French Broad Food Co+Op

GM Report Annual Meeting June 4th, 2018

GM Report Annual Meeting June 4th, 2018

By Bobby Sullivan

What’s been going on with the co-op?  In the retail world, we have been experiencing what’s being called the “retail apocalypse,” and that’s after we already experienced what the Asheville Citizen Times called “Asheville’s grocery invasion.”  This is why Earth Fare closed a bunch of stores recently.  The competition is getting fierce and the industry is changing dramatically with online sales.

An important aspect of our changing retail playing field to consider is what Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) called “nothing short of a revolution,” and in their words “the stakes have never been higher for retailers.”  Chains all over the country are shuttering stores – from Toys ‘R’ Us, to Sears.

In the grocery world, as we found out the last three years, long-term trends are largely going in our direction.  Unfortunately, the other stores have much bigger marketing budgets and are just better at their messaging.  More and more they are positioning themselves to appear to do what we actually do.  PwC points to insights to consider moving forward and these have driven our business planning for the last couple of years.  And, as you’ll see, it does sound like many of these trends are going our way.

  1. We may live in the age of values, but price is still king.
  2. There is the need for an increasingly focused, curated and engaging brick and mortar store experience, even though online purchases are increasing.
  3. Retail talent (finally) matters – associates with product knowledge.
  4. Today’s consumers look to community.
  5. Social media is the “great influencer.”
  6. There is room for retailers to grab the “leading innovator” mantle.

So, the good news is, it’s stores like us that are likely to survive – smaller formats, and a distinctive customer experience.  Through the staff we provide more information about food than your average retailer, and we offer an authentic approach to sourcing the food people want from environmentally sensitive foodways.  We plan to leverage ourselves as “the experts” and we’re also venturing into offering more international food options, as you may have noticed with our new Asian and Indian food sets.  We’re going direct to other suppliers for these items.

It’s an intentional deviation from our normal sourcing mechanism, because our main supplier is being controlled by the corporate giants that are now their bigger buyers.  In addition, supply and demand are increasingly at odds.  For instance, for a significant period we couldn’t get bulk nutritional yeast from our main supplier because the producer couldn’t keep up.  That meant we had to get smaller quantities for higher prices.  Also, when Safeway starting ordering from them, this supplier eliminated key items for us, so they could carry what Safeway wanted.  Items we sold consistently were suddenly no longer available.

We will need to continue to be innovative when it comes to sourcing and this unfortunately takes more time and labor, which effects our bottom line – but it is fun, and in the long term it will ensure our survival.  And frankly, it’s what we’re here to do.  Plus, we get to work with great companies like Riojana and Equal Exchange, who are here today.  By working directly with co-ops like these, we can make sure our customers are getting high quality products, instead of the bait and switch that is going on at the other stores.

With all this change in the air, on a sour note what’s not changing is the increasing wage gap in America.  According to the US Census Bureau, our country is now “the most income-polarized developed economy in the world.”  Expectations are that this will continue under this president, although according to retail consultants, there are opportunities here.  “This polarization,” their reporting says, “will continue to drive success stories at both ends of the economic spectrum – increasingly catering to a wider income range.”

Appealing to a wider swath of our community is enshrined in our Ends Policies, and we would do well to follow suit – hence our Double Up Food Bucks Program.  We were the first store in NC to implement it.  In this program, we get grant money to give vouchers for free produce to EBT customers when they purchase local produce items – a win/win/win for local farmers, low income residents and our co-op.  The grant money is part of the farm bill, so hopefully they can get that passed in Washington.

Also in this vein, work is being done on the national level by the National Co+op Grocers and they are working diligently to provide more services to individual co-ops, to help us economize on labor while offering more refined services.  I serve on their board of directors to ensure their focus is where we need it.  Increased training, betting pricing and newer technologies, all on the national level, will help us fulfill our goals in a profound way.  Already the Co+op Basics program with the purple tags in our store, has given us a leg up in competing with other stores’ private labels.  This way we’re able to offer premium products at an everyday low price.  This program will continue to expand and branch out into more categories of products.

Leading up to our expansion, we are acutely focused on maximizing our sales per square foot in the current space.  We’ve been largely successful at doing this, although we stalled a bit last year.  Sales were down -1.2%.  We also lost a little money due to higher occupancy costs and pricing pressures.  It’s getting harder to sustain a living wage for our staff with lower profit margins, but we’re doing it.  The first quarter of this year showed a daunting -2.4% drop in sales from the same period last year.

Luckily the difficulties in 2017 made us come up with plans for addressing this challenge and because we’ve done so well in April and May of this year, we now stand at around 1% growth YTD after that tough first quarter.  April was up 4% and May was up 5%.  What’s been amazing to watch has been the dramatic results of our produce reset, which we did at the end of April.  In the first quarter, produce was down -9%.  Produce is a category you can’t lose because when it starts dying, it’s a harbinger of overall store sales.  I’ve always been told that if you can get produce up to 15% of your overall store sales, you’re guaranteed to have a rocking store.  Because, if people are coming in for the fresh stuff, they’re definitely going to buy from your other categories.

So…. Results of the produce reset?  Produce was up 11.5% in May and did 14.3% of overall store sales.  In the first quarter it was only doing 11.6% of store sales, and we’ve got more to do.  Soon we will completely transform the produce refrigerated case to get a more vertical set and next will be a massive grocery reset.  HBC is holding their own.  They were the only ones with positive sales growth in the first quarter, and we will depend on them to continue curating the right products for success.

Deli is unfortunately in transition with multiple leadership changes and we appreciate your patience there.  This department is a huge opportunity for us to capture sales from all the people walking around downtown.  After all, Asheville is a “food-topia” and we have the advantage of being able to offer quality ingredients in products that cost much less than the restaurants downtown.  With the right focus, we can significantly grow this department, although our space is limited.

We are also focused on growing our business merchant program, since this has been the mechanism offsetting our losses at the store level.  Currently we sell to around 50 local businesses and because of our buying power with the National Co+op Grocers, we are able to offer them a better price than if they were ordering on their own.  This has increased our individual buying power too, and that’s in turn lowered our costs a few percentage points.  We have awards today for the top purchasers in this program:  Rosetta’s, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Smiling Hara and No Evil Foods.  TJ and the grocery crew deserve a lot of credit for building this program into generating almost $10k a week in sales, while simultaneously benefitting other local businesses.

Activity in the areas around the store continues to increase in the form of population density and more dominantly – tourist traffic.  This could become a significantly limiting factor for selling groceries, as locals are less and less likely to make the trek downtown, even if they live close by.  Biltmore Avenue continues to get clogged up by 6pm during tourist season, which is only getting longer.  We depend on a basket average of at least $20 and tourists are more prone to purchase small amounts.  This means we work the same or more for less sales per transaction.  The good news is that apartment buildings are going in all around us and this bodes well for our future, as we continue to deal with the limitations of our small store.

The bottom line is there has never been a more important time for you – our owners – to rally around the co-op, singing our praises and spreading the word about why it’s important to shop here.  Please use your social media prowess to promote the co-op on a regular basis.  And this is the point of our break out session today.  After all, you are the heart of the Co-op, and we want to hear about what the co-op means to you.  So, here are the questions that you will be able to comment on at the tables you see:

  • What makes you feel valued as a customer of the co-op?
  • What do you think is the most important thing about the co-op?
  • What do you wish we were doing differently?
  • What products or experiences are you going to other stores for?
  • What do you think would attract more customers/owners?

As a cooperative, we are a true example of the “power of the people,” the embodiment of food activism.  But, because many stores have come to mimic what we do, many people have forgotten we are not only here to provide employees that will serve you.  We are also here so you can provide a service.  In other words, your involvement, your diligence, your passion, your power is what we are all about.  Let us be a vehicle for you to express that.  Let us be the vessel that houses your imagination and your potential.  We are here so you can lead, and we all know our community needs that.  As fast as Asheville is growing, imagine the co-op as the civic body that molds a future we can be proud of.

In our lifetimes, there has never been a more urgent time for true economic democracy.  Politics have failed us.  Bullying has tempered us, or worse, goaded us into thinking that’s the way to get things done, or that if we simply complain the loudest we will get what we want.  Shopping here is good, but raising the profile of the co-op will ensure that this community-owned economic engine, which drives the local economy in so many profound ways, will forge a path to be the “transformative force” that our global ends policy compels us to be.

Thanks again for being here.  We’re proud to do this important work.


November 2017, Development Project Update from the FBFC Board of Directors

Development is a complicated process. While we went into the project with an ambitious outlook, ensuring the continued viability of the French Broad Food Coop has been the primary focus of the Board of Directors. Our ambitions for the project remain and we now have a better understanding of the real-world constraints that will shape the end result.

Turning the membership’s collective vision for a new store into a reality is more art than it is science and it requires careful coordination. As a Board of Directors, we are committed to creating an innovative strategy that allows us to weave our vision into an economically feasible project.

As a Board of Directors, we’ve pursued conversations with a number of partners and we’ve explored conceptual designs. The process has been informative and we’ve walked away better educated and more discerning. Our goal is to respect our history and the work that has been invested into FBFC over the past 40+ years while setting the stage for a future that secures our place within the local community and upholding the principles of a cooperative economy.

Without a doubt, we’d all love to be filling our carts in our newly expanded store. Part of the education that has come along with moving this project to fruition has been learning not to sell ourselves short and reaching for partnerships that understand the power and value of FBFC. We’re not going to enter any relationship that doesn’t put the membership in the driver seat.

Bottom-line, the development project remains at the forefront of our priorities. Our time has been spent gathering information that will inform the final design and understanding the partnerships and dynamics that will lead us to success. Our goal is to find partners that are interested in building our coop rather than a grocery store. We continue to explore conversations that will bring the right mix of funding and future tenants.

Our intention, as we continue working to bring the membership an expansion plan that unites our vision with reality, is to preserve, with careful planning and due diligence, the legacy that FBFC has built over the past four decades. We value support of the membership with this endeavor.

Aerial footage of the site:

Email to Owners Feb. 1, 2016 with link to RFPQ:

Greetings French Broad Food Co-op Owners!

In the spirit of cooperation, we want you to be the first to know that we are extending the deadline for responses to our Request for Proposals (RFP) to June 1st at the request of interested parties. We invite you to take a look! This amazing document contains information about possible and desired features and the details of our expansion and invites partners, proposals for redevelopment of our mixed-use property in the 60 – 100 block of Biltmore Avenue, and our future master developer to join in and make our expansion momentous.

We know it is possible that among our owners we have individuals qualified to help us create this vision. Or if you know of values-aligned professionals that you could see providing knowledge, service, or expertise to the expansion, get them in touch with us. Please refer contacts or reach out directly to our project manager, Sage Turner, to view the RFP, learn more about the project, and to explore the possibility of how you could be more involved.

Now is a crucial time for our co-op community to be closer than ever. We want to keep you up-to-date on new developments in our expansion process, hear your voices, and let you know about possibilities for involvement as we grow, so it’s very important that you keep your owner share current and provide us with your best contact details, such as new addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. You can reply to this message with contact detail updates and questions!

We know many community members are eager to stay involved, so we are happy to announce that there are two upcoming opportunities for owner engagement. On Saturday, February 13th (in the Movement and Learning Center, upstairs from the store), we will host our 3rd Annual “We Love Our Owners” meet and greet in conjunction with the next meeting of the Owners Council. The Owners Council is committee that supports our Development Committee, and is a forum for exchange of expansion-related information among owners, board of directors, and management. The Owners Council will take place from 1 – 2 PM, followed by our casual meet and greet. 2 – 3 PM, with chocolate, wine, and treats to show our appreciation for co-op family!

And, stay tuned for an announcement of a large, public, community forum to discuss ideas for the expansion to take place sometime in March. We will let you know more as soon as the details are settled.

Most importantly, we want to take a moment to thank you, all of you, for your ongoing and increasing support in recent years. This historic change to our store and expansion of our community would not be possible without devoted owners, shoppers, staff members, farmers, food producers, and teachers who all make the French Broad Food Co-op vibrant and successful! Thank you so much for your commitment to cooperative economics, environmentally sustainable food systems, and a healthy lifestyle! We are truly stronger together.


The Board of Directors of the French Broad Food Co-op

Click here to view the RFP

Mountain Xpress
Click image to read full article

Food Co-Op looking at housing, offices

, jboyle@citizen-times.com9:33 a.m. EDT October 30, 2015


French Broad Food Co-op announces major expansion plans for downtown Asheville


Asheville’s French Broad Co-Op expands, stays rooted

, mlunsford@citizen-times.com8:21 a.m. EDT September 10, 2014

Expansion Update 09-01-15

With an expansion we are talking about a development that could encompass a plot that is over two acres, right here in downtown Asheville – from the corner of Hilliard all the way up to City Bakery.  This property faces both Biltmore Ave and Market Street behind us.  So far we’ve hired a local firm called Civil Design Concepts to do a feasibility study which will give us multiple scenarios to consider, including not developing the whole thing, but just expanding our current store.  Regardless, parking is a huge concern and would need to be addressed even for our current size.

Civil Design Concepts will also give us a determination of our return on investment and the best-use of the land in this area, while utilizing local resources for cost efficiency.  We hoped to be able to share their results at our annual owners meeting in June this year, but their timeline was pushed back because of a recent move of their offices from Swannanoa River Road to Patton Avenue, here in downtown.  That said, once we get the results, we will schedule another community input meeting like the one we just had on the Spring Equinox this year.

Leading up to hiring them for help in determining engineering potential, we spent a lot of lot of money getting two market studies done in 2009 & 2013 to help us understand the financial potential of our location, based on demographics and current grocery offerings in our market area.  This type of study focuses on our specific industry and is a very important step in vetting any location and/or store size.

Here are the details we have thus far:  the proposed store would likely be a little over 4-times our current size, which would still be considered “small” by industry standards – which in my mind means manageable.  The bigger picture could, if we so chose, incorporate a mixed-use facility including offices, other retail storefronts, a green space, community space, increased parking and affordable housing, among other possibilities.  A very real concern for some, is that this scenario would also likely need to include a space for various income-level housing structures, so we are looking at options.

The bottom line is that for a big project like this to succeed, which includes affordable housing and the rest of the “bigger picture,” which we received from input at the March meeting, we would likely need to subsidize it with a higher end housing model.  The good news is that if we went in this direction, the site is so big, it’s possible to do multiple ventures without degrading the integrity of the grass roots nature of our co-op and we could come out of it debt-free.  Regardless, whichever path we choose, we will make sure to see whether or not the market can bear what we propose to bring to fruition.

It’s most important to point out at this time that nothing is decided yet, as ALL we are currently engaged in is researching the suggestions made at the last community input meeting and seeing how we can make it all happen.

We are happy to answer any questions and concerns you may have, and we will be transparent throughout the entire process. We ask you to be open minded to various creative scenarios and as a reminder, we will have another community input meeting when we know more.  Don’t forget that our board of directors represents you.  Any concerns or questions you may have after this meeting can be sent to their email address at any time.  It is  That goes directly to them and staff does not have access to it.  You can also reach our general manager at our info email address:

Video of the Public Expansion Meeting held on March 21st, 2015

Lindsay Majer Speaks at the Co-op on Food Insecurity in Asheville

Lindsay Majer Speaks at the Co-op on Food Insecurity in Asheville

by Daav Wheeler

We were broke, the kids were hungry, and the only place nearby to find food was a corner store. We were at Lindsey Majer’s presentation on “Nourishing Community: Food (In)Security”, doing the Food Insecurity Exercise, which gave us a glimpse of a situation that families are experiencing right now in the Asheville-Buncombe area.

Our problem was how to feed our family for a week with the $117 left over from our other monthly expenses. “Maybe if we had canned baked beans and white rice for dinner…” Then Lindsay brought us the news that the children needed $60 for new shoes. That was it. We gave up. We just weren’t going to make ends meet that month…

But in real life, when you have two kids depending on you, you can’t give up. You have to keep going. “And 15.5% of the families in Buncombe County are currently facing food insecurity,” said Lindsey to her audience. “Think of the stress that causes in our community.”

Lindsay is the social enterprise and food program manager for the training and community development organization Green Opportunities (GO). She was at the French Broad Food Co-op (FBFC), speaking not just about nutritional deprivation in our area, but also about food relief efforts and the innovative solutions her organization and others are creating to build sustainable systems for food access in low-income neighborhoods.

Poverty is usually a causal factor of food deprivation, but only one of many, because the causes are complex. The Asheville metro area currently has a low unemployment rate of 4.1%, but there are many people who are underpaid, even though they may be working a full-time job or several part-time jobs. Likewise, inadequate transportation can make it hard to get to a supermarket to buy fresh food items, or a family can find themselves living in a “food desert”, where no supermarket wants to locate. For a financially-challenged family, everything is harder.

There is help. In the Asheville-Buncombe area, there is an outpouring of concern for the hungry, mostly in providing immediate food relief. But some groups have been working at developing sustainable food production and distribution systems that give communities more control over their own nutrition.

For six years GO has been performing a valuable service to the community by offering life skills and job training for poor and at-risk individuals. Now the organization is taking the next step to include food production and business start-ups, all the while making sure that the benefits of these efforts are cycling back into the neighborhood. They offer Kitchen Ready, a food service training program that is moving into food sales, and have plans for gardens and greenhouses.

The FBFC is a supporter of GO and a collaborator in the work of the organization. The Co-op, in the person of Bobby Sullivan, our general manager, is aiding the development of an innovatively designed neighborhood food center in the Southside Community, which presently has no local grocery outlet.

Later this month, GO’s Kitchen Ready program will begin supplying the FBFC with breakfast items for the hot food bar, and the Co-op will soon stock additional Kitchen Ready products in the deli Nathaniel Crosby, Robert Morgan, and Anna Marie Smith, are FBFC employees who came to the Co-op from GO.

These interactions between FBFC and GO are proving to be beneficial to both groups. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain and expand this supportive relationship.

We send many thanks to Lindsay for speaking to the FBFC about the important topic of food insecurity in our community. Watch for more speaking events at the Co-op about efforts in our town to build sustainable food systems and how we as FBFC members can participate. Providing nutritious food is our priority. Let’s work to see that all the community is well-fed!


Would you like to help the FBFC develop a “Nourishing Communities” program? Let’s talk it over as we dig in community gardens, deliver food to the sick and stranded, gather food stories, serve in free kitchens, or other Food Service activities. Call Clare Schwartz, FBFC outreach coordinator, at (828) 255-7650 or Daav Wheeler at (828) 989-6805. Our power is our people. Let’s go to work for our community.


Doing business as Southside Cafe, Kitchen Ready serves lunch from 12:00-1:30, Monday through Friday at the Arthur R. Edington Center, 133 Livingston St. in Asheville.  Meals are provided on a donation basis and are open to the public. If you need a meal, you can find a meal there; or you can go to support the work of Green Opportunities. Either way, enjoy your lunch and donate as generously as you can.