Product Selection

Promotional photography for the Olympia Food Co-OpThe following document defines product selection guidelines in effect here at the Olympia Food Co-op. Although made simple in some areas, this task is made more difficult by the various mandates which may be in conflict when evaluating a product on an individual basis. These guidelines are not intended to be the “law”, but rather to give members and staff tools to make difficult decisions regarding the product line.

Product Selection Guidelines
The Olympia Food Co-op is a member-owned natural foods grocery. Besides our ownership and management structures, we differ from other commercial groceries in our focus on natural, whole and organic foods. At the same time we differ from most traditional health food stores in that we focus on food rather than dietary supplements for the majority of our product line. Mandates under which we operate that relate to product selection include the following:

  • From the Statement of Purpose
    Providing wholesome food and other goods, accessible to all…make human effects on the earth and its inhabitants positive and renewing.
  • From the Goals
    Make good food accessible to more people…support local production…see to the long-term health of the business.
  • From the Long Range Plan
    Increase the diversity of the product line…increase the diversity of the membership…increase our support for local businesses and organizations producing items purchased by the Co-op.

Two product lines have been addressed by Member Ballot. Sale of meat products was limited to naturally or organically raised meat products with some consideration also given to quality of life issues in the raising of the animals. The Co-op’s sweetener policy was updated by member ballot in the fall of 2001.

In addition to the mandates and ballots mentioned above, the Co-op has operated under a number of unwritten assumptions. These include promotion of organic foods, offering options to highly processed, highly packaged foods, and a commitment to making good food accessible to poor people as well as upper and middle income people by trying to keep prices down. Lastly, we believe in making choices available to our members rather than trying, through our buying procedures, to control what people eat. Therefore, we prefer to err on the side of flexibility rather than rigidity.

Product selection issues are not set in stone. The body of information concerning nutrition and health grows and changes rapidly. Today’s panacea becomes tomorrow’s health hazard. Lifestyles and personal circumstances change, creating a changing demand for certain types of products. The industry changes, sometimes making old favorites temporarily or permanently unavailable and forcing less desirable options, or, in some cases, bringing new products and processes which don’t fit into previously defined categories. The guidelines we choose for product selection must, therefore, allow enough latitude and flexibility for the Co-op to adjust and yet remain ethically sound.

Specific Issues

  • Organically Grown
    Whenever possible, organically grown food products will be made available and promoted by the Co-op. Organic products will be prioritized over non-organic products when prices are comparable, and will be sold alongside non-organic when there is a significant price difference. Efforts will be made to promote organically grown products through education and through special-ling programs.
  • Environmental Impact
    The Co-op will endeavor to promote low impact living by prioritizing bulk, organic, and/or local products; limiting the number of products sold in non-recyclable or energy-intensive packaging; and encouraging recycling and use of recycled containers. In addition to these in-store issues, we will encourage manufacturers and distributors to make products available in recyclable packages. We will carry primarily biodegradable, non-dyed paper products, low and no.2 phosphate detergents, and health and body care products which are not tested on laboratory animals.
  • Food Politics/Boycotts
    Co-op members are concerned about a wide range of world-wide political issues. At the same time, large corporations have been buying into the natural foods industry at an alarming rate. Whenever possible, the Co-op will prioritize products produced and distributed by companies whose politics and procedures are in harmony with our mission statement and goals. When a company is in clear contradiction to our mission statement, we will make every effort to find alternative sources for their products. For products which are being boycotted, please see the boycott policy.
  • Packaging Consideration
    Besides environmental impact, there are two other significant packaging issues, truth in advertising and exploitive/oppressive imagery. The Co-op will not carry products which make false or misleading nutritional, environmental, or ingredient claims on the package. If a department manager or the staff feel that a particular product which falls into this category is important to carry, we will make every effort to contradict misleading information through point of purchase product information. The Co-op will also be active on the issue of truth in packaging by confronting producers who make false statements, and by educating our customers about common label misconceptions. The Co-op will not carry products whose retail packaging is deemed exploitive or oppressive. Such determination may be made by the department manager, the merchandising team, or the staff as a whole. Packaging may be considered exploitive or oppressive if the graphics, narrative or product name use or promote harmful stereotypes based on sex, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, looks, class, education, politics, religion, national origin, or species. The Co-op will actively confront producers who use such stereotypes in merchandising their products. In the event that wholesale packaging, which is not used in a display is deemed oppressive, we may continue to carry the products in question. We will notify the producer of such products that we find the packaging offensive and why.
  • Local, Collective & Co-op Businesses
    The Co-op supports other local, collective and/or cooperative businesses through the purchasing and promotion of their products when appropriate. In some instances, the Co-op may refrain from carrying certain products or product lines in order to not compete with other small local retailers.
  • Economics
    In order for good food to be made accessible to all, regardless of financial status, the Co-op will carry a selection of low priced quality foods, and endeavor to keep mark-ups and expenses low.
  • Special Dietary Needs & Desires/Cultural Considerations
    Many Co-op members have special dietary needs and restrictions. The Co-op is committed to carrying products which are low/no salt/sodium, low/no fat/cholesterol, non-dairy, wheat/gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, etc. Co-op members also come from a diversity of cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. Therefore, the Co-op will carry foods which reflect those lifestyles such as Kosher foods, Asian and Macrobiotic foods, and other appropriate culturally-specific foods. Lastly, Co-op members’ daily lives and access to money vary greatly. Therefore the Co-op will carry some healthful convenient food options, and options for low-cost, healthful foods.
  • Additives & Preservatives
    The Co-op will prioritize products free of artificial coloring, preservatives, and flavorings. When other considerations strongly indicate a product should be carried which is not free of additives, the product will be clearly labeled to allow customers to make informed choices.
  • Sweeteners
    The Co-op will not restrict sugars specifically by type, but will provide alternative sweeteners and products which contain alternative sweeteners in all merchandise categories. Alternative sweeteners include, but are not limited to, honey, barley malt, molasses, fructose, turbinado, sucanat, brown rice syrup, maple syrup & sugar, agave nectar, stevia, and other less refined sweeteners.
  • Meat & Poultry
    The Co-op will carry naturally and organically raised meat and poultry.
  • Vitamins & Supplements
    The goal of our vitamin and supplement department is to provide the membership with the products they need and want to supplement a healthy diet. We will carry additive-free vitamins and supplements including non-allergenic and sugar-free products. We are concerned about the tendency towards hucksterism in vitamin and supplement promotion, and will attempt to carry reputable lines and refrain from making unfounded or questionable health claims.
  • Process
    Product line decisions are made by a number of different individuals and groups. The first level of responsibility for product selection lies with department managers; the merchandising coordinators are responsible for overseeing all ordering and the storewide product mix. The staff collective oversees and can override decisions made by individual staff members, and makes proposals to the Board of Directors. The Board makes decisions concerning broad Co-op policy. Individual members can impact product line development and production policy through the suggestion bowl, interaction with department managers, proposals to the staff collective or the Board, and finally, through referendum and ballot measure to the general membership.

Revised by Member Ballot and approved by the Board of Directors November 2001