Coming off what Oneota Food Coop Manager David Lester termed as a 2010 "banner year," the Coop experienced more growth in 2011 with a 6 percent increase in sales. And if this January is any indication of the upcoming year, it should be a good one. Sales this January indicated a 5 percent growth over January of 2011.
2011 Highlights. Lester offered what he considered some of the highlights for 2011.
• The Coop has been recognized with an Energy Star building status, one of only four grocery stores in the state to have such status. They were aided by the work of the Winneshiek Energy District. A new energy efficient HVAC system and the accompanying new roof have aided those energy goals. One example of efficiency is the use of the tunnel on the low level of the building with fans to recycle air that has been warmed by compressor systems back into the main level heating ducts.
• There continues to be an increase in the sale of local foods, which accounts for over 21 percent of sales. Last year the Coop purchased over $790,000 in local foods (generally defined as produced within a 100 mile radius). Lester adds that this area of the country is considered to be one of the best for access to local meat and dairy products.
• Noted department sales growths for 2011 included a growth of 16.5 percent in the meat department; 21.3 percent in the deli services; and 9.8 percent in the packaged grocery area. Noting these trends and how to respond as a business is a continual operational activity.
• Membership increased by 209 to a figure of 3,740.
• Lester says he has been pleased by the expanded involvement of Coop staff in local and downtown committees and boards.
2011 Challenges. Some of the challenges experienced by the Coop were obvious to downtown visitors as they watched work on the Coop roof and the adjacent public parking lot. Lester said that the HVAC system breakdown was an unexpected financial hit, and with that work it made it much more practical to incur the cost of a new roof at the same time rather that when it had been built into the long term budget. He also said that the construction of the Water Street Park – with the closure of the public parking lot – made a significant negative impact on sales.
2012. Lester looks forward to several focus points in 2012.
• As part of their "End Policies" one focus will be that of outreach education. Lester says that they need to do a better job of educating the public regarding the true cost of food products they consume. While acknowledging that local and organic foods may have an initial higher sticker price, the long term costs of processed foods on consumer health is something people need to consider in their purchasing habits.
• 2012 will see more emphasis on ways the Coop and local producers can more efficiently work together in the production and distribution chain. One example of this is a Local Growers Forum scheduled for February 13. For example, Lester says that there may be better ways for the Coop and producers to work together on warehousing facilities.
• Water Street Park will be a significant opportunity for the Coop as well as other downtown business to showcase their products and services.
• Membership building will continue to be a goal. A major membership drive will occur in March.