By Sarah Christensen, General Manager, Co-op Owner
A long-time GreenTree shopper said something a few weeks ago that I had been feeling myself, but was having a hard time putting into words, “Getting your kids to eat organic is easy when they’re young, but when they get older it’s so much harder.” YES! I thought I was alone in this. I have a 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old in my house and back when they were young and I was responsible for almost everything they not only ate, but often tried, getting them to eat organic was super easy. Sure, one doesn’t like broccoli, the other, onions, and the other, white condiments, but I could work with that. Fast forward to now and their food influences have expanded immensely; suddenly there are requests for Reese’s Puffs cereal, and fruit snacks in a very specific box, and pizza and pizza and pizza. And when friends come over, forget it: friends definitely don’t want to eat that nasty organic crap. Even Newman O’s, delicious, altruistic Newman O’s. When friends come over, our bread is weird, the milk tastes different, and those 3oz bags of Kettle Chips are a single serving. Did you know that teenage boys actually come alive at night, and when permitted, eat themselves into a slumber that only concludes at either 3am or 3,000 calories?
And bigger kids eat more and it’s way more expensive to feed them. My boys are athletes and their lunches could feed a room of toddlers. I’m talking two eggs and two pieces of toast for breakfast plus a yogurt, strawberry, banana smoothie (16oz) and lunch is two sandwiches, fruit, chips, a protein shake, a granola bar and whatever else we might have and they’re starving at the end of the school day. Calories are cheap, but nutrients are more expensive.
Anyway, this brings me to shopping at other places and more often. Birthday parties? Kroger and Little Caesars here I come. Pizza rolls and ramen noodles, the favored late night snack? Target, I’ll be right there. Oh and when I’m lazy or suffering from poverty of time, Ric’s has really good fried chicken. Then when I go to these other stores I inevitably buy a couple of other things and pretty soon my non-GreenTree grocery dollars have grown from $20/week to $70. I swear I never leave Target without spending $70 and that doesn’t include the Starbucks treat.
As a professional grocer, I have access to data that says this is totally normal. Most people shop at 3 or 4 places for their groceries. And PRICE is the most important factor. For most, another part of shopping is being able to go to a place that offers both organic and conventional items. People want to get coke and organic milk. They want pizza rolls and cage-free eggs. When they’re having a party or when money is tight consumers want to be able to choose freely between values and value.
For GreenTree’s entire existence, we’ve been Mt. Pleasant’s source for natural, organic, and local foods. I am so proud to be a part of it. We often hear that our customers like that they can trust the Co-op to have vetted their products before they hit the shelves, but as organic has become more available and local is as loosely defined as the word good, we know that the products we sell aren’t our differentiating factor anymore. So, it’s our economic model that sets us apart, but that’s not as important as price. Even our most hard-core Co-op shoppers shop elsewhere. In fact, we know from survey data that not only are most people shopping elsewhere, but they are also spending more at those other places when they do.
So what’s the Co-op’s place in this new market, where organic foods are available everywhere? Do we stick to our values and stay as organic and local as possible, or do we bring in products that our Owners and customers want to complement their natural foods purchases? Co-ops and natural foods have enjoyed a nice marriage, but they are not inextricably linked. There are plenty of retail food Co-ops that sell Hellman’s mayonnaise and Campbell’s soup. What do you think? I’m really interested in just hearing from people. Do you think it’s more important for the Co-op to hold tight to some specific values? Or would you rather buy anything from a locally owned business? The whole thing makes me think of Spaghetti Sauce.
My point is, whether it’s price, a Coca-Cola fix, or ravenous teenage boys that leads you to shop at other grocers, there’s no judgment here. We all love the Co-op, but we know this is not a monogamous relationship. Don’t be embarrassed when we bump into each other at Meijer, I’m obviously there too. And keep in mind that this is your Co-op, so if there’s something you’d like to see us to carry, let us know.
All is fair in love and cooperation,
Thanks for listening. Feel free to tell me your thoughts or comments in the store, via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by phone (989-772-3221).