Food Co-op Convention Brings 400 to Boise, Discusses Principles 

click to enlarge - CCMA annual conference attendees perusing Wedge Community Co-op's rebranding materials -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • CCMA annual conference attendees perusing Wedge Community Co-op's rebranding materials
In the face of increased competition with stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's—both of which have opened in Boise in the last two years—food cooperatives like Boise Co-op have struggled to cut through the haze of "green cues" to reach customers. That was the topic of discussion at the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference June 11-13, which was held for the first time in Boise and brought approximately 400 people to the City of Trees.

CCMA conference organizer John Torres said to remain relevant in the food marketplace, co-ops have to "modify the things that they do to be effective in the 'value stream'"—the principles on which cooperative organizations are based. Many at the conference echoed the sentiment: The way to stay afloat is to find new ways of communicating to the public the idea that food co-ops are where wholesome foods and democratic community values intersect. But they'd had some troubles.

"When I say 'co-op,' people ask me what that means," said Jess Pierce of Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis, Minn., during her presentation titled, "Rebranding Against the Blurred Lines of Mainstream Retailers."

Over the last five years, Wedge has suffered flat or declining sales, which has shocked its board of trustees, who have also seen "organic" and "locally sourced foods" become household terms. According to Pierce, 81 percent of families now purchase organic foods despite their higher price points, and 58 percent of consumers now read ingredient lists on prepared food items. Pierce attributed the disconnect to increased competition from the likes of Target, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, which have tried to co-opt co-ops' erstwhile control of the food end of the "green revolution."

"We're seeing an overuse of green cues, and that's confusing consumers," Pierce said. "We're wondering, 'Where did our market go?' and it went to the competition."

Clearing up the confusion led to Wedge undergoing a brand redesign in 2014, including a remake of its signage and optimizing the store's floorspace. Wedge's story should sound familiar to Boiseans: In summer 2012, the Boise Co-op conducted a remodel of its own. In summer 2014, the North End market was fitted with a new sign that reads "The Original Boise Co-op." There was speculation that Whole Foods (2013) and Trader Joe's (2014) opening in downtown Boise prompted the Co-op's decision to undertake the changes. 

The Boise Co-op is also slated to open a second location at the Village in Meridian in October. According to Boise Co-op Marketing Manager Mo Valko, the location is still a "shell" but in the coming months, the new location—and its role in the food marketplace—should come into greater focus. 
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