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Co-op News | Summer Quarterly 2018

Member Engagement Creates Meaning

Melanie Bettenhausen, General Manager

In my last article, I wrote about putting the Eureka store remodel on hold and focusing on smaller projects while we build our cash for a major renovation. I also shared some of our challenges with health care expenses. I was overjoyed to receive several thoughtful emails from our members in response. Hearing from members lets me know that you all are paying attention and care deeply for the success of the Co-op. I’ll share what I learned and address some of your concerns here with some updates.

In one email, I learned about a revolutionary approach to wellness for employers called kNewHealth, a cooperative health cost sharing option as an alternative to traditional insurance-based medical care. While it is not the right time for the Co-op to adopt this, we will be watching its development. I also learned about Business Alliance for a Healthy California, which works with employers to support universal health care. Our Human Resources Director attended a meeting and the Co-op has already endorsed single-payer health care legislation at the state level.

In addition to hearing from two members, I read responses from our Vision & Goals survey that a satellite store would be very welcome in the Henderson Center neighborhood. A conversation with one member was an absolute lovefest regarding our co-op, and one member wrote just to say thank you for the transparency regarding our financial situation and the remodel delay. 

Speaking of the remodel, you’ve hopefully noticed some of the changes we’ve made in the interim, like a new floral display in Eureka and new shopping carts in Arcata. Behind the scenes, we’ve been getting our cleaning schedules and preventative maintenance programs in order to ensure our equipment operates and that the shopping experience consistently meets the expectations of our members.

We are moving forward with the replacement of some failing equipment, which was one of the major components of the remodel. If things go well, you’ll see new refrigerated display cases in the Eureka store Meat Department, as well as the replacement of several of the upright refrigerated cases that display cheese, pickles and other dips and spreads. Our Facilities crew managed to repair the Frozen Department cases that had been icing over, simply by replacing seals and troubleshooting door heaters. They’ve also been working in partnership with our land-lord to fix roof leaks near the atrium windows and to bring back the lighting in that area.

As mentioned in my last article, one of the biggest impacts to our financial situation is ongoing health care expenses. We are self-insured, meaning that every claim is paid by the Co-op, minus the portion the employee pays. Over the last few months, our Human Resources Department has been reviewing proposals for high-risk (self-insured) versus low risk (fully funded/traditional) health insurance options. We contracted with a broker who has 40 years of experience in self insurance and brings many other resources to the table. By enacting some of the changes they suggested, the Co-op will be saving $1,000/month by simply switching our stop loss insurance carrier. We are also notifying employees of a change to our third-party administrator later this summer, which will give employees access to providers/specialists out of the area—Redding, Santa Rosa, the Bay Area or while traveling in other states—at a reduced cost for both the Co-op and our employees. With health care options in Humboldt being so limited, this is critically important. We’ve done thorough research to ensure that no one’s medical care or prescriptions will be disrupted or increase in cost, and are working on a smooth transition for all involved. 

Hearing from members is one of the reasons I became a Co-op member back in the early 2000s when I was still a college student. I recall a survey box asking for member input on the topic of Coca-Cola and whether or not the Co-op should boycott it. Coming from rural North Carolina with very few healthy or independent food store options, I was especially struck that a grocery store would ask me what I thought. In essence, the Co-op was asking if they should make a purchasing decision for consumers or allow consumers to decide for themselves. I was hooked!  Before that, I chose to shop at the Co-op for the product offerings I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was the engagement that made me decide to become a member. 

I have since found that the Co-op and our practices comes up in conversation throughout the community. Wherever I go, I overhear someone talking about something that happened at the Co-op, what they love about it, a comparison of prices over our competitors, or who they ran into that they hadn’t seen in ages. And of course, I don’t go anywhere without representing the Co-op. I was recently asked if I was expected to be a food expert everywhere I go and my considered response was "yes," and then I enthusiastically answered many questions about food. Many of you are also food experts and willingly share your knowledge with the Co-op. That level of engagement between members and within the community is what keeps me rooted in the Co-op. Where else can you participate in your food supply in such a meaningful way, short of growing and making all of your food yourself? We look forward to hearing how you engage other members of the Co-op in our member survey. 

Member input is used for much of our decision making, whether it be daily (product selection) or more futuristic planning (strategic plan). At our Annual Membership Meeting & Celebration in October we’ll be introducing our next five-year strategic plan based on surveys you all responded to these last few months and the feedback you’ve been giving for years. Your engagement is what creates meaning in my work. I hope to see you on October 21—save the date! Please don’t hesitate to contact me at (707) 822-5947 ext. 220 or gm@northcoast.coop

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