Building a Unified System

National Cooperative Grocers Association

Enthusiasm and momentum from the June Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference in Lexington continues, as the members of National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) contemplate and discuss the board of directors' recommendation for reorganization of the CGA system. The NCGA board of directors proposed the following at the June 12th annual membership meeting:

To further promote a thriving retail cooperative system, with better than current value to individual stores, and optimizing our resources system-wide, the board recommends and will facilitate a merger of the CGA/NCGA system as well as the creation of a national purchasing program. The board requests the CGAs commit time and resources toward implementing this strategic direction.
The board feels our stakeholders are ready to take this next step in the evolution of our collaboration-from regional associations and purchasing programs to a stronger national association and national purchasing programs. As elected leaders in this process, the board has determined this is the right direction, though there are a lot of important issues and questions still to be answered.

The board is currently hearing feedback and concerns from across the CGA system. The membership includes those who fully support and endorse the direction toward merger and those who are not convinced of the benefits of a merger and are very concerned about how this will affect the programs and activities of the regional CGAs.

There are a lot of questions and concerns shared by all of us-NCGA board members, NCGA member co-ops, and CGA staff-about just what it means to merge our system. What will we keep and what will change? How will resources be allocated? How will decision making occur under a new structure? We will have to work together to sort all of this out and decide whether to change our structure and how to implement those changes.

The NCGA board was unanimous in making this recommendation. The board has been guided by a number of principles in this process. One principle that was used as a litmus test was that no cooperative would be left in a lesser position by reorganization. In studying the information available, the board fully believes that this proposed change meets that test on numerous levels.

Project manager

A project manager has been engaged to assist the NCGA board in guiding our members to a decision point about this proposed reorganization. Marilyn Scholl of Cooperative Development Services has created a team to help the NCGA board maintain the momentum from CCMA and move us purposefully through this process.

The NCGA board recently adopted a three-phase plan for reaching a decision point regarding reorganization. Phase one has already begun and covers two tasks. The first is to create a working draft of the reorganization plan, including what decisions will need to be made along the way, how members and staff will have input for those decisions, and where decision-making authority lies. The second task is to engage in listening and discussion sessions with our members. Those sessions are beginning now and will continue through October.

After gathering member input, the final reorganization plan will be drafted in phase two. The current timeline establishes a goal of completing the final plan by January 2004. In phase three, the final plan will be presented to the NCGA membership, culminating in a vote at our national meeting in February 2004.

The NCGA board is working hard to create a process that solicits extensive member discussion and input on the reorganization plan. The board members urge member involvement throughout the coming months and are working diligently to keep the process moving along. Now is the time and opportunity to increase the value delivered to our stores through closer collaboration.

New staff at NCGA

We are pleased to announce that Annie Hunt recently began her duties as National Promotions Manager for NCGA. NCGA will now manage National CAP, and we are continually grateful to the Midwest for their hard work in bringing the program to this point.

Annie was a participant in our recent National CAP planning meeting of all CGA and CAP staff, and she brings a wealth of knowledge in the execution of flyer programs, regional and national promotions, and vendor partnerships. Her background includes director of category management, promotions manager, and director of grocery for Wild Oats. Prior to her seven years with Wild Oats, Annie worked with UNFI as a key accounts manager at the Rainbow warehouse. We believe her 21 years experience in natural foods and her success with strategizing and executing promotional programs will be invaluable to moving CAP forward.

Co-op brand project

At the June conference in Lexington, the brand advisory group conducted workshops designed to give stores an overview of our work and to get a sense from participants if this brand strategy will be a compelling program for retailers. Thanks to all the CGAs that contributed funds to move the project along and for giving us the clear mandate and encouragement needed to continue!

Qualitative consumer testing of the branding concepts developed to date will begin in early August. The brand advisory group will meet again in October to work with the results of this consumer testing and continue developing the program.

Welcome to new members!

The NCGA board of directors recently approved the applications of the Great Lakes Cooperative Grocers Association and the Central Circle Cooperative Grocers Association.

Great Lakes CGA members

  • Peoples Food Co-op, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Three Rivers Food Co-op, Ft. Wayne, IN
  • Maple City Market, Goshen, IN
  • Ypsilanti Food Co-op, Ypsilanti, MI
  • Phoenix Earth Food Co-op, Toledo, OH
  • East Lansing Food Co-op, East Lansing, MI
  • Greentree Natural Foods Co-op, Mt. Pleasant, MI
  • Oryana Food Co-op, Traverse City, MI


Central Circle CGA members

  • Bluff Country Co-op, Winona, MN
  • Menomonie Market, Menomonie, WI
  • Mifflin Street Co-op, Madison, WI
  • MOM's Food Co-op, Cambridge, MN
  • North Country Food Co-op, Minneapolis
  • Oneota Community Food Co-op, Decorah, IA

The brand program is intended to build upon what was learned in the consumer research conducted last fall. This research indicated that food co-ops are perceived by most consumers as a very "core" proposition (referenced to the segmentation model of "wellness" consumers) and that the messages and tactics historically used to create this perception are very targeted to the core consumer. Since core consumers make up only 14% of the total wellness population, we should develop a strategy that reaches the mid-level consumer in order to broaden our relevance in the overall marketplace and solidify our retail position despite the proliferation of our product lines in most other channels.
It is important to recognize that the activities of this strategy are intended to shift perceptions of mid-level consumers and create a "beginning" point for an ongoing relationship between our stores and these consumers. This national program cannot solidify the relationship between consumers and food co-ops-that happens at the store level. This program will offer a starting point from which an individual store will complete the process of distinguishing themselves and delivering to the consumer their specific value proposition.

We are not attempting to homogenize food co-ops, nor to create a perception along the lines of "one size fits all." We can offer a point of entry within the perceptions and expectations of the mid-level consumer, and each store will need to carry the relationship forward from there. All of our stores have something unique to offer, and as we change the current marketplace perceptions identified through our research we can establish better consumer understanding of the unique opportunities and points of distinction of cooperatives. Co-op becomes the umbrella brand for individual stores, their own distinct and unique brand. It is the thread that ties us all together.
It is an exciting time for our system, with many things coming together. Our success at collaborating follows from the hard work of many and the willingness of many to step back and look at the broad and long-range picture of our sector. With the memory of the former co-op wholesaler network fresh in our minds, we must continue to press through the uncomfortable and difficult elements of change.

Together, we can build and perpetuate a vibrant food cooperative system!

See other articles from this issue: #108 September - October - 2003