By Kelli Wickard
Before you go to Walmart, Target, or any other big-box store, think about the impact of your purchases—think about helping your city grow.
Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy, and it’s important that we support them and inform people that they are there. An example of a small business that survives off of the support of the community is a food co-op. The initial reason that food co-ops were formed was for the community to have access to healthy, fresh and delicious food with less environmental impact and reduced waste. Co-ops are able to interact with the community and build strong relationships with the member-owners and customers that frequent the store.
The Rainbow Food Co-op, located in small-town Blue Earth, Minn., is an example of this type of business. In a city with only 3,211 people, it is crucial that their locals are supporting the store in order for it to be kept afloat. “Our customer base is extremely loyal,” stated Connie Johannsen, assistant manager and board secretary. “Many customers have been shopping here for years and now the next generation of the family is carrying out the tradition.”
The local following of the Rainbow Food Co-op is what has kept it growing and thriving for the past 38 years. Another reason that the Rainbow Food Co-op has seen such success in the city of Blue Earth is because of the wide variety of products that they offer.
One thing that makes them unique is that customers are able to request special orders for items that they don't carry at the Co-op. Another thing is the bulk department. “Being able to offer spices in bulk amounts is very appealing – if a customer only needs one bay leaf; 1/8 teaspoon of spice for a recipe or would like to fill up their personal spice jar, it’s a very appealing price savings,” said Johannsen. At the Rainbow Food Co-op you can order bulk items (ex. grains, flour, dried fruit, nuts) in very small or large quantities up to 50 lb. cases.
An important way that co-ops have always contributed to their communities is through their commitment to local farms and food businesses. Co-ops were selling local before local was cool! Many food businesses that are well-established today actually got their start by selling to co-ops and gaining loyal customers through customer service and doing lots of sampling demos.
Rainbow Food Co-op will be coming to the 2017 Feast! Local Foods Marketplace to once again make connections with more regional food businesses and farms. They are continuing the tradition of bringing healthy local foods to co-op shoppers by coming to this ‘best of the Midwest’ food show to talk with food businesses—oh, and to enjoy samples!
You’re welcome to come enjoy samples yourself at the Feast! festival on Dec. 2 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn., from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Once you meet these foodmakers you’ll feel great stocking your pantry with their products.
As Connie Johannsen says, “Customers aren’t only customers, they are our friends and neighbors!”