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.