The Influx of Grocery Competition Isn't Padding Local Farmers' Wallets

Printed in your Co-op's 2017 Annual Report:

Melissa Andy Family Grinnell Heritage FarmGuest post: Andrew & Melissa Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farm, Grinnell, Iowa

You might think that the local boom in grocery stores is helping local farmers by giving us more places to sell our goods, but our numbers show that is not the case.


Grinnell Heritage Farm field
Grinnell Heritage Farm is one of New Pi's largest local, organic producers.


We’ve watched as more and more grocery chains open up near New Pioneer stores, some of those competitors offering our vegetables on their shelves, but

the net result is our overall sales to grocery stores in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area have declined.

Sometimes more competition doesn’t make us all stronger.

Our sales to New Pi – one of our largest grocery accounts – have declined because New Pi’s overall number of shoppers has declined with the influx of grocery competition, and the new competitors are not picking up the slack for us. This results in us having to service more accounts at more places – which means more time spent communicating, organizing orders, and delivering them – but the addition of those accounts has not made up the difference from our lost sales to New Pioneer. The net effect is that we’re working harder for less return.

Grinnell Heritage Farm Beets

Local, organic Grinnell beets

Unfortunately, sales per vendor at farmer’s markets across the country are down as well. We’re not exactly sure what is up – maybe the big grocery shakeup that’s happening is disrupting peoples’ shopping habits all the way down the chain to whether they go or how much they spend at farmer’s markets. Some markets have become more like festivals, which tend to not have as many people doing their grocery shopping.

Not all grocery sellers are pumping money into the local food economy either, despite what their marketing would tell you. Perhaps we should start thinking of buying at a corporate grocery or online as the equivalent of going to McDonald's – an occasional treat or something you do on a road trip rather than an everyday lunch.

We enjoy working with New Pioneer because it is one of the few organizations putting its money where its mouth is.

Ask the produce managers how much of the produce in the store is local and organic and they will tell you. Ask them if they are buying from the farmers featured in the photographs hanging in the produce department (at New Pi they are, at their competitors likely not, or maybe one week a year – they just call those farm pictures décor). In other stores, we've seen our name next to produce we didn't grow.

Being a savvy, food-educated eater is working actively for social change and social justice – but it does require effort and persistence.

If you want to see a more diversified Iowa agricultural landscape, you have the opportunity to vote with your food dollar every single meal – and New Pioneer Food Co-op is a great place to cast your ballot.

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