In March 2013, Viroqua Food Co-op conducted an online survey of Co-op owners. Thank you to all who filled out the survey, online and on paper. This information is invaluable to the VFC Managers, Staff, and Board of Directors. We found areas of opportunity to improve product selection and services, and other areas where we have already made improvements but haven’t effectively communicated them. We’ll be addressing these issues throughout this article, as well as in future issues of the Pea Soup.
The survey was adapted from the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) customer satisfaction survey to meet the local needs of the Viroqua Food Co-op. The Survey Research Center at UW-River Falls conducted and analyzed the survey results for the VFC, comparing this year’s results to the VFC 2010 survey, as well as to the 42 food co-ops nationally that also administered the survey to their owner-members. We’d like to share a few insights we’ve gained from this survey.
The VFC invited 1,849 households of active owners via postcard to participate in the survey and 424 responded, a return rate of 23%. This is 10% above the return rate of our 2010 survey. The results provided in this survey are expected to be accurate within +/- 4.2%, with 95% confidence.
95% of Viroqua Food Co-op owners say they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with VFC. More than 90% say a wide variety of store characteristics are meeting their needs well or very well (store cleanliness, hours, atmosphere, providing natural/organic and local products, our friendly and knowledgeable staff, and quality/freshness of products). 96% of VFC owners say they are “likely” or “very likely” to recommend the store to a friend or colleague.
Choosing where to shop
The factors owners most frequently consider when choosing a grocery store have remained consistent over the past three years:
- quality/freshness of products,
- the availability of natural/organic products,
- the availability of local foods,
- product selection/variety
VFC was ranked highly for the first four of these key factors and poorly with respect to prices (see below).
The survey also collected data that measured proportions of what VFC owners buy when they purchase the majority of their shopped items from the Co-op. VFC does well in the departments of bulk, fruits and vegetables, and coffee/tea. However, the majority of VFC owners who consume meat/seafood as well as beer/wine buy these products elsewhere.
Comparing VFC results with other NCGA food co-ops
An advantage of doing our survey with SRC is comparing our results with the other 42 food co-ops that also utilize the NCGA survey. Results that are significantly different from the norm tells us how our particular food co-op community is unique.
Compared to other cooperatives around the country, VFC ranks in the top quartile of in terms of satisfaction with all the store characteristics asked about on the survey. While 51% of Viroqua Food Co-op shoppers report spending a majority of their grocery budget at VFC, only 37% of the shoppers in the national database do.
Viroqua Food Co-op is above average in meeting shoppers’ needs very well in all of the categories measured. (See chart above)This is a remarkably strong showing. VFC ranks significantly above average for cleanliness, knowledgeable staff, hours, and location, local foods availability (ranking first of the 42 NCGA food co-ops), atmosphere and product quality/freshness, friendly staff and product selection, responsiveness to customer feedback (ranking first nationally).
Charlene Elderkin, VFC Marketing and Membership Manager
The owner survey has presented a bit of a conundrum for VFC staff. We received some of the highest marks for bringing you fresh, local, organic and fair trade goods in a clean, well-organized store with knowledgeable staff that are ready to serve with a smile. But prices remain an area of low owner satisfaction.
VFC staff continually ask how to help our customers and owners understand the difference between their Co-op and other businesses. We understand our pricing, what those prices reflect, and the general truth about the cost of local and organic food. For the staff, you’re not just a shopper at VFC; you’re an owner! And we’re not just retailers, we work for you, so this subject deserves some straight talk.
Let’s start by saying; we are not a “cheapest price” business model. There are many large corporations and chain stores that let you know their game is to bring you “cheap.” They have a simple model: buy the cheapest stuff they can find, have very low overhead and sell it for a cheap price. We don’t make this claim; we don’t compare ourselves to this and we don’t try to compete with it.
As a Co-op, we have a complex business model that reflects the values of our owners, our community and the mission of our Cooperative. We believe in fair trade for workers, in other countries and in the US. We believe that our employees deserve fair compensation with decent wages, benefits and good working conditions. We believe in paying our local farmers and vendors a fair price. We believe that our impact on the environment is paramount. We believe that it’s our responsibility to be charitable. And more directly, we believe in bringing the best quality food available to our owners.
Let’s face it; all of this costs money. We can’t have cheap and ethics. You have voiced what you find important through our mission and we hold ourselves to those very high standards. As owners, we’re making a choice and it’s a choice that can change our health, our economy, our environment, and even the world.
Jan Rasikas, General Manager
(Thanks to Ozark Natural Foods’ Mike Anzalone for inspiration.)