Whole Earth Food Co-op’s Transformation Toward Viable Future
Small food co-ops sometimes struggle with isolation as well as gaining adequate sales and resources to develop local leadership. That was the case for Whole Earth Grocery Co-op in River Falls, WI before board member Madeline Kuizek and staff member Anna Zalusky reached out to CDS and others for governance and operational support.
They realized quickly what they needed were better systems that would help modernize the co-op and give it a platform to grow. Leslie Watson, an expert in co-op development and governance on the staff of CDS helped the co-op’s board adopt policy governance. “Her help has been invaluable,” said general manager Evan Sayre. “Policy Governance has been a boon for us all, allocating roles and giving the general manager discretion to act on immediate problems.”
Sayre has been general manager for over a year now, and he said initiative by Kuizek and Zalusky, along with the board’s work with Watson of CDS, created a foundation for his ability to build operational systems and sales. He recently undertook a rebranding project and did a store facelift this past March that resulted in positive sales growth.
Like nearly every grocer nowadays, Whole Earth is facing competition from both natural and conventional grocers seeking to add more local and organic offerings. The co-op is currently hamstrung by the lack of parking lot, and along with the spark of sales growth and need to be conveniently located for customers, Whole Earth is beginning to explore a possible relocation and expansion.
“My biggest takeaway is our co-op having the willingness to look outside ourselves and get advice,” Sayre said. He thinks organizations like CDS are crucial to Whole Earth’s success. “The help is out there. I can’t emphasize that enough. You can get an honest answer and help with problems toward solutions. They really share a lot of resources.”