don't want to make another trip so I am willing to pay the higher mark-up to get it then and there.

Jaxi - Cooper/Longfellow

From: Erik Riese Date: 7:05pm, Dec 02

Interesting topic.

I've been a resident of Seward since 1989. For most of that time I have been unemployed or underemployed. My annual household income has been at or below the Federal Poverty level for 22 of the past 35 years. I do ALL my shopping at the Co-op.

For me price or cost of my food is not an issue. I rarely make a food choice based on price. The issue is trust. The issue is community ownership. The issue is access to quality foods whose source and provenance have been vetted by knowledgeable workers. I don't hold it against folks who want to spend their food dollars at a Cub, Rainbow, Target, or Aldi but, by making such a choice you support a system that may not be operating in your best interests.

We can almost all afford to shop for food in America. When we do our choices about the businesses and the corporate structures we support are played out in the larger society. When we pick the cheap choice of a Walmart or Sam's Club we support a mountainous pyramid scheme that leaves a few folks at the very top, very rich and able to build Crystal Palace museums, and fund right-wing crazies in Congress. If we spend our dollars at the Co-op or even at Costco, we pay for employees who make art and music in our communities and neighborhoods, receive living wages and life affirming benefits.

I don't always agree with the decisions the Co-op makes, for example, I have no problem with GMO foods or that their labeling is not required by Government regulation. But, I am very happy to have people like Travis, Jack, Ybrah, Scott, Allison, Emma, Otto, Mehdi, Eli, Hank, Elainie, Katie, Tim, Sean, Leo, Nellie, David, Tom, or any of the over a hundred other employees taking care of the food distribution system from the farmer to Franklin avenue for me. I want to trust that my food dollar has not gone to support people or causes antithetical to my existence. A co-op is the way I choose to do it and I pay a premium for it.

One last point, when I shop as a member I get 10% off my total purchase four times a year. I buy a lot of staples, high dollar, and non-perishable items on this shop. And, as a member, if the store is profitable I receive a patronage refund in either cash or stock at the end of each fiscal year. So aside from the trust and support of community, I don't really think my economic interests are damaged by the co-op business model.

In Cooperation,
Erik Riese

From: Liza Lawrence Date: 8:01pm, Dec 02

Great topic!
It seems we all agree that prices at Seward Co-op are generally, sometimes specifically - higher.
My concern is: at those prices, how in the world will people in the neighborhood of Sabathani Center be able to afford to buy anything there?

E-Democracy forum posts are republished under license by Creative Commons with Attribution. See entire discussion thread here.

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    Prices

    Don't follow the neighborhood e-democracy sites anymore. But I am and have been a Seward Co-op member for a long time.  Here's my take.  I don't think a semi-educated person about food can meet a budget at the co-op. This or any other.  People buy industrial food all their lives, then one day they hear bad things about the food of their lives, and they want to make a switch.  Basically, their "cooking ability" involves Hamburger Helper or use of the microwave. If you buy that at a co-op, you will pay extra.  Simple fact.  If you but anything organic, you will pay a higher price. Lots of reasons that should be so. Corporate chains negotiate extreme discounts on their inventory.  The farmers do all sorts of risky things because they don't have much money to work with.  An excellent example of that was the Colorado farm that stopped cleaning their produce to save money.  A lot of people got sick from their melons, and now the farm is out of business.  Corporate meat packers put pink slime in their ground beef.  Corporate suppliers of sushi ingredients sold tainted tuna scrape to a Japanese company that sold it here, making people sick.  It is a universal pattern.  Bargain hunting consumers reward the lowest prices so the whole supply chain chases that business.
    Co-ops have principles that preclude that kind of business, so they price higher. They also want their suppliers to make enough money to operate safely.

     

    So how to survive on co-op food?  First, realize that if you aren't consuming GMO products you won't need to eat so much because your metabolism won't be screwed up.  Second, take the co-op classes that show you how to take raw materials and turn them into family meals. Humble yourself and accept the consumer ignorance that maintains dependence on corporate food.  Finally, realize something I told my doctor when I told him I was ditching corporate food for organic.  His impertinent comment: "Can you afford it?" I said "Can I afford you?" Cheap food is making America a very sick nation. Our healthcare costs are ridiculous. The fact is that all the money "saved" at a regular grocery store is being spent for illnesses that that diet leaves in its wake.  Save it one place, squander it on recovery of an abused body.  Name your poison. Buy cheap food, get diabetes or atherosclerosis.  Or become a savvy consumer and have a healthier maturity.