Lexington Food Justice Podcast #16

Happy 45 Years, Good Foods Co-op!

The landscape of the grocery industry has been shifting rather quickly with Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods (which is still undergoing regulatory review – but is well on its way to being finalized). Even locally we are seeing grocery stores closing (Fresh Thyme). Kroger on Euclid underwent a revitalization. And with a new IGA grocery store opening next year on Romany Road in Chevy Chase. Our community is experiencing some shifts as well. BUT throughout all of this – Good Foods Co-Op has been serving our community since 1972 (45 years).

So we’ve invited Lauren Gawthrop (Marketing Manager) and Bill Bickford (General Manager) to the studio to talk about the Co-op’s history, vision, and help us understand how the Co-op model differs from other grocery businesses. AND to get perspective on how the Co-op will continue to serve our community through all of these changes.

It was a terrific show. Hope you enjoy it too 👇🏽 

Listen to our Podcast!


Here's a Recap

About our guests

Some nuggets about Lauren & Bill's background:

  • Bill started in the Co-op business as a college student at the University of Texas in Austin. And worked his way to the position of Store Manager. Bill & his wife wanted a change of scenery when he found the General Manager position here at Good Foods.
  • Lauren started in TV broadcast news for 10 years. As a college student and the early years with her starting salary as a reporter, she subsisted on mostly processed and ultra-processed foods that were convenient and easily affordable. But an interest in improved health lead Lauren to apply her investigative research skills to learn more about food production and making healthier foods choices. Lauren started shopping at the Co-op, and eventually applied for the Marketing Manager position. 

45 Year History

  • The Co-Op concept: Good Foods part of long tradition of the consumer cooperative movement which began in Rochdale, England in 1844. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneer Society sought to stop inequitable business practices by placing ownership of businesses in the hands of the patrons. It is truly a case of “the customer is the company.”

  • As Bill discussed, the Co-op business is essentially an economic justice model. Where Co-ops build wealth into communities by reinvesting their revenues locally.

  • History of Good Foods Co-op: Organized as a buying club in November of 1972. Members met in each others’ homes to prepare orders and to divide up bulk shipments. Foods included organic and other unadulterated, minimally processed whole foods.

  • Co-op outgrew people’s living rooms! In 1973 it moved downtown to the 3rd floor of YWCA on North Mill Street. This was the first of 6 moves for Co-op, including a service garage on Ashland Avenue that evolved into a small retail operation during the five years there.

  • In 1999, the Co-op moved to its current location at 455 Southland Drive. A full service deli and a community room were added to better serve the membership.

  • In 2002, Members voted to become a true cooperative and sold its first share on January 2, 2003. Good Foods Café opened in 2002  and quickly became a bustling community gathering spot.

  • Good Foods introduced a new logo and operating name (Good Foods Market & Café) in 2003. Then opened a satellite café at the Downtown Central Library.

  • Today, the Co-op boasts 8,000 members!

LocalLY GROWN and PRODUCED

At Good Foods local means LOCAL! While other stores make claims of local foods, Good Foods has direct relationships with local producers who practice sustainable production where the focus is on delivering high-quality food that is consistent with the Co-op's Mission and Values.

Good Foods offers products from 150 local suppliers and individuals -- more than any other grocery store in the area. This is particularly true for the perimeter products where there is more opportunity for a direct local impact.

50% of what is spent at Good Foods stays in the local economy -- through wages, ownership patronage, local producers, etc. And these funds become part of the multiplier effect that boost our local economy.

And for products that aren't local, department managers are committed to offering products from companies known for sustainability, transparency, and traceability in their production practices and operations. So even if you don't have time to research these brands, you can trust that the Good Foods staff has done their research on the brands offered.

Membership & Ownership

You don't need to be a member to shop at the Co-op. And except for a few items designated as "Owner Deals", non-members won't pay more for their purchases. The Co-op offers many more deals and sales for everyone, regardless of membership.

One of my favorite specials is "Fill it Fresh" where you can choose from a variety of produce (selections vary each week) to fill up a designated "Fill it Fresh" bag -- all for just $10!

Bill also mentioned a "Co-op Basics" program that offers specials on staple foods to help stock your pantry more affordably.

But the primary benefit of being an owner is to participate in the democratic process of the business.

You can purchase an owner share for $200, which can be paid in full or via a very generous pay-over-time (without additional charges) process. And once you make your first payment, you have access to all the benefits of an owner.

CLICK HERE to learn more → Become a Good Foods Owner

Community Events & Programs

Good Foods is committed our community events that feature local suppliers, health & wellness classes, and support local non-profits.

CLICK HERE to learn more → Good Foods Community Support

DOuble Dollars

Good Foods is the only full-service grocery store besides Lexington Market East End to offer the Kentucky Double Dollars Program:

Participants of SNAP who purchase eligible items with an EBT SNAP card can get a voucher to spend on Kentucky-grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and plant starts. The vouchers are available at the cash register. And can be used that same day or within 90 days (according to the Program website, although Bill mentioned 30 days during the Show). There is a limit one voucher per customer per day.

CLICK HERE to learn more → Kentucky Double Dollars at Good Foods

The Future of Good Foods

This is a very challenging time for the grocery business. Particularly as other grocery retailers have "co-opted" the natural and organic market model. But Good Foods Co-op still commands the local producer market 😍

By 2020, industry observers are predicting 20% growth in the online grocery business. While Good Foods doesn't have the resources to compete with the online business, Bill and the Co-op Board are considering other practices and operations to compete.

Though Bill & Lauren couldn't share specifics. They have promised to return to the show once plans are unveiled! We will hold them to this, as we're excited to hear of these plans 😉

For now however, Lauren did discuss how they have increased the selections of their "grab 'n go" section. To offer more convenience foods that are freshly prepared by the kitchen staff with the same local ingredients offered for purchase. YUM!!!

Learn More

Stay in touch with Good Foods -- for sales and other community events -- especially with the holidays upon us. You can stock up on local foods for the table AND local gifts for giving to friends and loved ones!

Up Next (november 10th)

Many THANKS again to Lauren Gawthrop, Marketing Manager (and producer for today's show!), and Bill Bickford, General Manager. And best wishes to Good Foods Co-op for another 45 years!

Please tune in to our next show on November 24th, 10 - 11 am, 93.9 FM WLXU Lexington Community Radio.

Ben & I will be travelling to Danville to record our show at Grace Cafe -- a "pay what you can" community restaurant committed to serving fresh, locally sourced, organic and seasonal food whenever possible to serve nutritiously delicious food for EVERYONE, regardless of ability to pay. This will be a very special show! Hope you will join us.