Shop Local with Boise Co-op
by Bavani Purushothaman, photography by Jim Petertson
A successful store is one that learns about its community and tailors its products and services to fit the needs and tastes of its customers. What struck me when I first shopped at the Boise Co-op in 2007 was its attention to detail in the choice of products that lined its aisles and shelves. Having just moved from Singapore to Boise, it was comforting to find familiar labels and foods to appease that initial homesickness. The local products also served as an initiation into Boise, my new home.
The Boise Co-op is a pioneer in the Treasure Valley when it comes to fresh, homegrown and organic food. The Co-op was founded in 1973 by individuals who were mindful of healthy choices and who were keen to combine nutritious, delicious and affordable under one roof. The Co-op is a member-owned market and its membership has grown steadily over the years, with its membership standing at 24,000 currently. 2015 was a special year for the Co-op. It welcomed the addition of its second location, a 25,000 square foot haven at the Village at Meridian. The new store proudly boasts a cozy classroom in which a variety of food related classes are offered.
Sitting down on a rainy afternoon with Mo Valko, the Boise Co-op’s Marketing Manager, she shed some light on the Co-op’s intent and modus operandi . Valko, who moved from New Mexico to Boise a year ago, has worked in food Co-ops for almost 7 years. Her interest was sparked ten years ago when she started shopping at Co-ops and farmers markets for her own grocery needs. She started educating herself on how food is grown and began exploring locally owned businesses. When asked what makes the Co-op stand out in the Treasure Valley, Valko shares, “we have a full service deli and bakery. Everything is made from scratch. We use all organic produce, all organic greens for everything that we make in the kitchen. We have very talented people on staff. A variety of fresh sausages are made in the store every day of the week. We focus on the freshness and quality of the food.”
80% of the products the Co-op carries at both locations are similar. The remaining 20% are selected based on what the regular patrons are looking for. The Co-op uses a streamlined process to choose what sits on its shelves. Each department has a purchasing coordinator who makes this decision. Deciding factors include what ingredients go into the product, the vendor’s standards and the quality of the product. Food samples that are submitted are shared with testers who are staff members. They provide feedback on the samples before the final decision is made.
The Co-op’s ongoing passion to research and understand the community’s needs and tastes is what sets it apart from its competition. Its genuine desire to encourage people to go organic and shop local was the motivation behind the program called Co-op Basics which was initiated in November last year. People find the switch to organic and natural foods intimidating because they are more expensive than conventional food products. Valko says, “this program helps people who want to make that change. They understand the health benefits but it can be a little daunting. Hundreds of natural and organic items such as pantry staples are placed on sale every day. It is a great introduction for people into organic and natural eating.”
Unfazed by the possibility of competition from national organic grocery chain stores, Valko says, “in general, competition is a good thing in any industry. One of the things it does is it makes you perform as good as you can to be the best store, employer and organization.” This is what the Boise Co-op represents, the true spirit of community and excellence in Idaho.
For more information about the products, services and classes that the Boise Co-op offers, visit its website: boise.coop