NFCA Start-up Conference

Board members Felicia and Alex attended the Neighboring Food Co-op Association's (NFCA) food co-op startup workshop on May 7 in Keene, NH. Our host was the Monadnock Food Co-op, an exciting downtown grocery store that opened three years ago and has enjoyed rapidly-growing sales ever since. Led by Bonnie Hudspeth, Member Programs Manager of the NFCA, Monadnock Food Co-op General Manager Michael Faber, and Jacqueline Hannah, a food co-op development specialist with the Food Co-op Initiative, the workshop brought together more three-dozen representatives of co-op startups all the way from Martha's Vineyard to Schenectady, NY. Over the course of a six-hour workshop, we learned a lot about starting a food co-op. Here are some of the take-aways:
1. Task #1 is to build the member-owner base: Members, members, members! The number of
member-owners is the clearest indicator of community recognition and buy-in. Our member-owner
numbers tell us how well we're getting our message out and how clear our mission is. A large number
of member-owners will also make it much easier to raise funds, either through donations, capital
campaigns, conventional bank financing, or newer methods like direct public offerings (DPO).
We noted that at least one of the co-ops at the workshop has around 1,200 member-owners – and they
haven't even broken ground yet!
  • This where you, our current member-owners come in: We need you to spread word about the co-op, to host house parties, and help bring in more member-owners!
2. The vital importance of branding: Some of us in the co-op world are reluctant to talk about
branding, which is just another word for advertising. But branding is important. In the coming weeks,
the co-op's board of directors is going to be developing and distributing: Lawn signs, bumper stickers,
buttons, posters, door hangers, and who-knows- what-else. Co-op temporary tattoos, anyone? We'll
carry our banner in parades, turn up on community access TV, on the radio… whatever it takes to
make sure that when we ask people, "Have you heard about the food co-op we're starting in
Amherst?" no one says, "Gee, I've never heard of it!"
  • We'll need your help in putting a lawn sign in front of your house, a poster in your window, a bumper sticker on your car... just don't deface public property!
3. It's time to do some serious fundraising: Our initial goal of $20,000 to fund our market feasibility
study and financial pro forma (business plan) as well as to cover the costs of our increased marketing efforts should not take too long to reach if we work together to approach donors throughout the area. We will be approaching the Town of Amherst, the Business Improvement District, the Chamber of Commerce, the colleges and the university, private citizens,
and others to ask them to make donations to the co-op. (Note that donations made through our
fiscal sponsor, the Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE, a 501c-3 non-profit) are fully tax-
  • Asking for thousands of dollars can be challenging. Some co-ops have used a "mini-mass action" technique where groups consisting of the leadership team and member-owners have shown up at town meetings and other venues en masse to drive home the point that their co-op has broad community support. Won't you join your board of directors in these actions?
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Amherst Food Co-op
A start-up worker- and consumer-owned food co-op in Amherst, MA