|Brattleboro Food Co-op Focus on: Grocery Department|
by Sabine Rhyne
“What I love most about what we do is the interaction with the shareholders and customers,” said Ian Weber, BFC Grocery Manager. “I really love special orders, trying to find something for someone, talking with them about what it is that product has that they love so much. This engagement is really special: I learn new things about foods, and I have an opportunity to discuss relative attributes of similar products with customers. It’s not something that happens at large chain grocery stores.”
The Grocery and the Frozen departments at the Brattleboro Food Co-op have long been interactive departments. From the very beginnings of the retail operation of the Co-op, the selection of “center store” or grocery packaged items has been the result of an ongoing conversation between the customers, the department, and the vendors. The guiding principle in both grocery and frozen foods is a focus on providing high quality natural and organically produced foods and products, filtered through several criteria: locally produced, filling a need in the category, requested by customers, a unique product—all with an eye towards space considerations. Of course, the grocery department will experience about 11% expansion in the new store, so several products have already been selected for inclusion in the new shelf set. The frozen foods section will expand by a third. Once in the new store, Ian and Whitney Field, Grocery Operations Manager, will be watching and listening to see how things settle in.
The Co-op has responded to customer needs with a defined gluten-free section in both the freezer and the grocery aisles, always squeezing in more products to this ever more popular section of the department. BFC also has some products highlighted in a “Local” section as customers enter the store, but the Co-op has always been a strong supporter of local vendors, and local products are sprinkled throughout the store, on every shelf. “So many vendors have started with us as their retail outlets, test marketing their new products before they hit regional, national, and even international distribution,” said Ian. “I remember when Christina from Green Mountain Gringo drove up with salsa samples in the trunk of her car. We tried them, gave feedback (‘Have you thought about an organic line?’), and were the first or second store to sell their salsa. Now, of course, they are a national brand.” This is a common story. The Co-op traces so many local products back to the time when it was the first or the second to sell them: Putney Pasta, Vermont Gold, Drew’s, etc., etc. The relationship that the Co-op has with local vendors really is an interactive one, often helping to suggest line expansions or ingredient modifications. The reputation of the Brattleboro Food Co-op is strong as a supporter of local food purveyors.
Ian and Whitney are both looking forward to having more volume move through the store, so that the Co-op can continue to improve its pricing options. Stocking all of those boxes in the aisles are Michael, Ron, Elle, Kevin, Marcel, Robbie, Tony, Aaron, and Evan, while Dave receives all the pallets out back. All the stockers try to make a point of learning as much as they can about the products that the Co-op carries to be able to assist customers with questions. Like the other staff at the Co-op, many of them are amazing resources who really like to talk about food.