When Seward Co-op helped create P6, we were looking for a way to help clarify for staff throughout the organization the products that meet our highest values from the perspective of “who’s making this food?” and how the answer to that question aligns with the mission or ends of the co-op. As a policy governance co-op, we are an ends-driven organization. The decision to participate was made through a lot of conversation – it couldn’t just be me as the General Manager, or just the marketing department. P6 takes on a life of its own in terms of helping employees at all levels, but especially front-line employees, make informed and quick decisions to direct customers towards products that meet their values. We’ve heard over the years that customers are upset about the consolidation in the natural foods industry. P6 is a quick and easy way that frontline employees can direct customers to products that are not corporate owned. It also helps employees that make product selection decisions. It helps us prioritize our decisions about which products get what space on the shelves.
As we’ve continued to grow with the opening of the second store and the café and the production facility, P6 has made it possible to transfer our co-op’s values to our new staff. It is a really simple and powerful. By focusing on three criteria—small, local, and cooperative—employees grasp our competitive advantage quickly and fully.
I think P6 needs to live throughout the whole co-op. I’ve seen co-ops try to implement it purely as a marketing program, and it doesn’t work so well. There’s a depth to P6. It’s very nuanced. For it to be fully successful, everyone needs to understand what the story is. It takes training and it takes resources upfront, but once P6 is in place, it really helps take the co-op and the whole economy in the direction we want to see. From my perspective as the General Manager, it’s accomplishing our goals of better communicating with our customers about the story behind the products we’re selling.
P6 connects the work we’re doing here at Seward with an international set of principles. Based on the 6th Cooperative Principle—Cooperation among Cooperatives. By having local as a primary criteria, P6 also fulfills the 7th principle, which is Concern for Community. It goes all the way from the macro level to the micro level. What we’ve seen here at Seward Co-op is that it provides a lot of meaning to our staff. Stocking products on a shelf can be mundane. P6 connects this everyday work into a vision for the whole organization within the context of the international cooperative principles. It also ties back to the historical founding purpose of natural foods co-ops in being a vehicle for social change.
P6 functions for us as an alignment tool. Our co-op has become a larger employer with nearly 400 employees. It is too big at this point for me as a General Manager to connect with individual employees and have deep conversations about our values as a business. Having P6 at Seward allows for the values, the ends, and the co-op principles to be more transparent and to manifest these in the organization in a way that’s more powerful than we ever anticipated. P6 helps our employees at every level tie into the larger meaning of their work.