As an individual born after 1985, the power of the internet is certainly not lost on me; Instagram, Yelp, Twitter and a myriad of other distractions have become my personal tastemakers. As a manager in a natural foods grocery store, I’ve seen my personal procrastinations begin to have a wider impact on customers in my store, and my friends’, family and colleagues purchasing habits. No longer is Facebook just a place to see the pictures from last weekend’s totally awesome party, but also a platform to build community, educate, and hold a dialogue that steers the food trends, that as a member of the food industry, I’m trying to stay two steps ahead of.
This weekend, one such dialogue addressed the use of Sysco as a vendor in Twin Cities’ food co-ops. At Mississippi Market, we are committed to sourcing ingredients that help us to achieve our mission :
“Mississippi Market creates positive change in the community by influencing the production distribution and enjoyment of food.”
Our product policy, created to support this mission, dictates a preference for vendors that supply organic, local, sustainably produced ingredients that are free of genetically modified ingredients, and fair in price. This last piece, so often forgotten in the discussion on what qualifies as a “clean” product, is taken especially seriously in the deli. In our communities the delis are a food access point for new shoppers. The smells of chili, whole roasted chickens, or fresh brewed coffee, can help to introduce new shoppers to the cooperative business model and a more healthful and sustainable diet. In my opinion, they are also some of the most enjoyable types of food in our store! To be able to offer things at a fair price is crucial to the continued success of co-ops.
To that end, we purchase our ingredients from a variety of vendors. Because of delivery schedules, limited food storage space, and our high production volume we are not able to support as many small local famers as I would like, but we do our best to source from local distributors whenever possible. Below you will see the breakdown of our deli purchases, by vendor, from our current fiscal year.
As you can see we do use US Foods as one of our vendors. They are able to provide us with commercial sizing on products that are simply not available, at a reasonable price, from our other vendors. It was disappointing to hear that they were bought out by Sysco earlier this year, and even more disappointing when Sysco purchased European Imports this past summer. Our tangential relationship with Sysco means that their subsidiaries are able to continue to offer ingredients that fall within our product policy at a low cost that can be passed on to our customers.
More illustrative of our commitment to sourcing products of integrity is the breakdown of our ingredients by category: organic, local & organic, local & conventional, and conventional. Below is a graph of a recent week of deliveries. As you can see, even in the winter, more than two thirds of our incoming product was local or organic. Of the conventional items we received that week the many were clean products that were delivered from UNFI or Alberts Organics; Applegate sliced meats, Earth balance margarine and shortening, brown rice syrup, etc. The only conventional fresh produce we buy with any regularity are bell and hot peppers, and avocados.
Every day we are committed to sharing healthy and sustainable foods to our community at a reasonable price. To do that, and remain competitive with conventional stores that are steadily encroaching on our traditional customer base, we must work with a variety of vendors and continue to source the best values to be passed on to our customers, without compromising our product policy and mission.
Written by Anne O’Gara, the deli operations manager at our Selby store. You’ll find her overseeing the Selby deli team, including the commissary cooking for the West 7th store, as they create wholesome and delicious food day in and day out.