Thank you all for joining us this evening. Tonight is my 7th Semi-annual Member Meeting GM update despite the fact that I think I’ve now worked at the Co-op for 20 years. I’m fairly certain I didn’t have these gray hairs when I started at least. It’s been quite a 6 months since we last met in late April.
Our annual report which I encourage you to look through has some great information about your Co-op during our fiscal year from July 2020 through June 2021. Despite a decline in sales attributable to our safety protocols and changes in shopping habits due to the pandemic, the store was profitable and increased our cash reserves thanks to federal business assistance like the Paycheck Protection Program. Receiving PPP allowed the Co-op to continue to operate safely instead of focus on sales, to support our workforce with no layoffs or cuts to hours, and allow for staff to use vacation time or stay home when not feeling well. I’ve said it before, but our Co-op’s response to the pandemic has been the epitome of People Over Profits.
While the store has still not returned to normal pre-pandemic sales levels, we are up significantly over last year’s sales and continue to close the gap on normal. In the last two months, we’ve been able to focus on bringing in new products again for the first time since the pandemic began. New local products are on our shelves now, and after attending the Natural Food Expo a few weeks ago, I expect many exciting new brands will join them soon. I’m especially excited about the continued improvements in plant-based meats, a category that has grown in sales at 3 times the rate of all natural product sales in the last year.
Since we have this opportunity together, I do want to discuss what I know about continued rockiness in the food supply chain. In talking to our distribution partners, speaking with other Co-ops around the country, and to the National Cooperative Grocers operation staff, it is clear there will continue to be a variety of issues with the food system at least through the end of the year. A metaphor I heard recently that rang true was that our national food system went through an earthquake in 2020, and now we’re continuing to feel aftershocks, which can still knock down structures damaged in the original earthquake.
A shortage of warehouse workers, COVID protocols and sickness, heavy competition for licensed CDL drivers, international shipping backlogs with raw ingredients and a shortage of aluminum and resin mean that there will be persistent and unpredictable disruptions in distribution. It could mean one company’s products are on backorder, it could mean our delivery truck doesn’t arrive one day, it could mean an entire product category is stretched thin as we saw with flour or yeast next year. I can’t predict today exactly what the issues will be and when, but I can tell you that all grocery stores will be affected, and to be prepared to shop as you did in Spring and Summer of 2020, focusing on getting food to feed you family instead of getting specific ingredients for specific recipes.
In August, I was thrilled to sign a new 3-year contract to stay at the Co-op through at least 2024. I did something somewhat unusual after signing that contract–I made a list of the various ideas I had over the last three years that I wasn’t able to execute on for one reason or another. There’s plenty to be proud of in the time that you’ve entrusted the operations of your Co-op to me, but I look at a glass half full and try to figure out how to fill it up the rest of the way.
I think the coming months and years are going to present some exciting opportunities for our Co-op, for our regional food system, and for our national partners. The National Cooperative Grocers (NCG) continues to grow in sales, scope and influence. With the Greenbelt Co-op joining NCG, and a new Co-op opening in Fredericksburg, VA, plus Common Market in Frederick opening a second location, our region has seen some new high profile food Co-ops join the market. In the last Maryland legislative session, TPSS was among the voices advocating for the passage of a bill to create the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council. That bill did pass even in a busy session and the Montgomery County Food Council now joins food councils and experts from around the state to take systems level approach to our food economy, to food recovery, food justice and to sustainability.
Washington, DC and their Food Policy Council which unlike Montgomery County is situated within the DC Government, has announced exciting new investments and opportunities in the food system. The Nourish DC program that launched last week will bring grant funding and expertise to retail businesses, food producers, urban agriculture and more with a focus on underserved parts of the food system. DC also published a recent study about the viability of a central food processing facility that could serve local food businesses in a variety of ways.
We have a unique opportunity as a relatively small store that can also be a business proof of concept for paying workers well, selling quality products and not sacrificing our values. We can continue to grow and improve how we operate this store, measuring success in both traditional business metrics and in social impact. We can then take those successes to our regional and national partnerships and multiply our impact by teaching others what we have learned. If other businesses are too afraid to take a big swing, too worried about the potential downside, we can be the Co-op that proved it worked first. I can’t tell you how excited I am for those opportunities.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge the unexpected passing of Michele Byrd. It was shocking and sudden to lose a long-time member of our Co-op family, but the community around this store really came together to help support both Michele’s family and the staff of the store. Shoppers were incredibly supportive as we closed the store the morning of the memorial service to allow staff to attend.
When I was at that service, I learned things about Michele that I never knew despite countless conversations with her over the years. Her family members and friends talked about her days managing a liquor store and later bar called La Niece’s. They told stories about DC in the 70s and 80s, seafood feasts, 14th street late at night, and more. Every story made me want to ask Michele 100 questions. Actually, since it was Michele, I would just need to ask 1 question and get 100 answers.
It’s in the spirit of that idea that we announce tonight the launch of our 40th Anniversary Remembrances Portal. We’ll be collecting remembrances from members and shoppers from the last 40 years of TPSS. The history of this store is rich and the people that helped make it the place it is today all have wonderful stories to tell. I’m very excited to begin collecting and reading these. We will be sharing select entries on the website and throughout our celebration of 40 years of TPSS over the next year.
Thank you all for your support of this store and for helping see us through difficult times so we can focus on an exciting future.