MBG: I am from a food and hospitality family. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a hotel and restaurant guy and my cousin owns a large catering firm in Philadelphia. I started working for my cousin at age 14 and continued to do this until I got my undergraduate degree at Temple University. While in grad school, I took a job working for Steve Poses in Philly, quit school and devoted my life to the food biz. I have worked at, run and owned various restaurants, catering firms, butcher shops, and food stores. If you are counting at home …that’s 38 years in the food industry.
KDC: Describe your role and responsibilities.
MBG: I am the General Manager at Swarthmore Co-op. As described by our refrigeration guy the other day, “Dude, I have been here for two days and seen you do everything from cook to sit in the office and answer letters and emails. You have pushed vendors, given pep talks to associates, talked to some national co-op company (he was referring to CGN) and given the cashiers change.” When I worked for Steve Poses, my favorite job was working the line at a large restaurant. My job was to relieve every line member throughout the night. I would start at the cold station and end at the grill. It’s kind of what I do here.
KDC: What attracted you to the cooperative model?
MBG: Three things really. The investment in personnel that is paramount to how we go about doing our job every day. We respect our fellow workers, and back that up by providing benefits, a fair wage and a great place to work. Second, the cooperative model is incredible in that it encourages Co-ops to work together. I cannot tell you how I have benefited from the team approach in getting things done with other Co-ops. Third is the shared mission we have about food sustainability. It is wonderful to work for a purpose every day. Supporting small farmers and producers in a big way is simple and complex……always interesting!
KDC: What do you see as future opportunities and trends?
MBG: Small stores, focus on where your food comes from, non GMO foods, a connection between farmer and consumer. Food that is sustainable and tasty! Sound familiar?
KDC: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
MBG: Pricing is a big issue on two levels. First, we cannot get the prices that big box stores can get and this is an issue when it comes to price comparison and convincing consumers and members to do their entire shop at our store. Second, the education of our members and consumers is important when it comes to telling them why sustainable food is going to be more expensive. It is easy when you can provide a sustainable item at a competitive price, but when that price point is higher, it a tougher sell.
KDC: What is the view from your doorstep?
MBG: Things look great. Sales are strong and we have a business model that is working. We have increased sales for two years straight now and it tells me that people are happy with the Co-op model…with what we are providing on a daily basis. I believe that if we continue to treat our associates right and respect our members needs while pushing the agenda of sustainability that we will thrive.
On a macro level, we keep focusing on working with startups and broadening the Co-op brand as a regional and national team. We are forming the framework for a micro lending program for farmers and are working toward Co-op label products with an awesome vetting system. Co-op certified means a lot to us and to our members and shoppers.
By: Peggy Fogarty