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Why the Cooperative Business Model Is More Sustainable

In the Fall issue of our newsletter, The Morsel, I wrote about how important our local suppliers are to the health and vitality of the Menomonie Market. At that time, I thought that trade wars, tariffs, and other global economic factors could cause interruptions in our food supply. Of course, those elements might still cause us grief in the days to come. As I write today, though, the Covid-19 pandemic has engulfed the world—but so far, our shelves, coolers, and freezers are well-stocked. Farmers are producing, local and regional suppliers are delivering, and our customers are not hoarding.

Our management and staff have turned the store on a dime to modify layout, systems, and checkouts as necessary to keep workers and customers safe. Sales hit the ceiling but in a completely new pattern. We have added online ordering and pickup service almost overnight (no small task). Staff are cheerful and kind, and our store is immaculate. Talk about nimble!

As you may know, these things are not happening everywhere—not in the spirit of the common good and certainly not to this extent. The cooperative business model is community-based, democratic, and principled in ways that private and corporate businesses are not. As altruistic and service-oriented as a business may be, if it’s not a cooperative, its customers will never have the loyalty or bond of common ownership that is present in a co-op.

I don’t know all of the owners of Menomonie Market Food Co-op, we may agree or disagree about all sorts of things, but we do have in common this grocery store, in this town, that we own with 2,757 other people.

From the beginning, cooperatives were formed to help small players acquire the goods and services they wanted without being at the mercy of investor-owned corporations whose profits went to shareholders instead of being leveraged for the common good. Community ownership allows for long-term, big picture planning, retention of profits for the goals of the member-owners, and enables the nimble responsiveness we’ve seen in our store during the past month. Community ownership adds a layer of good will toward our fellow shoppers, too. Our owners aren’t remote, they walk in the door or drive in for pickups every day.

This is what a sustainable business looks like. I am so grateful that I own this grocery store with all of you.

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