Category: Eastside Food Co-op

Supporting Small While Getting Bigger: P6 In The Eastside Expansion

Luna and Priya with the P6 mission

This picture shows Luna McIntyre and Priya Niskode-Backos of Eastside Food Co-op (EFC), standing in front of the P6 vision statement. The statement is printed around their vestibule, so that every customer who comes into the store has the opportunity to learn what P6 means. As EFC grows, Luna and Priya are considering how to keep the message of P6 at the forefront of customers’ minds.

Since community members worked to establish and open EFC in the early 2000s, they have been serving up tasty food, with an emphasis on local options, to the Northeast Minneapolis community. At this point, there are more customers than they have room for, so the store is expanding. They recently met their goal of raising over $1 million in owner investments for expansion and are eager to break ground soon. Members say they want more of what Eastside has to offer, and a big part of what Eastside has to offer is a commitment to small, local, and cooperative producers.

P6 banner at Eastside Food Co-op

EFC joined P6 in 2013 to deepen their commitment to small producers, everywhere. EFC sees “small” as the primary criteria: they support small producers who are have local ownership (within 250 miles) or cooperative values, or both. I spoke with Luna McIntyre about what the P6 program means to her and the impact she sees it having on customers and the food system.

Luna and Bananas at Eastside Food Co-op

Luna! Why does P6 matter to you personally?

As a consumer, I really appreciate the tangible implications of buying a P6 item. I know that my consumer dollars are going directly to support the farmers and producers of the foods I purchase which has a positive impact on their lives. As Eastside Food Co-op’s Marketing and Membership Coordinator, I also enjoy engaging with our customers and sharing the stories of P6 farmers. One recent example is the Equal Exchange’s Grow Together cashews program. Did you see the video about how cashews are grown? If you didn’t, I highly recommend it, because it adds a human element to your food and the supply chain. You learn about the history, the people and understand why P6 products are worth every penny! In addition, since P6 teaches you about the supply chain it closes the gap and transforms the grocery story into a farmers market.

How do you think P6 supports customers?

We see P6 as an added value member benefit program.  Keeping track of changes in the supply chain and current food issues can be challenging for consumers. Eastside Food Co-op is constantly researching new and current P6 producers to ensure they are positively representing food justice, equity and the quality our consumers are craving. In addition to carrying P6 products, the designation gives us a chance to celebrate the best quality foods and supply chain practices.

What has Eastside Food Co-op done up to this point to support P6?

When we launched the program in 2013, we hosted a launch party where we invited a number of our geographically local producers to come into the store and meet and greet our customers. This event was focused on getting customers to come in, put faces to the brand names, shake hands with the farmers, and to know that those producers are represented here at Eastside all the time.

Checkout screen at EFCAbout three years ago we upgraded our point of sale (POS) system and one feature that we really like is our ability to track P6 sales numbers throughout all departments. We are also now able to show customers their total percentage of P6 purchases on the bottom of their receipts. They can also see their total percentage on the register checkout screen as their sale is rung up. Customers frequently tell me how much they enjoy trying the increase the own personal record of P6 items purchased. Essentially, they make a game with themselves to support even more small, local, and cooperative producers!

There’s also P6 signage throughout the current store which includes the vestibule, some large format banners, and shelf-level signs. With expansion our sales floor will be twice as large, which will include more farmer/producer profiles because we will be able to carry more P6 products.

Tell me about the expansion. What’s it going to mean for P6?

With expansion, I’m extremely excited that the produce department is going to double. That means more shelf space for P6 producers! We are currently working to research additional P6 producers so we can prioritize including those products in the near future.

As we grow, we will have greater purchasing power. That means we can buy more product from small farmers, and provide a better revenue stream from them and more affordable pricing for our customers.

Bulk Almonds at EFCRight now, Priya and I are working on rewriting the branding and purchasing policies for the entire store. For the first time we’re putting P6 in those policies, so buyers and other employees in all departments are thinking about P6 when they’re making new product decisions. We’re also really looking forward to expanding sampling at the new store featuring P6 items, and hopefully getting a sampling coordinator someday! There’s a lot of possibilities open right now.

What’s going well, and where can Eastside grow and improve in the P6 program?

Our current P6 sales average about 27% of total store sales, which is very impressive given the size of our store and our restrictive definition of local. One of the main priorities of expansion is making the process of identifying P6 producers and products seamless, and a core part of Eastside’s identity. To achieve this, we are working with our staff to ensure they understand the impact of P6 on our store and our community so they consider it with all the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Where can people find out more about your expansion and your P6 program?

We have a great P6 webpage on our website and are working on getting more P6 information on our social media. To learn more about the expansion, we have fun construction mascot CeCe the Construction Cow. She posts updates to our construction webpage on our website and has a special Twitter account focused on expansion.

Thanks so much for your time! 

Thank you for talking with me! I always love talking about P6.

P6 Producer: Lone Grazer Creamery

This post draws on posts from Seward Community Co-op and Eastside Food Co-op.

lone-grazer-purpleThe Lone Grazer Creamery is a new cheese producer in Minneapolis. They’re based in the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis. They’ll be selling their cheese curds at Seward Community Co-op and Eastside Food Co-op, our two Minneapolis based P6 member stores.

“We got them in on February 27. That was the first delivery,” said Scott Heard, Seward Cheese Department Manager, “and we’re very excited to have them in the store.”

Located in Northeast Minneapolis, just a 6 minute delivery drive from Eastside C0-op and twice that far from Seward Co-op, the Lone Grazer is currently one of the few urban creameries in the United States and one of the nearest P6 food vendors for both stores.

“People in the city want to know the farmer,” says Clark Anderson, one of The Lone Grazers’ grass-fed milk producers, “and the farmer should know the people in the city.”

Anderson’s milk is turned into delicious cheese by Rueben Nilsson who learned the art at the Caves of Faribault in Faribault, Minn., one of the finest cheesemakers in the country.

Cheesemaking at Lone Grazer“Cheesemaking is a creative endeavor that blends art and science and physical labor with technical knowledge,” Nilsson says. “I love making cheese.”

Right now, The Lone Grazer is producing one kind of cheese, curds. “These have a nice salty bite,” Scott Heard says of The Lone Grazer’s cheese. “They make you want to eat a whole lot more cheese curds.” Several months down the road, The Lone Grazer will produce string cheese, ricotta and aged cheeses as well. Both stores will carry the additional cheeses as they become available. According to Eastside Co-op, deliveries to that store will be on Friday, if you want to come in for the squeakiest curd possible.

“Putting a delicious piece of cheese on a crusty bread or cracker is one of the simple joys in life,” says Lone Grazer founder Kieran Folliard. “I’m drawn to the making of cheeses from fresh, pure milk.”

One of Folliard’s other endeavors is 2 Gingers (local Irish whiskey) which is located in the same building as The Lone Grazer. Mike Phillips’ Red Table Meat Co., which brings such great salumi to Seward’s Meat Department, is also located in that building and soon, Chow Girls Catering will be housed there too.

For such a young company, The Lone Grazer finds itself at the center of a superb local food-hub. They can count on support from the P6 co-ops as they grow!

What does a cooperative economy look like?

neicHere at P6, we’re always thinking about how to build a cooperative economy. Supporting small, local, and cooperative products within grocery co-ops helps build the cooperative chain back to producers. Our members are always thinking about how to expand the co-op movement in all directions. Member store Eastside Food Co-op planted a seed of cooperation in the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis when they opened in 2003. Leaders from EFC, including former Board Member Leslie Watson and General Manager Amy Fields among many others, have also started a venture to build another way for members of the Northeast Community to own the development coming into their neighborhood. The Northeast Investment Co-op was featured in Yes! Magazine, demonstrating what cooperative economy could look like across sectors. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2011, a group of dedicated neighbors came together to change that. In November of that year, five of them, including Watson, became the founding board of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. cooperative engaged in buying and developing real estate. NEIC created a structure where any Minnesota resident could join the co-op for $1,000, and invest more through the purchase of different classes of nonvoting stock. The group began spreading the word to prospective members, and started looking for a building to buy.

One year later, NEIC had enough members to buy the two buildings on Central Avenue for cash. The co-op quickly sold one of the buildings to project partner Recovery Bike Shop, and after a gut renovation, which it funded with a 2 percent loan from the city and a loan from local Northeast Bank, it leased the other building to two young businesses that had struggled to find workable space elsewhere, Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s BreadHaus. Today, NEIC’s impact spreads beyond the intersection of Central and Lowry. It’s catalyzed the creation of new jobs, engaged its more than 200 members in reimagining their neighborhood, and given residents a way to put their capital to work in their local economy.

Read the full article here and note that one of the tenants of the buidling, Fair State Brewing, is itself a consumer cooperative.. What ideas are happening in your community to build a cooperative economy?

Locally Laid and the importance of mid-range agriculture

We loved this post from Locally Laid Eggs to a customer who was offended by the name of their company. The full blog post covers a lot of topics, but this passage about the importance of mid-range agriculture to rural communities really resonated with us at P6:

But we’re more than just free chickens, fed well. We’re champions of something called Middle Agriculture. This is the most stressed, least understood agricultural segment in America. Mid-sized farms, like awkward teens, don’t fit in anywhere. They tend to be too large to sell all they produce directly to the public (think farmer’s market or CSA) and way too small to romp with the big dogs of commodity markets.

As such, there are less of us mid-level producers every day. Between 1997- 2012 the number of these types of operations have declined by 18%. That’s over 130,000 farms that have been shut, barn doors closed, tumbleweeds cued.

You might ask why this matters. Well for a lot of reasons, but especially for the 46-million Americans who live rurally. And I mean right now, not in some sepia-toned, yesteryear memory. When mid-sized operations go away, it doesn’t just affect one family, it dings ALL the regional ag-based industry: grain mills, feed stores, processing facilities and farm jobs. So there’s just a lot less money floating around a community. This erodes tax bases, which affects schools, roads and livability issues. As the Agriculture of the Middle Project puts it, the loss of mid-sized farms “threatens to hollow out many regions of rural America.”

VCS_smallThis is the difference between the “value chain” of mid-sized businesses working together versus “vertical integration” where all the links of the supply chain are owned by the same company, concentrating profits and power at the top.

So, here’s how we’re growing the Middle Ag sector. Locally Laid now partners with other mid-level farmers to produce eggs to our brand standards. Because we take on all the financial risk to find shelf space for these eggs, our farmers are able to do what they do best while fetching a fair price for their goods.

There’s been some real upsides to this in the small community of Henriette, Minnesota. There our partner farmers have commissioned tons of corn from their neighbors, buy implements from a nearby farm store and use a local mill to grind and store their grains. And because Locally Laid eggs are only sold regionally, all that retail income sticks around, too, all the while stamping down food miles. I can honestly say this community now enjoys a higher quality of living thanks to a public willing to pay more for a different kind of egg.

Definitely check out the full post for impassioned defenses of sustainable farming practices and sassy marketing, as well. Locally Laid eggs are available at Seward Co-op, Eastside Co-op, and Bloomingfoods.