PHOTOS BY Hillary Ehlen
The Prairie Roots Food Co-op opened its doors in July and only six months later has already made some big changes. Seeking community member opinions, the co-op took the received feedback and implemented the ideas, releasing them together in a New Year campaign.
With General Manager Kaye Kirsch, let’s take a look at some of the changes Prairie Roots has made since January.
A few months after opening, Prairie Roots realized sales were below their projections, so they did a community survey seeking input and ideas for the store. Hundreds of people responded.
“We listened very carefully to that input from our customers and owners and realized that people loved the store, but prices were not as competitive as people hoped they would be,” Kaye Kirsch said. “We reviewed our systems and purchasing options, looked at our first months of sales data and were able to lower prices on over 600 items throughout the store, as well as introducing a line of Co-op Essentials.”
Speaking of the Co-op Essentials, Prairie Roots wanted to offer a better value for grocery basics, so they developed a new line of essential items. “These are items like milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper… all the stuff you need to stock your pantry, at a great price, every day,” Kirsch said.
“Most of these items were available before, but we brought in some new brands and many of these items are organic, and some are even local as well.” You can notice these items by the “essential” tag they display.
“You could eat lunch at the co-op every single day and never run out of new things to try,” Kirsch said. “Our hot bar has an awesome new weekly menu. Besides the hot meals, we have soups and a salad bar every day, plus sandwiches, prepped and ready salads and lots of other great options in our Grab ‘n Go cooler. We also have really awesome Kombucha on tap.”
Above the windows by the checkout area are three reasons that the co-op exists.
Healthy and local food, fairly priced to support a vibrant economy.
A community-owned grocery store that supports a sustainable food system.
Education about healthy food and lifestyle choices.
“Our grocery store is just the beginning of realizing our cooperative vision for our community and the store is a means to accomplish those ends,” Kirsch said.
New owners can sign up online or at the store and are encouraged to switch the number tiles and take a picture with “their” number. It’s a $300 investment and the co-op has a variety of payment plans starting at $25 — but you only pay it once, not every year.
“Prairie Roots is owned by almost 1,900 people in this community, so profits stay local and we set the direction of the food co-op,” Kirsch explained. “This is truly our grocery store and being an owner is a great way to show your support for a new local business, our local food system and the many farmers, ranchers and producers who supply the store.”
Owners get benefits, too. All the details are in the store or on the website.
Board of Directors
The board sets the strategic direction for Prairie Roots Food Co-op and is elected by the owners. They have fiscal responsibility for the co-op and employ the General Manager. “They are all volunteers and work incredibly hard, leading committees, attending regular meetings and supporting the co-op in so many ways,” Kirsch said. “We want to acknowledge and thank them for their work, and ensure that all our owners know who they are and that our governance system is open and transparent to all our owners.”
“We love our farmers, ranchers and producers and want the co-op to be a place where people can learn about the amazing people who grow our food, so we’ve added pictures and short profiles of some of our local producers,” Kirsch said.
The profiles are up around the store and will continue to change and be added over time.
The logo has evolved over eight years — since they first had the idea of opening a food co-op to now, with the store in the community. Originally designed by a volunteer in 2011, it was updated in 2013 to simplify it and make the name easier to read. “It was still quite busy though, and difficult to use in different formats, so as part of our rebranding effort this January, we decided to simplify it a bit further but still remain true to the colors and imagery, which reflects our agricultural heritage here in North Dakota and Minnesota and the roots that we have developed in the community,” Kirsch said. “The wheat stalk imagery is reflected in our glass wall of wheat, our specially-designed bike stands and all over the store.”
Local food mural
A primary part of the mission at Prairie Roots is to connect customers with the great local food that is available in the region, so they now feature a big map up to help people think about where food is coming from and how local food plays a role in building a “strong, healthy and resilient” community. “Our new local icon is on the wall in produce, but also on products around the store that are sourced or grown within 150 miles of the co-op,” Kirsch said.
The designer, Melanie Shelito, is not local, but she is the president of her food co-op in Illinois, which opened just a few months before Prairie Roots. Kirsch added, “She has helped us create a cohesive look and feel to all our marketing and in-store experience, and do a great job at telling the story of why food co-ops are unique in the grocery retail landscape.”
One new thing for owners in 2018 is a special 10 percent off purchases at the co-op on the first Tuesday of each month. Launched in February, it was hugely popular with the owners and is predicted to be a favorite benefit going forward.
In addition to this new benefit, owners also enjoy $5 off a $50 purchase once each month, special sales that are just for owners each month, discounts on classes and events at the co-op and 10 percent discounts when they order a case of something. Owners get to vote for their Board of Directors, and when the co-op is profitable, owners get to decide what to do with those profits, and may even receive patronage dividends, based on their utilization of the store. “Most importantly, they get the pride that goes with actually owning a local business,” Kirsch said. “One that is dedicated to strengthening our community and building our local food system.”
Want to learn more about food co-ops?
Mark your calendar for a special free screening of Food For Change: The Story of Cooperatives in America with filmmaker Steve Alves.
Tuesday, April 3 at 7 p.m.
314 Broadway N, Fargo
Prairie Roots Food Co-op
1213 Northern Pacific Ave. Ste. 100, Fargo
Monday-Saturday: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.