NCGA Joins Organic Trade Association Leadership Circle, Comments on Co-op Distribution

Membership extended to all member co-ops

The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) proudly joins the Organic Trade Association this year as a Leadership Circle investor to the 2004 Annual Fund Campaign. This illustrates one of the ways that our collaborative efforts can result in greater benefit for our individual stores, our industry partners, and ultimately our consumer owners. Our investment in OTA includes membership for all NCGA co-ops in OTA, with the same benefits of membership each co-op would receive as an individual OTA member. By aggregating our contributions to OTA, we can stand alongside the large companies well known in the landscape of the natural foods industry—Whole Foods, Wild Oats, UNFI, Hain Food Group, Small Planet Foods, etc. Food co-ops have long been the solid, grass-roots foundation for organic support, organizing and advocacy and it is appropriate that we take our rightful place in the spotlight of this important trade association formed to protect and shape the organic industry.

In 2003, just 13 members of NCGA were independently members of OTA, so the benefits of this new relationship between NCGA and OTA are many. Food co-ops not previously connected will be plugged into the network of businesses in OTA working to support, protect, and enhance organic legislation and initiatives. OTA will broaden its base of retailers around the country through co-ops that have a strong connection with their consumers and a profound commitment to organics.

OTA is made up of all sectors of the organic industry, from farm to retail. The association represents the industry’s interests to regulators, policymakers, the media, and the public. OTA informs members through monthly News Flash reports, "The Organic Report" magazine, legislative and regulatory alert bulletins, members-only pages on their web site, publications such as the Good Organic Retailing Practices manual and events such as the annual All Things Organic convention and trade show. They also offer opportunities to participate in public relations programs such as the O’Mama Report consumer web site and e-newsletter.

Information will be provided to attendees at the NCGA member conference in February about how member co-ops can activate with OTA, and/or redirect their individually planned contributions to the OTA annual fund to support NCGA’s position in the Leadership Circle. Those members not in attendance at the February conference will be sent the information directly. For further information, please contact Robynn Shrader at [email protected]; or (319) 466-9029.

Letter: Co-op Wholesalers

Dear Editor,

I found it amusing and disturbing that in the September/October issue of the Cooperative Grocer, Robyn Shrader wrote the following in her report regarding this year’s CCMA: “With the memory of the former co-op wholesaler network fresh in our minds, we must continue to press through the uncomfortable and difficult elements of change.” For the thousands of member/owners and the staffs and boards of both Ozark Cooperative Warehouse and Tucson Cooperative Warehouse this information came as quite a shock. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “the report of our death is exaggerated.”

We recognize that the recent position of Cooperative Grocer, the leadership of the NCGA, and their new best friend, UNFI, is that the distribution of natural foods in the United States is best handled by a non-cooperative wholesale network. There are those of us who still believe that the natural foods cooperative retails and buying clubs in this country will be best served in the long term if the distribution is provided by a system owned by those organizations. In fact, it is the expectation of some of us that we will be rebuilding the cooperative natural foods system, both wholesale and retail, in the future, as it recovers from the convulsion experienced at the beginning of the 21st century marked by the demise of North Farm, Blooming Prairie, and Northeast Cooperatives.

We fully expect that as time passes and the retails and buying clubs discover the true nature and dimensions of their loss, the outcry will begin and the work will start to create a new system more integrated, sophisticated, and successful than we managed the first time.

Still cooperating,
Christopher Hahn
Board President
Tucson Cooperative Warehouse

In response:
It is not the view of NCGA leadership that “the distribution of natural foods in the United States is best handled by a non-cooperative wholesale network,” rather that it is currently handled largely by UNFI.
In light of that fact, it is my view that the dozens of food co-ops who must depend daily on UNFI should be protected by the best possible terms of service that our aggregated forces can muster. It requires strong collaboration to muster that aggregated strength.

I truly hope that the circumstances which prevented the co-op wholesaler network from more effectively joining forces in years past are not repeated within the retail food co-op system now trying to remain competitive in new circumstances.

In cooperation,
Robynn Shrader

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