From the Editors
After a year of studies and research, Common Ground Food Co-op has announced its plans to open a second store in Champaign late next year.
The site of the new store remains undisclosed but CGFC hopes to have a lease and be able to publicly announce the exact location of the store at the fall meeting of owners on Sept. 20. Construction on the store is expected to begin by the summer of 2015.
The Champaign store will be similar in size to the Urbana store and will feature a full service deli, salad bard, large local and organic produce section, and community classroom. Currently, the Urbana CGFC includes more than 5,300 owners.
CGFC General Manager Jacqueline Hannah recently took the time to answer some of the burning questions we had in regards to this exciting addition to the C-U community.
Why open in Champaign?
The plan to have a second store location in Champaign has been out there as a likelihood for CGFC since 2009 for two reasons. The first reason is that almost half of CGFC’s owners live in Champaign and have been requesting that CGFC’s future hold a Champaign location since that time. The requests have only become more frequent from owners each year.
The sales of the Urbana store have been outstripping our expectations since 2009. We expanded again to almost triple the original 2008 Lincoln Square store size in 2012 due to this growth, but sales are again outstripping the size of our store. It just makes sense to bring what CGFC is doing in Urbana to a Champaign location, each physical store creates a new hub of community, which is one of our top goals, to create community, rather than expand the Urbana store again. CGFC’s current store is much more than a source of groceries. People new to the community often find us first and ask our staff about where to find the farmers market, the local foods, the best daycares, you name it. We’re the place they come looking to connect to their new home town because they hear right away that CGFC is a hub, take classes, read the community events bulletin board, and get to know their new neighbors. We’re excited to be gearing up to create another community hub, another CGFC grocery store, in Champaign.
Your growth has been tremendous! Do you feel that it’s sustainable?
We don’t leave that to guess work, there is way too much on the line for our owners when we expand to leave that up to chance, we make sure we are protecting this precious community resource the owners have grown before taking on a project like this. We work with two professional market study firms that specialize in natural food stores and focus on food co-ops every time we take on a large project, and the studies are highly accurate – we know that because we’ve tested those very studies in 2008 and 2012 with our expansions. The 2008 study was right on the money, the 2012 study underestimated our expanded store sales by a little bit. We’ve done another study for the Champaign store and the market study was excellent for it. These studies have continued to show that C-U is an underserved market for natural foods, that there is more demand for excellent outlets for local and organic foods than are yet available. Our sales for the last five years speak to that.
As an organization, as a food co-op, CGFC is very robust and healthy. We have an excellent Board of Directors that is offering great vision and leadership as well as oversight of the entire co-op. We have a great staff culture, good benefits, and increasingly strong staff training programs. We have a over 5000 active owners who are enthusiastic about what CGFC is currently doing and can do in the future. Is the growth sustainable? Yes, I’d say absolutely. As we continue to grow, the speed of it or how we grow may change and evolve, and that’s natural for any living thing – from a person, to an ecosystem, to a community resource like a co-op.
There are a lot of grocery stores in Champaign – and just this fall, a new County Market will be built. How is the co-op thriving in this competitive marketplace?
C-U does have a lot of grocery stores, absolutely! What it doesn’t have a lot of is great stores that offer primarily local and organic foods with dynamic teaching kitchens that are community owned. All the studies out there on the future of how we’ll shop for food show that we want a different relationship with our food and food sources, one that is more personal, connected, and educational. Co-ops fit that description perfectly. When we as a community own our grocery store, as we do CGFC, we can grow a grocery store that is what we want it to be, not a store that just does whatever will make us the biggest and quickest profits.
What does the Co-op offer for families?
There is so much we offer for families I have a hard time trying to decide what to share first.
First, our owners, of which there are over 5300 and more are buying their owner share of CGFC every day, made very clear in our last owner visioning process at the end of 2011 that reaching out to children is a big part of building community and a healthy future for our food shed to them. Since we got that feedback, our staff has created our Grow On program, which is a series of curriculum on healthy eating and where food comes from for kids pre-K through 5th grade that we take into schools at no cost. The curriculum has been created and reviewed by educators and we get more and more requests to come into schools with this program every year, which we’re very excited to oblige.
In the store itself, we greet families right away with our Co+op Explorers program for children 12 and under. Kids can sign up for free to get their Explorer card and with it they get a free organic apple or banana every time they come into a Common Ground location with an adult. We love this as it empowers the kids to feel it is there store – they quickly learn where the Explorer fruit is and go select it themselves – and it helps parents out too. We’ve had many parents thank us for this part of the program saying it meets the needs of hungry, tired kids who are brought in with parents to shop after school and work who haven’t had dinner yet and that it staves off a lot of begging for not-so-healthy snacks when they already have their hands full with a healthy yet tasty treat. Kids who sign up for the program also get a birthday card sent to their home during their birthday month for a sweeter treat – an organic, in-house made cookie of their choice.
We also offer a monthly Toddler Time on the third Wednesday of every month at 10:30 in the Flatlander Teaching Classroom inside our Urbana store where we read a story that centers around food or sustainability, offer an organic snack for the kids, and organic coffee for the parents who join us. Our staff leads this event and just loves it and we’re happy to see many families coming again and again.
Perhaps most important of what we offer for families is our Food For All (FFA) economic access program. In these times, we’re all stretching to afford the best food for our families and food prices worldwide continue to climb 2%-3% annually. Our FFA program offers an equity grant for those that need assistance purchasing their equity share, and everyday 5% discount for those families with economic need, as well as healthful recipes that can be made at $1-$2 a serving, free cooking classes, and education grants so those with need can take any class we offer at CGFC for free. You can learn more about it here on our website where all the applications, recipes and more are available right there. We’re proud that this program is being borrowed from and emulated by fellow food co-ops in many regions of the US and we’re working right now with owners and staff to vision what the next steps are in this program, how we can do even more with it to create economic access.
What areas of opportunity are there for the co-op?
There are so many areas of opportunity for CGFC. Running an excellent grocery store that is fueled by our Ends (the co-op term for mission) then creates an economic engine for doing more in the community to create the change our owners want to see. While we’re already doing so much around education, supporting local farms, creating community space, supporting the creation of more co-ops, donating to terrific local orgs – in so many ways we’re just getting started with what is possible. The co-op exists as a vehicle for our owners dreams for their community and one of the results of the last owner visioning event was that the owners wanted more stores in more areas of C-U to create more hubs of community. We are working on that with the addition of the Champaign store, which will then allow us to send more support to local farms, donate more to local orgs, offer more food education, grow our Food For All program – to do more of what we are currently doing that has great impacts on the community – but will also allow us to start visioning what’s next, what new vista could we take on as the CGFC community. The vision for what’s beyond the Champaign store for CGFC will come from its owners, not from any one individual.
How do you think a new Champaign store will affect the Urbana store?
The Urbana store will continue to thrive. Right now, the Urbana store is getting close to what is the comfortable capacity of what it can support in sales and customers, we’re a few years away from being pretty cramped there. The professional projections are that about 10% of our current Urbana store sales will move to the Champaign store, easing this and making more room for us to continue to do well what we do at the Urbana store. Also, with this growth of a new store, we’re also planning some new upgrades for the Urbana store that we are still mapping out, more on those to come!