Ask any manager at the Viroqua Food Co+op, and they will tell you: VFC would not be the successful co-op it is today were it not for our membership in the National Co+op Grocers (NCG).
NCG is a food co-op’s cooperative, providing business services for retail food co-ops throughout the United States. Viroqua Food Co+op is one of 150 NCG food co-ops in 38 states that are owner-members of NCG. Every co-op has a designated representative to NCG, usually the co-op's general manager, and these representatives duly elect NCG's Board of Directors from their peers. Through NCG, the VFC works together with other co-ops to strengthen the entire retail food co-op system. That’s why the NCG slogan is “Co+op, Stronger Together.”
Our NCG membership is an example of Cooperative Principle 6 at its best: Cooperation among Cooperatives. Uniting with other co-ops to create NCG gives VFC access to a depth of resources, expertise and purchasing power we simply wouldn’t have on our own. Since its founding in 1999, NCG has continually added services that respond to the needs of its members. These valuable programs are available to us as NCG members, but as an independent co-op we always have the freedom to choose what is right for us.
NCG membership serves the VFC in many ways – it touches everything we do. It is not possible within the scope of this short article to list all the programs and benefits VFC receives from NCG membership, but let’s focus on a few.
With our collective purchasing power, NCG negotiates better pricing for member co-ops than any of us could separately. Those great prices you see in the Co+op Deals flyer? That’s NCG. The every day low prices in our Co+op Basi¢s program, including the great prices on the private label “Field Day” line – that’s NCG.
VFC also receives discounts based on national contracts for packaging and store supplies, credit card processing, gift card program, and merchandising equipment. NCG's purchasing agreements save VFC both money and time so that we can focus on forming deeper connections with local suppliers and pass the savings on to you.
In addition to purchasing power, there’s pricing expertise. In response to many co-ops facing fierce competition, NCG developed a pricing strategy to help co-ops stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market.
“VFC’s pricing strategy went into action in 2016 starting in the produce section,” says GM Jan Rasikas. “Have you noticed our everyday low prices on organic, fairtrade avocados and bananas, or the great deals every week in the Fresh Deals flyer? Thanks to NCG and our strategic-thinking managers, you can always find great deals at the Co-op!”
Professional Development and Training
We are proud professionals here at VFC, and that is largely due to the numerous training opportunities offered through NCG. Online trainings on a wide variety of topics in 13 different categories are available FREE for any employees of NCG-member co-ops. Some examples are:
- Priced to Compete: Pricing Strategy for Co-ops
- Competitive Landscape: What Co-ops Do to Thrive
- Courageous Leadership Today Stronger Co-ops Tomorrow
- Category Management
- Natural Foods Training
There are also annual conferences where co-op leaders from all across the US gather for training and to share best practices in person: HR Conference (human resources), Co+nnect (finance), Focus on Fresh (produce & deli), Convergence (grocery & wellness), and Marketing Matters (marketing & outreach).
“NCG provides excellent trainings that are department-specific to help our team be more successful,” said Deli Manager Andrew Anderson. “Most importantly, they connect us with our peers so that we can share our successes and challenges in order to help each other. NCG is there to give us suggestions and insights, while we still make the final decision that works best for our teams.”
We’ve just scratched the surface of what NCG means to our Co-op, our staff and shoppers. In future articles, we’ll explore these additional benefits:
- Sharing operational best practices – including financial statements
- A powerful advocacy voice for food co-op issues
- A development mechanism for new and expanding co-ops
- National brand and supporting marketing materials