At the Viroqua Food Cooperative, we take planned and measured steps to ensure the long-term financial health and well-being of our Co-op. We’re big on building a strong foundation of preparedness so when opportunities come along, we’re ready.
Lately, we’ve focused on solving some of the challenges we face in our daily operations. We spent last winter enlarging our backroom and freezer/cooler space to keep up with increasing sales. The larger space makes the backroom areas safer for the staff, too. This mini expansion will keep us going strong while we plan the next big direction.
We’re also getting ready for growth by building our internal skills and leadership for the evolution of VFC. We made key staff changes in the grocery department, operations management and the deli. Positions were filled by VFC longevity staffers taking on more responsibility. Go team!
What are we doing with all the great feedback owners gave us throughout the last year, you may ask?
While the staff was busy with these projects listed above, we were also busy collecting and examining thoughts and ideas about the future through a variety of events. We also heard from owners via email, the owner survey and comments in the store. We built a special team of staff members to assemble, study and reflect on the results. Over and over, we heard how you love to shop at the Co-op. Something is special about the VFC... It’s our devoted owners, dedicated staff and our remarkable community!
We heard you say that the heart of the Viroqua Food Cooperative is what you experience when you shop here. You told us that the primary focus should be improving what we already do best and expand our core retail services... “More choices for me!” We heard a lot of excitement for our cooperative business model and the capacity it creates for us to “do good in our community.” After we gathered all the input and suggestions, we refined them into a number of larger ideas that we found are very important to our owners. “When we, the VFC Owners and community shoppers, engage in the VFC experience, we contribute to building a vibrant local economy that transforms our community.” Let’s take a closer look.
The VFC Experience
Creating the VFC experience of the future includes increased access to fresh, local, organic foods. It also includes a larger deli/bakery area, a juice bar and more café seating, indoor and out, potentially a meat and seafood service area, a larger cheese selection (this is Wisconsin after all), more beer and wine and spirits, too (ditto on the Wisconsin sentiment). Of course, Owners experience excellent customer service from knowledgeable staff who have a wonderful and supportive work environment. Our Co-op is large enough to meet your needs, and small enough to meet your neighbors.
Building a Vibrant Economy
When we participate in the Viroqua Food Cooperative experience, we have a greater impact on our local economy. We create a dynamic, local food system that supports sustainable growers, food producers and cooperatives. This leads to more sustainable, organic practices – improving soil health and water quality. We demonstrate the impact of cooperative ownership by operating a robust, resilient business in our community. Our growth contributes to lowered food costs through increased buying power and efficiency. It also creates more jobs and more opportunities for education, films and classes about the cooperative model and about the food to which we are committed.
Transform our Community
When we have a vibrant local economy, we can transform our community. We know that our strong partnerships with like-minded organizations and nonprofits lifts up everyone in our community. We increase opportunities for owners to participate in our business through co-op democracy. We create an empowered community through knowledge about healthy food and a healthy environment, and that equals healthy individuals and community. Our Mission Statement says “…as a center for community, we offer the opportunity to create together a work of enduring value.” This is a daily endeavor for VFC owners. When we patronize our Co-op, the ripple effect on our community is astounding! When grocery dollars flow through the Co-op, the greater part of that money stays in our local economy – supporting healthy families, sustainable agriculture and 58 jobs with benefits.
I hope you’re excited about what the future holds for you, for us at the VFC, and for our local and co-op economy! It’s a regular occurrence that someone stops me in the aisles to share their ideas for new services at the Co-op. This is great! We take our cues from VFC’s owners on how to keep the Co-op a viable business.
Beyond gathering input from owners, we are also conducting a market study. In fact, as I write this, the study is almost complete. It will help us identify our potential to expand the market for local growers and producers, to reach more people with our friendly, welcoming Co-op experience, and to grow the Co-op economy with more groceries bought at a cooperative enterprise.
VFC’s future relies on owner input. What we discover about our potential to grow from the market study will help us formulate a vision for VFC’s Next Big Direction. This direction may involve staying on our current foot print and making our business even better, or it may involve expanding on-site or even off-site. Whatever our direction/project may be, we are committed to the following a set of criteria:
- Continue the transparent, participatory process to ensure support from our owners
- Have benefits that outweigh the risks assumed; we will be bold but not risky
- Allow us to achieve our mission and shared vision
- Put the Co-op in a strong position to thrive in an increasingly competitive market, and that the community will support our plans
- Leverage financing for success at affordable rates
- Create a space that allows for efficient, effective service
- Ensure the Co-op has the necessary skills, knowledge, leadership and capacity for success; we must be internally ready.
We welcome your ideas and encourage you to send thoughts on what you find exciting about the plans so far and any concerns you may have. You can email me at: email@example.com and the board at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Rasikas, General Manager