Celebrating the local connection

Locally owned, sourcing locally and supporting local initiatives – that pretty much sums up the business model of retail co-operatives operating in more than 500 communities from Vancouver Island to northwestern Ontario and Canada’s Far North. These co-ops – in partnership with Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) – operate on the principle of co-operation between members, owners, suppliers and the community.

“The concept of buying locally and selling to our member owners while supporting local community initiatives and causes is not so much a marketing strategy as a reflection of who we are,” says Leah Andrew, FCL’s associate vice-president marketing and communications.

The symbiotic relationship between co-ops and their communities has yield-ed a number of benefits, says Dan Erlandson of Spring Creek Gardens, who has been able to increase his production substantially as a result. SUPPLIED

The symbiotic relationship between co-ops and their communities has yield-ed a number of benefits, says Dan Erlandson of Spring Creek Gardens, who has been able to increase his production substantially as a result. SUPPLIED

Ms. Andrew explains that many communities across Western Canada depend on the services co-ops provide, such as supplying essentials from food and fuel to hardware and agricultural supplies. And sourcing produce and products from local suppliers, in turn, supports the local economy and earns the loyalty of community members. “It is a symbiotic relationship,” she adds.

The importance of local connections is illustrated by the success of the co-op’s recent At Home program that identifies items as being Grown at Home (local produce), Raised at Home (local beef, pork, chicken and other proteins) and Produced at Home (local items or manufactured products). To make it easier for customers to find out how local a product is, the co-op partners with a third-party system called Localize that provides an unbiased rating system for all At Home products.

One of the local growers in Saskatchewan who has benefited from buy-local initiatives is third-generation farmer Dan Erlandson, owner of Spring Creek Gardens near Saskatoon, who sells sweet corn to the co-op. Five years ago, the co-op approached him with the aim to bump up the local produce on its shelves, and it’s been a “bumper-crop” kind of relationship.

“It’s been as good for us as it has been for other small producers as well as the public,” says Mr. Erlandson. “The consumer gets a fresher, tastier product, and producers like me have a better chance to grow and expand because of guaranteed sales. I’ve been able to increase production threefold over the past five years.”

The support the co-op has extended to the community is no less impressive. Vic Huard, FCL’s executive vice-president strategy, describes how retail co-ops have pledged more than $5-million over five years to children’s hospital foundations across Western Canada. That gift is in addition to unique fundraising programs like the Game Day Approved program, launched in 2010 in co-operation with the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team. The program saw the introduction of a variety of player-branded products, with part of the proceeds from sales flowing to hospital foundations. Roughriders fans continue to snap up the co-branded products that this year include Chris-py Dill Chips, named in honour of Roughriders slotback Chris Getzlaf, and Darian’s Quarterback Quench Sports Drink for Riders QB Darian Durant.

“The program really resonated with people and the feedback continues to be positive,” says Mr. Huard, adding that the success has prompted similar campaigns with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos.

Enthusiastic feedback comes from Brynn Boback-Lane, CEO, Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. “In true co-op fashion, FCL has stepped up to enhance the health-care needs of children and families,” she says. “This support enables the children’s hospital foundations to provide vital equipment, research and programming that might not otherwise have been possible. Through the co-op commitment, we are all in pursuit of a healthier and happier future for those whom we serve.”

“These kinds of stories clearly illustrate our commitment to being local and supporting the communities we live in,” says Ms. Andrew.

Click to view full report CO-OP Advantage.