The Daily Groceries Co-op: Locally Grown, Locally Enjoyed

Running through the aisles filled with vivacious conversation, a child passes a grey-haired man standing in front of the colorful display of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The man ends his conversation with a smiling employee of the Daily Groceries Co-op, giving a nod of thanks before enjoying the locally grown ingredients of his Chipotle TLT.

“The atmosphere is more friendly and down-to-earth than other groceries; it’s not caught up in the hub-bub of the [non-local] larger groceries,” a member and customer of the Daily Groceries Co-op for years, Mike Williamson said.

The national trend of shopping for locally grown groceries at locally owned co-ops proves to be rewarding through the Daily Groceries Co-op’s customer reactions. A fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional supermarkets is the unique, valued relationships between the employees and the customers while investing locally grown products.

The National Cooperative Groceries Association reports more than 29,000 co-ops in the United States, allowing millions of co-op memberships.

A grocery co-op is defined as a food distribution organization where the decisions of production and share of the food are chosen by who invests in the co-op. The unique relationship is gained from the fact that the members are also the owners of the grocery co-op.

“As member-owned entities, I think co-ops just have a different level of connection to an engagement with their communities,” director of marketing and communications for NCGA, Kelly Smith said.

The NCGA’s study Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops finds that for every dollar spent at a food co-op, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers.

This national trend of food co-ops came to Athens, GA when the Daily Groceries Co-op opened on Prince Avenue in 1992.

As a consumer-owned cooperative, the Daily made multiple improvements such as adopting a patronage structure this past month. Through a patronage structure, the co-op owner-member receives a part of the Co-op’s profits through annual patronage dividends. The dividends, a more traditional form of a co-op member discount, are calculated and redistributed back to the members based on their purchases if there is an annual surplus.

“The new system is working very well so far, and holds a lot of excitement for everyone including staff, volunteers, and customers,” staff director for Daily Groceries Co-op, Matthew Epperson said.

Although the relationships of the previous owner-members remain positive, the new $20 fee to join brought in 64 new owner-members.

“Our early joiners have all shared their passion for a community grocery store through their economic participation (one of our co-operative principles), and we look forward to reaching the folks who will listen and consider investing in healthy lifestyles and community involvement,” Epperson said.

The Daily embodies the mutual respect of local farmers and citizens that helps to create a healthier environment, healthier people, and healthier community.

Clay Brady of Foster-Brady Farm began doing business with the Daily in 2009.

The Daily purchases potatoes, muscadine grapes, cabbages, turnips, pumpkins and other fresh produce from the Brady family farm.

“I shop there a lot so a relationship has grown throughout business,” Brady explained, “I consider the Daily to be my friends as well.”

For local farmers, the experience is more intimate than large supermarkets.

“It isn’t like going to a huge market and the employee just handing you your food, the Daily has a conversation with you and is more personable,” Brady said.

Smith compares the experience of food co-ops on a national level versus an investor-owned market.

“Investor-owned chains are owned and governed by investors, who may or may not reside in the community or patronize the business,” Smith said. “A co-op exists to serve its members and surplus revenue is returned to members in proportion to business [that] benefits the co-op. This democratic approach to business benefits the co-op, its members and the community it serves.”

Beyond providing job opportunities and healthy food, the Daily stays involved with the community.

“Daily has provided for and with the Athens community in many ways including donating produce to UGA’s Campus Kitchens, compost to the Athens Land Trust Market Garden, we are stewards for environmental action including recycling, energy efficient bulbs, paper reuse and water efficient faucets,” said Epperson.

Along with the many other activities the Daily participates in, they prepared a delicious variety for Taste of Athens, a benefit for the Community Connection of Northeast Georgia, this past Sunday.

Attendants enjoyed the Daily’s famous V’egg Salad, Pindi’s White Bean Avocado Experience, Energy Nuggets, and Banana Coconut Cream Pie.

“The people serving the Daily Groceries Co-op’s food were vibrant and enthusiastic,” Claire Channell from guide2athens said.

 “It is hard to express the entire nature of your business in a bite sized dish,” Channell added. “However, I think that every business did a fine job of exhibiting their own personality in what they offered.”

Whether judging on a regular day at the store or at a community event, the Daily continues to obtain a positive, productive relationship with the local people.

 

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