Dreams of Going Local for a Stronger Local Economy. The local multiplier effect is an economic benefit that independent businesses bring to an area economy through money spent in the community. While the effect levels vary across business types and geographical areas, locally owned, independent business-es are known to keep approximately three times more money in the community than chain stores. As consumer-owned independent businesses, co-ops could play a key role in boosting the local multiplier effect.
As a grocery co-manager at the Olympia Food Co-op westside store and food movement activ-\ist, I often wonder how the Co-op could contribute more to stronger local economy. From this perspective, I dream of stocking our store shelves with more local and regional products. The Co-op carries numbers of products that are made in and around Olympia, such as bread, chocolates, tortilla chips, honey and jams. However, the percentage of local and regional items in the grocery department remains less than 5% of the total sales. Because the grocery items consist mostly of shelf-safe, processed foods, I find it challenging to stock grocery shelves with more local products than those of national brands. How can grocery go more local? Below are some ideas.
Do you, or do you know someone who, produces shelf-safe packaged products commercially in Olympia and surrounding areas? If so, please let us know. The Local Farms, Foods and Products Committee as well as grocery managers are always looking for quality local products that we could bring into our stores. Together, we can discover local treasures and help the producers’ business grow.
Do you have a family recipe that you always wanted to develop into products? Do you preserve local produce, such as vegetables, fruits, and meat? Have you ever dreamt of becoming a professional food producer yourself? If so, I strongly encourage you to pursue your dream. As in the example of Flying Cow Creamery, building viable small business is possible when you and local co-ops work together. See the video on Flying Cow creamery for their success story on the Co-op’s website and dream big! Canned/jarred beans, chips and snacks, specialty sauces, pre-pared meals and more have great potential. When your products are made with locally grown ingredients, the local multiplier effects increase even more.
Once local products are brought into the store, we need to make sure we can keep carrying them. Unfortunately, sometimes grocery managers have to make a difficult decision to discontinue some local products. As long as the Co-op needs to be financially sustainable, when certain products do not sell well, the managers consider the product not meeting shoppers’ needs and discontinue them. Furthermore, while the Co-op has a favorable pricing policy for the local products, the quality and the price of such products have to be compatible to those of national brands to a certain degree. Yet, this is where the shoppers can flex their consumer muscle most strongly. By choosing local products over national brands once every five times you shop, it would already make a huge difference. If you still prefer non-local products, you could reach out to the local producers and suggest what changes might make you like their products better. So be daring! Go out of your comfort zone and try local and regional products!
In the long term, I dream that greater Olympia will house a local food hub. A local food hub would aggregate and distribute products grown and made in the community. Such infrastructure would make it easier for small businesses, schools, hospitals and restaurants to access lo-cal products than buying directly from the food producers or through national distributors. For the food producers, it makes it possible to reach larger markets without having have to deliver the products to numerous locations. A typical food hub focuses on fresh produce, fish, and meat. However, their operation can easily be expanded to value-added grocery products. Wouldn’t it be great if our local food hub was also an independently owned cooperative? That would be a real game changer, boosting the local economy multiplier effect even more.
A Grocery Co-manager Dreams of Going Local: for a stronger local economy
by Megumi Sugihara, Staff Member