Food co-op finds growth market in Vancouver

It's already seeking a larger location for downtown store

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

As demand for cooperative grocery stores rises in metro areas across the U.S., Vancouver is no exception.

“Our business is booming,” said Shawn Morrill, store manager for Vancouver Food Cooperative, which opened about a year ago at its downtown location on West Fourth Street.

The local co-op, which offers local and natural foods, has 290 members, or owners, each of whom has bought a share of the company for $180.

It’s a one-time purchase that buys them a 10 percent discount on all products offered at the store’s bricks-and-mortar location and through its website. It also enables them to vote on the store’s board of directors, giving them a say over the strategic direction of the company.

The store’s offerings also are available to non-members, although they don’t receive the discount and voting power that members get. The co-op is doing so well that it’s already looking for bigger space downtown, Morrill said. “Our sales have increased 10-fold this year,” he said. “Our membership is up significantly.”

Morrill declined to divulge revenue figures but said, “It’s fair to say we have been working all year to approach a break-even point and we’re just about there.”

Consumers are looking to control their spending, which is partly driving an increase in the number of co-ops in the U.S. During the past two to three years alone, 10 to 12 new stores have opened each year, according to Cooperative Grocer magazine.

People’s taste for locally sourced foods is another big factor in the creation of more co-ops. “The biggest motivators are people knowing where their food comes from and wanting to keep relationships and jobs and money in the community,” Morrill said.

The Vancouver Food Cooperative sources its food through about 20 suppliers and expects to grow that number to 30 in a month, Morrill said. “We’re literally adding new products and new relationships with vendors every week,” he said.

The co-op’s suppliers include farmers in Ridgefield, a small bakery in Vancouver, a cheese maker in Woodland, a coffee roaster in Vancouver, a rancher from eastern Oregon and a Battle Ground farmer who raises lamb.

Morrill said the store carries “standard grocery staples,” including milk, eggs, breads, produce, canned vegetables and snack foods, and items not easily found at traditional grocery stores, such as duck and quail eggs.

The co-op’s website allows shoppers to order the items they want in advance and then come to the store to purchase them.

Morrill, who started as a volunteer at the co-op and eventually became its manager, said the company wants to grow by building relationships with vendors and customers.

The co-op, he added, offers payment options for people who want to be members but who can’t afford to buy the entire $180 share upfront.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.