Cooperative d'Alentour Grows, Links with Co-op Atlantic

Cooperative d'Alentour is a distributor located in the southern Quebec city of Sherbrooke. The cooperative was founded in 1979 by buying clubs that wanted natural foods at a reasonable price--at that time, it was very difficult to find that kind of food.

The Cooperative d'Alentour mission is to meet our members' needs in natural and organic food and provide them services and information supporting better health and better quality of life. Some 4,500 individual members shop in our boutique every day, and 400 buying clubs place orders during the year. We also distribute more than 2,500 products to 400 businesses in the natural food field.

Individual members and buying clubs elect a board of nine directors who have the responsibility for the future of our cooperative. The chief difference from our neighboring co-op distributor, Ontario Natural Foods Co-op, is our new retail store available to members and the general population (the latter pay higher prices). We have recruited more than 1000 new members in the past year with that marketing strategy.

In 2002 we invested $1.2 million in a new warehouse and store. After leasing a facility for 23 years, we decided to become an owner. I had been in command since 2000 and convinced the board to make that move following a complete restructuring of our organization. We moved from a small business to a real competitive one. We have a new image and pretty good reputation, thanks to my new team and board. We needed that to stay in a wild market, now with new big players, whom you know, I am sure.

Among a lot of projects, first we have to consolidate that big investment--time will tell. In the short term, we would like to have a bilingual website and to investigate the possibility of buying online. We are open to examining any kind of alliance that will improve our strength in the Canadian market or elsewhere.

Our rate of growth in sales is near 20%; our level of staffing is 47 employees.

Regarding Co-op Atlantic: the technical information and product supply arrangement that we share has enabled them to enter the natural /organic business on behalf of their chain of smallish supermarkets without a huge investment. In the past, Co-op Atlantic was very underdeveloped in this category compared to its competitors and did not have have the resources or the expertise to develop its own line of products. Nor did it have the commitment or the level of interest required from a lot of their people. Our friendly arrangement allows Co-op Atlantic to get into the business in a safe and practical manner. Sales are growing modestly, and so far it is good for both stores and members. While Coop d'Alentour builds its sales, Co-op Atlantic assumes very little risk and can provide a service and products that is wanted by some of its customers.

Again, time will tell.

Coop d'Alentour revises its marketing goals each year, and we are very optimistic for our future. Fortunately, profitability is there, and we have total net assets of $1.4 million to help us with future projects. We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2004. We are working hard to be there in another 25 years and beyond.

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