Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, WA:

Finding a New Way to Grow

While big, locally owned grocery stores have largely disappeared in Bellingham, Adrienne Renz is making sure that doesn’t happen to the Community Food Co-op.

Renz recently became general manager of the co-op, replacing Jim Ashby, who retired in September. Ashby was the co-op’s first general manager, taking the job in 1985, according to a news release from the membership-owned organization.

Renz is no stranger to how the co-op operates, having been the outreach manager since 2012. For now she is focused on what they currently do well and finding ways to do it better, she said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald.

She takes over at a time when things are in relatively good shape at the co-op she said. Membership is at around 15,000 and growing.

According to its 2018 Sustainability Report, the co-op’s two stores and cafe generated $34.5 million in sales last year, down slightly from 2016, but up 2.9 percent compared to 2015. Of those 2017 sales, more than one-third came from organic products.

The organization also has more than 250 employees.

The co-op is also benefiting from big changes in recent years, including adding the Cordata store and the cafe/bakery near the downtown store.

Given the competition in the grocery business, it can be difficult as a local entity. With the closure of Terra Organic & Natural Foods earlier this year, the co-op wants to show that a locally owned major grocery store can do well in Bellingham.

One of the realities for grocery stores to survive is the importance of volume buying in order get a lower price to compete with national grocery chains. While the co-op is locally owned, it is part of a larger group of co-op stores that works together to get lower prices, Renz said.

There is a balancing act between finding the lowest prices and upholding the values the co-op has established. They want to offer basic products but also support organic and sustainable food production, for example. So far, they’ve been able to make it work, Renz said.

“I’m optimistic about the future,” Renz said of the store, adding that it is in a period where it is thriving. “Things are going well, but we are being really conservative (in making decisions).”

By Dave Gallagher @BhamHeraldBiz  November 4, 2018
Adrienne Renz is the new general manager at the Community Food Co-op.
Community Food Co-op photos courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

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