Category: Seward Community Co-op

A General Manager’s Perspective on P6

Sean Doyle Seward Co-op General ManagerThis testimonial from Seward Co-op’s General Manager Sean Doyle demonstrates the value of P6 in a retail co-op environment. 

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.

WiscoPop Expands Across the Upper Midwest

2014 microloan-wiscopop

Here in Minneapolis, shoppers at Seward Co-op have seen a new product on the shelves: WiscoPop! Soda. While it’s certainly enough to be excited about a new P6 soda made with natural ingredients, this one is especially exciting because WiscoPop’s bottling operation was made possible in part with help from a P6 Microloan from the Viroqua Food Co-op. WiscoPop raised $24,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign in order to move from only being offered on tap to being able to bottle their sodas. Commercial soda bottling plants require certain formulas, which don’t match the high standards WiscoPop had for their product. They set out to get equipment to do their own bottling, and successfully raised the money for the equipment. Where Viroqua Food Co-op came in was by providing a $1,500 microloan to WiscoPop to buy bottles, labels, caps, and boxes in bulk. This allowed them to substantially lower the per-item cost of those materials and start their bottling operation on a good foot. When this no-interest microloan was repaid, the money went back into a fund that the co-op granted out to another P6 producer this past January, Del Sol Chocolate. Thanks to Viroqua Food Co-op for supporting this great business and bringing sustainably-made soda to the Upper Midwest!

A Butcher’s Perspective On P6

Note: this post contains images of a pig being butchered. 

Around the Twin Cities, Seward Co-op is known for its extensive and high quality meat and seafood counter. Within Seward Co-op, the meat and seafood department is notable for its extremely high percentage of P6 sales — often over 85%, while the store as a whole sits around 40%. I sat down with butcher Emma Schroeder to talk about how P6 relates to the work of the meat department.

Seward Co-op does whole animal butchery. What is that, and why does it matter? (more…)

Seward Co-op’s P6 Month Kick-Off

This blog post is by Laura Larson, Demo Coordinator at Seward Co-op. Photos by Nick Littlefield.

Seward P6 Month SignSeward Co-op goes big for P6 month! We start the month off with our P6 Kick-Off Event, held annually (and in our 4th year!) on the first Saturday in August. It’s a full store of sales, samples, raffles, information tables, and social media giveaways. We continue this energy throughout the month, focusing heavily on booking demos with P6 vendors every weekend in August. These vendors communicate with our buyers to ensure specials on their products, which make for great sales and happy customers. Many of our vendors choose to have sales that last the entire month, and others choose to just focus on a specific sales cycle. Either way, we strive to align their sales with their sampling days.

During the Kick-off event, we have a staff person, in this case our amazing Demo Specialist, Amy, greeting customers as they walk in the door with samples of Equal Exchange chocolates and a raffle to win one of two $25 gift cards to the Seward Co-op. Demos throughout the store showcase a number of different vendors representing all three aspects of the P6 program.

Gerhards Brats Seward KickoffWe were proud to feature Gerhard’s Brats, a local, small producer that use a traditional German bratwurst recipe from Gerhard’s family in Austria. Their infamous t-shirts read “Friends Don’t Let Friends Put Ketchup On Brats”. We typically sell maybe 6 packages of Gerhard’s on an average Saturday. During our P6 Kick-off Event, we sold a whopping 112! Customers love his personality and being able to share in something deeper than just heating up a sample to make a sale.

Punk Rawk Lab Seward KickoffAnother vendor we featured was Punk Rawk Labs, who create raw food, artisanal vegan cheeses made from cashews and macadamias. Their interactions while demoing usually involve convincing a customer that yes, vegan cheese can be amazing, and when the customer gives it a try they are blown away. Being able to sample the different flavors (Original, Smoked, Nacho, Herbed) really gives the customer an interactive experience while our awesome PRL representative and employee, Kim, talks about the benefits of raw cuisine and the many ways to enjoy nutmilk cheeses. As far as sales go? Nearly as impressive as Gerhard’s- a normal Saturday sees sales of maybe 3 or 4 packages of cheese. Kim sold nearly 35 packages during her demo during the event! Due to the handmade, quality nature, these cheeses have a bit of a high price point and it’s great to give customers an opportunity to sample before making an investment.

We also had the privilege of having Ruby from P6 staff a P6 information table where she talked about P6 and handed out P6 stickers and samples of Maple Valley maple syrup lemonade.

rsz_nl_5676Coinciding with Kick-off was the continuation of our annual Know Our Grower program. Through this program, we invite farmers into the tore during the height of their growing season to sample their produce in creative ways and to engage with customers about the season and the farm. This is an incredible opportunity to ask questions and try new recipes, and we were lucky that Eduardo Rivera from Sin Fronteras Farm and Food was able to participate. Eduardo made a big batch of pineapple tomatillo salsa using tomatillos and hot peppers grown on his farm in Stillwater, Minn. Seward Co-op employees stopped by the classroom, where he was preparing all morning, wondering what the incredible smell was!

In addition to the raffles the day of our Kick-off event, we have a raffle box to give away two $25 gift cards every weekend throughout August. The raffle tickets contain a line for writing your favorite P6 vendor or item, and it’s always fun to see what our customers write down (“St. Paul Bagelry Cream Cheese (yum)” “Right now? Fresh squeezed lemonade @the deli counter!” And lots of smiley faces and cute drawings.) We keep the raffle box on a large display in a main thoroughfare of the store dedicated to highlighting seasonal merchandising themes. Of course, in August we focus on P6 so the table display is chock-full of shelf-stable P6 treats, wellness items, and general merchandise.

Seward P6Plate Twitter contest entryWe also employ the use of social media to generate excitement for P6. In the past we’ve done a P6 Selfie Contest, where customers can tweet or post a photo of themselves and a favorite P6 item. This year our social media coordinator created #p6plate, where customers could upload photos of their deli meal (artistically rendered or not), for a chance to win P6 prizes.

Another way we connect customers with P6 vendors is through our Staff Picks- handwritten note cards posted near items written by staff showcasing their love of that pLone Grazer staff pick on the shelfroduct. These are great for increasing sales and really draw the eye to a product. This method goes over particularly well in the produce department, where people are a little more tentative with the unfamiliar. Staff picks allow staff to communicate not only about the source of the item but ideas on how to prepare it.

During August and throughout the year, one of the things I hear over and over again from our P6 vendors is how much they love sampling and selling their products at Seward. Aside from the fantastic customer base and engaged staff, they feel taken care of and find the support of the P6 program is vital to their wellbeing as small, local, and co-operative producers.

Produce At Its Peak: Local All Year Round

This post by Jill at Seward Co-op originally appeared on Seward Co-op’s blog. Supporting year-round food systems is a core concern for P6 co-ops. We recently had a conversation on our Marketing Committee call about this very issue. Thanks for your insights, Jill!

Local mushrooms: king oyster, lion’s mane and oyster

A few weeks ago, I attended the organic farming conference hosted annually in LaCrosse, Wisconsin by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services. In workshops, keynote addresses, and casual conversation there was much talk of the increasing instability of the region’s weather. There were countless references to all of the extreme conditions farmers have faced in recent years. The long, bitterly cold winter of 2013-2014, the late, wet spring that followed, and the early frost this past October resulted in a truncated and tempestuous growing season. Conference attendees also recalled a few years ago when we enjoyed an early thaw – what seemed the promise of an extended growing season – only to suffer an April frost which delayed planting and had disastrous effects on orchard fruits across the region.

These past few days we have been enjoying balmy temperatures for March in the middle North. While the extra sunlight and warmer weather have many of us feeling giddy, for our region’s farms we’ve had a worrying winter of low precipitation and there is little trust that this apparently early spring will translate into a longer or more reliable growing season.

Considering all that our local farmers are experiencing and adapting to, it is a wonder that we have such a bountiful supply of locally grown food even in our more temperate months. It is all the more wondrous that Seward Co-op is able to offer locally produced food year round. As our lead buyer noted recently, “Local season never really ends, it just changes.” Just as we worked through the last cases of Wisconsin Growers (Mondovi, Wis.) sweet potatoes, we began to receive deliveries of Living Water Gardens (Wells, Minn.) hydroponic basil and English cucumbers.

Along with hydroponically grown produce, we’ve begun to receive more regular deliveries of oyster and king oyster (with an occasional treat of lion’s mane) from the Northeast Minneapolis-based Mississippi Mushrooms. Local turnips, winter radishes, onions, beets, and potatoes also help bridge the growing years. Soon enough, Living Water Gardens will be regularly delivering vine-on tomatoes – and after a winter of imported tomatoes, this is a milestone that for us will signal the official start of the 2015 growing season.

Each winter, when our shelves reflect a lull in local produce, we are working with local farmers to plan for the next year’s planting. Each year, we work hard to develop new relationships with farms, grow sales with farms that we only support minimally, and maintain the relationships we have with our current core farms. In 2015 we will be working directly with 33 local farms. We hope that the opening of the Friendship store will enable us to work with even more farms in 2016.

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!

The Legacy of African Americans in Co-ops

Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s book Collective Courage was one of the most talked about books on cooperation last year. Dr. Gordon Nembhard broke new ground in both cooperative history and black history, drawing together dozens of sources and stories to paint a picture of the enduring history of black cooperation in the United States. LaDonna Redmond Sanders of Seward Co-op has a great post up expounding on some of the ideas in the book:

“Dr. Nembhard’s book is a continuation of the 1907 survey of African American cooperative efforts written by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois discussed how African Americans used racial solidarity and economic cooperation in the face of discrimination and marginalization.

According to Dr. Nembhard, Du Bois differentiated cooperative economics from Black capitalism or buying Black. Du Bois focused on a “Black group economy” to insulate Blacks from continued segregation and marginalization. […]

Du Bois said that “we unwittingly stand at the crossroads—should we go the way of capitalism and try to become individually rich as capitalists, or should we go the way of cooperatives and economic cooperation where we and our whole community could be rich together?”

In this instance, Du Bois believed that economic cooperation could provide more than providers of goods or services, but also a philosophy or blueprint by which communities could be built or rebuilt.”

Read the whole article here, and if you’re in Minneapolis, make sure to sign up for LaDonna’s book group discussion of Collective Courage on Wednesday, 2/25.


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.

P6 Month Wrap-up

August 2014 was a great P6 month! At a national level, we hosted our #p6coops twitter conversation. We were really excited to hear about the great things our member co-ops have accomplished. Here’s some accomplishments at some of our co-ops:

Seward Community Co-op: Seward hosted a kickoff on August 2nd. Staff sampled P6 products including Equal Exchange chocolate and tea, Maple Valley maple lemonade, Ferndale poultry, and Kickapoo Coffee. There was a raffle to win a P6 goodie basket at the front of the store. The store’s photographer happened to catch a picture of the winner, Nancy Reeck:



Seward set some high internal goals for raising P6 sales during P6 month. Regularly, P6 sales are around 37% of store sales. During P6 month, Seward set a goal of exceeding 45% P6 sales and actually hit 46.46%. Congrats, Seward! That’s a whole lot of money getting sent to small, local, and cooperative producers.

Viroqua Food Co-op: VFC hosted a P6 Square Dance and Grill Out on August 22nd. They served Wisco Pop! and food from a variety of P6 producers. Local musicians the Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers played so everyone could dance:

Usually at VFC, there will be two or even three P6 producers offering samples in the store. During P6 month, 15 different P6 producers came into the store to sample their products and talk with customers.

Eastside Food Co-op: Eastside brought in folks from Kadejan on August 30. The Kadejan farmers talked about their new GMO-free chicken feed mill, which fills a gap in the market to allow people who want to grow GMO-free chickens to do so.



The Perennial Plate at LTD Farm

As we gear up for Perennial Plate’s video about P6, we’re highlighting some older Perennial Plate videos about P6 producers. Here’s one about LTD Farm. LTD poultry, eggs, and vegetables are available and labeled P6 at Eastside Food Co-op and Seward Community Co-op (where the farmers used to work!). This video shows (slightly graphic) video of the Thanksgiving turkey slaughter. The LTD farmers invite their customers to come be a part of slaughtering and preparing the birds, to allow them to be involved and to bear witness to the process of taking life in order to provide meat. LTD Farm is also featured in the upcoming P6 video from Perennial Plate!

The Perennial Plate Episode 36: Giving Thanks (to turkeys) from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.