by Nat Frothingham
Starting in January and continuing through February, March, April and May, the Hunger Mountain Food Coop in Montpelier is reaching out to the Coop’s 8,000-plus member-owners for participation and advice as the Coop takes a careful look at its rapidly growing membership discount program.
Central to the Coop’s outreach effort is a special committee consisting of member-owners, Coop council members, employees and a consultant that will hear, gather and consider member comments.
As part of a wide sweep of the Coop membership, the special committee will take member comment on the membership discount programs through a series of small group discussions, community meetings, interviews with individual members and email messages.
As part of the outreach effort, the Coop has produced a two-page background statement to explain why the membership discount program is being reviewed.
According to the opening words of the background statement, the Coop’s overall intention is “to balance its limited resources” so that it can fulfill its many goals. These goals are healthy food at an affordable price, fair employment, fair prices to farmers and food producers and a desire to meet the needs of a diverse membership.
But it’s the specific aim of the outreach effort to take stock of the membership discount programs from now until May and June. Once that stock-taking has been completed, the special committee will share, revise and finally deliver a final report and recommendations to the Coop management team for possible implementation.
And the background statement declares, “Over the past few years, as part of the Coop’s regular financial monitoring, we have seen member discounts growing faster than other parts of our operations.”
The financial numbers bear this out. From 2009 to 2016, the dollars devoted to the Coop’s membership discount programs have more than doubled from about $100,000 in 2009 to $211,030 in 2016. And of particular note is this, the Senior Discount category that was one-third of the total member discount program in 2009 has dramatically increased to almost two-thirds or 65 percent of the total member discount dollars in 2016.
With these numbers in mind, here are some of the key questions that the Coop’s special committee wants the general membership to discuss in small groups, community meetings and online.
As a cooperative, do we prefer a benefit structure that is age-based, income based, labor-participation-based, need-based, and/or patronage-based?
Do you think we should continue our current member discounts? Should any be modified or eliminated? Should we add any?
Do the current member discount categories reflect the Coop’s mission to build a dynamic community of healthy individuals, sustainable local food systems and thriving cooperative commerce?
The Coop will be holding two small group discussions to consider the Coop’s membership discount programs on Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 10 to 11 a.m. and on Thursday, Feb. 9 from 5 to 6 p.m. Both discussions will be held at the Coop and please RSVP.
In addition, the Coop will hold a Community Discussion of the membership discount programs at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Thursday, Feb. 2 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Member-owners of the Coop are invited to participate in a 15-minute phone interview. To schedule that phone interview, please call the Coop at 223-8000. Coop members are also encouraged to share their comments in an email message to email@example.com.
Hunger Mountain Food Coop
623 Stone Cutters Way, Montpelier
As currently reported for 2016: 168 employees with gross sales of $24.4 million.
Current Membership Discount Programs
Co-op Cares: 10 percent for members qualifying for 3SquaresVT, WIC or supplementary security income
Working Member Discount: 6 percent for members in support worker, outreach volunteer, and core worker programs; core worker compensation also includes minimum wage pay
Work Optional Discount: 6 percent for disabled members unable to participate in working member program
Council Discount: 10 percent for council members and their partners
Senior Discount: 6 percent for members 65-plus years old; members must request enrollment.