Why are the prices high?
All things being relative…they're not. That’s what it costs to produce quality, nutritious food! But let's compare:
Grocery stores traditionally sell items marginally above cost and use volume as the way to achieve profit. Focusing on volume, grocers strive to build a network of stores, and lower their costs by cutting out third parties. For many years now the trend has been to build as large a network as possible and control as much of the production and distribution as possible. Once a grocer has lowered costs and increased volume sufficiently, they compete with "loss leaders" (items sold below cost) to hook customers and drive competitive grocers out of business.
At first glance, this looks good for the consumer: lower prices. But with this strategy comes lower food quality and less consumer choice. The handful of grocers with control over the production and distribution of food are focused on profit first and foremost. The quality of the food and how it's produced fall to the lowest common denominator.
The Kootenay Co-op is not this kind of store. At the Co-op, we are firm believers in the concept of "Fair Exchange". That means that sustainability is the law, not the lowest price and our pricing guidelines follow that code of honour. We support local businesses, sustainable practices, organic food and free-range farm production. Farmers and food producers must earn a living wage and that has to be built into the price. We're not profiteering, we're helping build a sustainable future in OUR community.
An endless quest for the lowest price is fundamentally unsustainable; sooner or later, staying in business becomes impossible. The lowest price on a product can mean that the producers of that product are not paid a fair price for the work and raw materials that went into it. The farmer reaches out for a government or industry subsidy or he loses his farm. Millions of family-owned farms and businesses in North America have disappeared this century, largely due to the market demand for "rock bottom" prices. One does not have to look far to find small business and towns shut down due to the arrival of a giant discount store in their community.
How does this philosophy translate into the price you, the customer, pay for the products? It means that we offer the basics and essentials (i.e. bulk foods, produce, dairy) at the lowest possible price so that they are accessible to everyone. It means that the pricing of items reflect an ongoing commitment to strike the balance between providing staff and local producers with a living wage and keeping prices affordable for the customer.
Other natural food stores sometimes offer the same product at a different price to ours. We will not jeopardize our pricing structure by "tweaking" an individual items’ price in order to match another stores price. Nor will we jeopardize the viability of other health food stores in our region by entering into direct competition with them - in our ideal world, all grocery stores would foster an environmentally responsible foundation to their business practices.
Since we are not part of the industrial food system, where "economies of scale" reign supreme, products which are produced in a sustainable way cost more than those which are not.
Price differences in identical products may be explained by any of the following practices: bulk purchases by the store in question - a store like Safeway buys more product and so can take better advantage of a limited time sale offer. The volume they buy gives them a lot of power in the buying arena. A store could have a policy of "loss leaders" where they will sell some items at close to or below cost in order to bring the customers in to the store hoping that they will purchase other products that have a high markup. A special purchasing deal may be available to some stores at certain times and not to others.
However, our conscientious buyers always seek out the best deals to obtain the lowest prices while still adhering to the integrity of our vision for a sustainable community and world. Sometimes we are able to offer better prices than other stores and sometimes we are not for the reasons already explained. We leave it to the consumer to make their purchasing decisions based on their individual budgetary needs and priorities. We also offer cooking classes to help people learn to cook whole foods on a limited budget and recipes are always available through Customer Service.
Our highest vision is sustainability. A sustainable way of life benefits everyone. Shopping is not about finding the greatest number of products at the lowest price but about discovering the intrinsic value in what we buy and voting for a way of life with our purchasing dollars.