Affordable Options – How the Co-op Works To Maintain A Diverse Supply of Fairly-Priced Goods

By Bob Gibson

Due to our small footprint, and our focus on healthy, organic, and locally-sourced foods, TPSS Co-op may never be known as the lowest cost food store in the D.C. area. But Co-op staff work hard to find and provide products throughout the store that are affordable for all shoppers – especially those on a budget – without sacrificing the store’s commitment to quality and environmental sustainability.

Part One: Wellness and Refrigerated

Jane Batt, the manager of the Co-op’s popular Wellness Department, says that “with our customer base focusing on basics more than ever during this difficult time, we search for the products that meet the need for affordability while maintaining our standards for high quality.”

CBD oils that help with sleeplessness and salves for joint pain are very popular items in the Wellness section. While the Co-op offers a good selection of the best brands available, some of the most well-known brands are fairly expensive. TPSS was able to find an affordable CBD line that meets our standards for quality – the Essence and Well-being brands produced by Aromaland. These products are featured in displays by the checkout counters.

The Co-op offers a number of very good wellness product lines that reflect our commitment to fair trade and high quality. Jane cites as a great example the line of products from Alaffia. “The company offers extraordinary service, adheres to fair trade practices, and sells at reasonable prices,” says Jane. The core ingredients are sourced from the West African country of Togo, including the shea butter produced by a women’s shea nut cooperative.  Alaffia uses its proceeds to support prenatal care programs, tree planting, and bike donations in Togo. The Co-op also collects donations of eyeglasses that Alaffia sends to Togo. Two years ago, the Co-op was able to send 200 pairs of glasses. This year, we have collected more than 80 pairs so far.

The Wellness section features a number of quality vitamins and supplements at a lower cost under our in-house “Co-op” brand. TPSS joined other U.S. food co-ops to contract with a company named Reliance to supply products under this proprietary brand. These products are formulated to meet the higher European standards for quality in natural supplements but cost less than similar ‘name’ brands.

A locally sourced and moderately-priced product found in Wellness is Jannah-By-Jay’s Body Butters. Jane notes that this brand comes in a variety of wonderful scents and is affordably priced, at $6.99 for 4 oz.

The Co-op’s refrigerated goods section was hit hard by the pandemic. With goods that range from cold drinks to prepared ready-to-eat foods, to dairy and eggs, the department relies on frequent deliveries from both local and national suppliers, and a quick turnover of fresh goods with limited shelf life. During the brief shutdown and then during the weeks when TPSS operated as an online-only business, the offerings of refrigerated goods were severely reduced.

By late summer, the quantity and variety of selections in Refrigerated had bounced back.  But Ron Walker, manager of the Refrigerated Department, says that things are not quite back to “normal.” Many old favorites have returned, but Ron spends more time than ever searching for suppliers to replace those lost to the economic and health safety upheavals of the pandemic.

Every section of the fridge features a range of pricing in similar products. In the juices and cold drinks, brands like Natalie’s and HealthAde Kombucha are among the lower-priced, popular choices.

In the dairy section, Ron was able to add milk from Harrisburg Dairies, a regional dairy made up of 35 family farms. Harrisburg milk – which is certified free of the growth hormone rBST – sells at the competitive price of $5.29 per gallon and $2.99 per half-gallon.  Ron was also able to diversify the options for butter during the pandemic. A notable new supplier of affordable butter and cheese is Tillamook, an Oregon-based cooperative dairy.

In the small but very diverse egg section, one can find humanely-sourced eggs from more than a dozen suppliers at a range of prices. There are duck eggs as well, though the Co-op no longer sells quail eggs, which proved too expensive for most Co-op shoppers. As with other sections, some long-time favorites are currently unavailable, such as Jehovah-Jireh eggs, a popular, if slightly pricier line of eggs from a very small family farm in Frederick County. Among newer brands, the Co-op now sells Pete and Gerry’s, a nationally marketed organic egg producer that began with one farm in New Hampshire. One of the lowest priced eggs in the store, at $3.89 a dozen, are supplied by the Frederick County-based South Mountain Creamery.

Bob Gibson is a member of the TPSS Board of Representatives.  Part Two of Affordable Options at TPSS Co-op is coming soon and will cover the Grocery and Produce Departments.