We are very excited to bring you this blog post from our newest retail member, Ozark Natural Foods. This post is by Gary Rettberg, the Communications Coordinator at ONF.
We started our P6 program back in August 2014 here at Ozark Natural Foods, and we haven’t looked back! P6 has been a great tool for informing our Owners and engaging with these small, local, and/or cooperative businesses. We currently have about 1,140 P6 products in the store and several P6 vendors. Many of these vendors are local to our store. This allows us to cultivate relationships with the actual producers, which in turn helps us to understand exactly where our food and goods are coming from. It’s about having a deeper connection to the products you purchase. We have found that often products will be labeled as “organic” or “all natural” but may not have the best sustainable practices or quality ingredients that the label suggests. Having the P6 program helps to ensure our producers are honest with their products and keeps our standards of quality high.
As some of you might know, our Co-op will be facing some tough competition in our area. In mid-March Natural Grocers opened a store on our street a few miles down the road. In addition, Whole Foods will be opening a store in September even closer to us. We expect some loss in sales, but believe we can strongly weather the storm. This competition gives us a chance to get back to our roots. The foundations of the entire cooperative movement in essence are these small, local, and/or cooperative P6 producers. While our competition may carry some local or cooperative based products, our focus will be on helping to develop our local food system. We won’t just be another store for these producers to sell in. We will engage them and the local community. We will aid them in creating an independent, sustainable, fully functioning local food system. This may seem like a huge endeavor to undertake, but this is our commitment. It is an important and worthwhile one as global and national food systems become increasingly unreliable and even at times dangerous. Local food systems are the future and your Co-op is on the forefront of something very exciting.
We have had the pleasure of getting to work with absolutely amazing local farmers and producers. Recently, P6 producer Villines Family Farm worked with us to orchestrate our 2nd annual Baby Chick Sale. Genevieve and her family brought us 300 baby chicks! Through our owner’s we were able find every single one a happy forever home. Working together with Villines Family Farm helped us to innovate and try new ideas. They helped us to push ourselves as a coop and I’m sure we helped push their production! Collaboration with these P6 producers is a fundamental necessity for the success of the P6 program.
Like with any big project this process has not been without challenges. We know that it will take time to familiarize our guests and owners with the P6 signs in the store. Most people are used to regular industry buzz words like, “organic”, “natural”, “local”, and “sustainability”. These labels can be vague and can be very unclear when it comes to the actual ingredients of a product. The great thing about the P6 program is that it is a clearly defined label. P6 uses 3 criteria: small, local, co-op to help customers think through where their dollar goes when they purchase a product. A product receives the P6 label when it meets at least two of the three criteria. We have educated our staff about P6 and they in turn educate our customers. At its core, the P6 program is really all about education and telling the stories of the amazing P6 producers in our store.
As a Co-op it is our responsibility to be the liaison between consumers and producers. P6 is about supporting small producers both locally and internationally. It’s important to think where your coffee is coming from, and where your carrots are coming from! Locally, we facilitate this relationship by educating and also holding events in which our P6 producers are able to come and engage with consumers. April 11th & 12th was our last Owner Appreciation Weekend, and during this weekend we had our first ever P6 Shindig! This “Shindig” included a meet and greet of 12 of our local P6 producers. We want the consumer to know their producer and know where their food is coming from. A lot of Co-ops around the nation have been doing P6 events and it has been very encouraging to see all the great results. This fall during our Annual Owner’s Meeting will have a very similar set-up as the P6 Shindig inside the store. Educating our owners and guests is a vital part of perpetuating a sustainable local food system. So let’s engage our community of Northwest Arkansas and get to work!