What makes co-op grocers thrive in Twin Cites?

Seward Co-op
A colorful, fresh produce department featuring seasonal and local foods is the first thing Seward Co-op shoppers see when they walk through the front doors. The successful food co-op is planning to expand into a second location in south Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Do you shop at a co-op for your groceries? It's a growing trend in the region, and multiple Twin Cities-based co-ops are planning new locations or expansions.

From MPR News:

Despite some setbacks in the last few decades, cooperative grocery stores, which are owned by members and operated by democratically-elected boards, have managed to pull themselves back from the brink of irrelevance, with some local co-ops now doing tens of millions of dollars in business every year.

C.E. Pugh, chief operating officer for the National Cooperative Grocers Association, said co-ops hit their low point about a decade ago. They were facing competition from companies like Whole Foods and new natural foods sections at supermarkets like Rainbow Foods.

In the wake of these new pressures, many smaller co-ops in the Twin Cities closed, including the original Twin Cities co-op grocery, North Country Co-op, which finally shut its doors in 2007. Other co-ops embraced change and survived.

"There was a shaking out if you will," Pugh said. "People got serious, and also just the learning curve, co-ops get better as management gets better and operates more effectively, and they kept building on that."

Restocking onions
Lisa Weiskopf restocked the locally grown onions at the Bemidji co-op.
MPR Photo/Jon Heller

But co-ops aren't alone in the market. Conventional grocers like Lunds and Target are adding new locations, and Iowa-based Hy-Vee announced it plans to enter the Twin Cities.

In such a competitive market, what makes co-ops thrive in Minneapolis and St. Paul? Where do they fit into the overall grocery market going forward?

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