by Sabine Rhyne
At the Brattleboro Food Co-op, we plan all of our work in order to best achieve our “Ends,” or what we hope to create through this entity that we own. We refer to them from time to time, and every year, the General Manager reports to the Board of Directors and interested staff on how we are doing in approaching those goals.
I am happy to say that we continue to make progress on sales of local products. We bought from 70 more local vendors this past year over last, for a total of 479.
Our sales of local products grew by 13.25% over the prior year, representing an increase of local sales to overall sales by nearly a point. In the produce department, we grew the number of local items to 189 over 171 the prior year, and grew from 30.3% of produce sales being local to 32%. Can we do better? Yes, we can. We continue to balance the needs of our producers and potential producers with our own needs, and sometimes have to get creative to solve areas of conflicting needs. We will continue to address this in the coming years.
We sold 15% more organic food last year than the year before! This is an amazing statistic, and, truth be told, we wondered if perhaps we had gotten much more astute with our labeling of products in our point of sale system. But nonetheless, much more organic product moved through our store, perhaps a result of GMO education and reaction.
The sale of products labeled “fair trade” increased 6.8% last year. Most of these products move through the Bulk department, but also in Grocery and Wellness.
As our marketplace gets increasingly competitive, we find that we have to work so much harder to price items accordingly. Conventional markets sell more and more of our product line, and they tend to lower prices on selected items to draw us in to their stores. We have seen a much more aggressive pricing situation with our local competition, and we are responding with lower prices on value items. This will be a primary focus for us this year.
We are welcoming more customers through the store this year, with our average weekly count going up 4%. We also have seen those customers spend an average of 40 cents more per week. And we’ve grown our shareholder base, with active shareholder numbers increasing 4.3%. In that number, we count 22 new staff shareholders. We have over 225 people in the Food for All program, and awarded six subsidized assistance shares. This speaks well to our efforts at inclusion, with more to come.
Our utility rates (electricity, gas, water, and sewer) continued to decrease this past year, with the cost of utilities in our still-new building coming down 57 cents per square foot from the prior year. Our solar cells fell a little under the output from the prior year, likely due to the number of days snow affected the collection rate… Where we noted a worse mark was in our recycling data. When we presented this information to our staff in our all-store huddle, they decided to tackle this issue, and address the various ways we could better sort and reduce our trash impact. You may see some effects of this work over the next few months in the store; I feel sure we will be working on it in the back room and the offices as well.
Next month, I will continue to share data from the report, namely the BFC’s contributions to the local economy, and touch on some of the ways we educate and inform, as well as how we measure participation in our cooperative.
Speaking of participation, thanks to all of you who came to the most beautiful Scott Farm for our annual meeting on November 8th! It was a good and productive day, where we got lots of ideas and input about affordability, the Co-op’s potential role in a sustainable economy, and reaching some of the folks who currently don’t shop at the Co-op. As always, it also helps to tell us where we could do a better job of telling our story, as inevitably, people are surprised to learn what we are doing already!
Thanks to all who participated. We very much appreciate your being an active part of our cooperative.