February 2019 Newsletter
Catching You Up on the Co-op
We’ve got a new feature this month: Better Know a Committee. Ever wondered exactly what the different committees do? Sarah Chinn, the chair of our Merchandising Committee, put together an awesome FAQ that explains how products get selected, priced and onto our shelves.
Feeling snacky? Check out this recipe for cacao-nut and seed bites that’s easy to make, healthy and delicious. And you can take advantage of our ever-growing bulk section to make your own variations!
The Co-op tries to stock locally-made products as much as we can. It doesn’t get more local than Lioni’s, the Brooklyn-based, family business that provides our amazing mozzarella. Read our Product Spotlight for the backstory and recipe inspiration.
In our Co-op Q&A, meet August Bridgeford, one of our two interim general managers who is making sure the store keeps running smoothly.
The Co-op is still on the hunt for a new full-time General Manager for the store. Do you know a community-minded person with the skills to keep the store running smoothly? Send them our way!
Our next General Board Meeting is on Wednesday, February 20, from 7 pm to 9 pm at the store. Come learn about what's going on at the Co-op and participate! Anyone attending can take part in discussions and all Co-op members may vote. Members may receive work credit if they attend (allotted 3 times a year).
Did you join the Co-op recently? Our next new member orientation is on Sunday, February 24, from 12 pm to 1 pm at the Co-op. Learn more about our history, the ins and outs of the Co-op, and how to get started on your work shift requirement. This is also a great opportunity to meet fellow new member-owners!
Product Spotlight: Lioni’s Fresh Mozzerella
By Lindsay Matheis
This week, we are spotlighting one member of Greene Hill’s cheese family: Lioni’s fresh mozzarella — creamy, distinct, oozy. It might not be your first thought when you think cheese, yet the list of meals you can use it in grows the longer you ponder. Bubbling on a fresh pizza, layered in a saucy lasagna, sliced in a caprese salad, incorporated into the ultimate grilled cheese, shredded into morning quiche, pinched off into a leafy salad, melted into artichoke dip... Needless to say, mozzarella is an incredibly versatile amico for us home chefs. Plus, our mozzarella source is particularly special.
In 1980, the Salzarulo family started Lioni’s in Brooklyn. They have been providing mozzarella in its pure whole milk form ever since, and winning awards for their products in world cheese competitions. This stuff is the real deal and it’s all Lioni does, which is why Lioni is also the only company we order just a single product from. It’s that special. Plus, at $5.13 per pound, it’s a budget-friendly option! Grab an 8-ounce or one-pound ball from our cheese case and then check out Lioni’s or this other fun site we found to try some winter warming recipes with mozzarella!
The Co-op Q&A with August Bridgeford
By Aly Miller
If you shop with us regularly, chances are you’ve met August, one of our two interim general managers. In our interview, we asked him about how he became interested in food co-ops like ours, and we learned about his community organizing work with our neighbors a few miles east on Fulton Street.
Q: When did you join the Co-op, and why did you decide to join?
A: I joined Greene Hill Food Co-op in the fall of 2017, when I moved to the neighborhood. A few years ago I was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop and learned about the personal and community benefits of the member-owned co-op model. I really enjoy our produce selection and the Co-op's focus on supporting local, sustainably-focused vendors. An additional big added bonus for me is that we buy from vendors who largely respect their employees and farmers by providing livable wages and decent working conditions.
Q: What kind of roles have you filled at the Co-op over the years? What do you do now?
A: At the old space I worked as a floor attendant before helping to build out the new space last summer. Currently, I am one of two interim general managers. In this role, I coordinate with working members to ensure the store remains well-stocked, clean, and organized. I also oversee receiving deliveries and communicate with our produce buyers to ensure our shelves are full. Finally, I do some admin work, around approving members' work hours and updating produce prices each week and work with various committees to improve operation systems such as expanding signage.
Q: What do you like most about being a member of the Co-op?
A: Besides the access to affordable local produce and non-produce food vendors, I really enjoy shopping in a community space. I am at the Co-op at least three days a week and as a result, have met a lot of our members. It makes the neighborhood feel a bit smaller when you see Greene Hill members outside of the Co-op, and for a more enjoyable shopping experience when you know members at the store.
Q: How has the Co-op changed the way you interact with food?
A: In my current role at the Co-op I get to interact with a lot of our vendors. It’s largely encouraging based on the number of small-time farmers who come in excited to share about their products. It makes my shopping experience much more rewarding when I know not only the quality of the product, but also how my purchase contributes to supporting those providing the food.
Q: What do you do outside of the Co-op?
A: I enjoy riding my bike and being outside when it’s not freezing cold. My girlfriend works in museums, so I get to go to a lot of cool shows at various cultural institutions throughout the city. On the days I am not at the Co-op, I work as a community organizer with Neighbors Together, building power among low-income tenants and those experiencing homelessness. It’s based out of a small soup kitchen, also on Fulton Street, in Ocean Hill. You’re welcome to volunteer with us by signing up online.
Recipe by Pam Turczyn
What’s your idea of the ideal snack? Hmmmm…..It should be yummy, of course. What else? For me, it should have a great texture, be healthy, and it should satisfy hunger, providing fuel for my day's activities. If it is a sweet snack, it shouldn't be overly sweet and, if homemade, it should be fun and easy to prepare, with lots of variations.
Better Know a Committee: Merchandising
By Sarah Chinn, Merchandising Chair
The Co-op aims to offer a range of high quality, affordable, organic, and sustainable products — and to do this using socially responsible buying and selling practices. But who makes sure that happens? Who decides what products we sell and how to price them?
Many Co-op members know that the Merchandising Committee (or, as our friends call us, Merch) are the folks responsible for getting every item for sale in the Co-op on our shelves and arranged for ease of shopping. It’s less likely that members outside the committee know exactly how that happens, how we decide what to order and what to discontinue, and the role that members have in that process. Merch’s main goal is to fulfill our buying principles and to involve members as much as possible in the process of deciding what we stock, in the spirit of our co-operative mission.
As part of the Co-op’s ongoing commitment towards transparency and member education, we developed these Frequently Asked Questions to share what we do and how we do it.
Q: How does the Co-op decide what new items to offer?
A: Adding new products and bringing on new vendors is one of the more fun parts of committee work. Often we’re approached by vendors and distributors who would like to sell their goods at the Co-op. Before we add a food item we ask for samples, which we try at our monthly meeting. If there’s a consensus that it’s delicious, affordable, and we think members will like it, we’ll add it to the shelves. Since adding a new vendor is a fairly intensive process, we take this decision seriously.
Merch members will also add new varieties of products that have already been selling well. For example, we recently expanded our selection of frozen fruits to offer a greater variety of large bags of mixed fruit, which are flying out of the freezer! You might have noticed that our snack aisle has also been growing as well as our cheese selection.
And, of course, we take suggestions from YOU! More than half of the items on our shelves are there because of product requests from members. We have an online form for members to fill out and Merch members respond directly to requests. While we can’t honor all suggestions — maybe we stocked that item in the past and it didn’t sell, or we can’t get it for a good enough price to make it worthwhile to members — we try to be as responsive to members as possible.
Q: What guides our decisions about what to sell?
A: Our buying principles are posted on the wall of the Co-op: “We strive to offer a range of local, affordable, organic, and sustainable food and household products.” Ideally, these three criteria — affordable, organic, and local/sustainable — work together so we can offer reasonably priced, local and organic food. But it’s hard to hit that sweet spot, and usually we’ll favor one of these criteria over the others. This lines up with what our members tell us: each time we ask whether Co-op members care most about price, organic ingredients, or local production, the results are split almost evenly among the three.
On the whole, we try to stock popular items at a couple of different price points. So, for example, we offer Smuckers natural peanut butter alongside the pricier but more sustainable, worker cooperative-made Once Again Nut Butters, or we’ll have Nasoya organic tofu next to locally-made Bridge tofu. We stock familiar brands like Progresso canned beans, Cheerios, and Arm & Hammer baking soda. We also try to serve members who are vegan, gluten-free, or have other dietary restrictions, by stocking plenty of non-animal proteins, dairy-free milks, and gluten-free and alternative flours.
Finally, to be environmentally conscious, we try to minimize individual-serving or heavily packaged items, and we have been expanding our bulk section to reduce our reliance on packaging overall. We decided to stock only paper and compostable bags for produce and bulk items, to avoid the proliferation of plastic. And we have started stocking reusable fabric bags by Flip and Tumble.
With all of that in mind, what our members request and what they buy are the largest factors influencing what we keep on our shelves. If members stop buying a product, we discontinue it. If members say they buy a product regularly elsewhere, we try to make it possible for them to buy it at the Co-op.
Q: Why can’t I find the item I am looking for? It’s usually on the shelf!
A: Good question! Depending on the product, there might be a few reasons. We may not have been able to order it because we could not meet a vendor minimum for the order size. Maybe the distributor accidentally did not send us a product by. Or maybe the Merch buyer overlooked that item in the order or submitted an order too late. Sometimes deliveries are delayed because of national holidays or weather. We order from most of our vendors once a week or every other week, so we try to get the items back in stock quickly. Please email us or use the product request form to let us know what you were not able to find! That way we can try to find a solution. For example, our supplier kept not sending the coconut milk that we ordered, so we added two new brands so that we could keep at least some coconut milk in stock.
Q: How do you calculate prices? Why are the prices of some items so high?
A: As far as prices, we have a variable markup between 20% and 50% on our items, based on the delivered cost of the products. The vast majority of items are marked up by 30%. Rather than have a set markup for everything, we wanted to make sure we could have the best value for our members and make sure staple items are affordable. So some items have a lower markup (such as dairy and eggs), and some items have a higher markup (specialty chocolate and some bulk items). Larger distributors give discounts based on the volume that we order, so that our wholesale prices are lower than some smaller stores, but we do not have the price breaks that larger stores like the Park Slope Food Coop or Whole Foods do.
Merch is dedicated to making sure that members have the best value for their grocery budget while balancing the markup so that we are able to make our rent, utilities, and payroll expenses. If you have questions about the prices of a specific product, please reach out to us. We will be happy to provide you a fuller explanation or set aside time at a Merch meeting to discuss lowering the markup on that item to be more competitive with local stores.
Q: How do we get the products to the store?
A: For the first few years of the Co-op, Merch members were assigned various vendors to buy from. They might have worked with one big vendor that covered a variety of different items, or with a few specialized, small providers. After a while, though, it became clear that it made more sense to divide buying responsibilities up by categories — for example, to have one buyer in charge of getting our yogurt from the four different vendors we use. Our categories are now fairly broad: cereals and grains, baking needs, snacks, refrigerated, frozen, and so on. With some hiccups along the way, we adjusted to buying by category, the system we’re using now.
The way we place orders tends to be specific to each vendor. Some of our large distributors have their own ordering web portals, others are small enough that we order via email or even by phone — that’s how we get Lioni mozzarella: our cheese buyer calls Tony, the cheesemaker, and orders the mozzarella, burrata, and ricotta for the week.
The process of figuring out how much to buy is pretty hands-on. Our buyers look at our inventory (either online or in person) and make the call on how much we should order each week. We think about how much of that item sells per week, how likely that product is to go out of stock, what other similar items we have, and selling trends (for example, our summer sales go down significantly, so we may not be able to order as frequently, or may have fewer items on the shelves until we are able to restock).
Q: What else does the Merchandising Committee do?
A: Every now and then we go through the store as a committee and discuss how we might better rearrange the store to make it more convenient for members. So if something’s not where you remember it, that’s probably us! We also work with Operations and Design/Build to improve and expand product display.
Got more questions? Ideas? Want to join our committee?
You can always get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to get feedback from members!