Outstanding Independent Awards Menomonie Market Food Co-op Menomonie, Wis. Number of Stores: 1 A community-owned grocery store founded as a food-buying club in 1973 by a small group of local residents and today boasting 3,000 owners in the Chippewa Valley, Menomonie Market Food Co-op maintained its commitment to sourcing from local producers and to helping its community amid the COVID-19 crisis. The co-op found ways to protect the rural area it serves, among them keeping employees and customers safe by installing plexiglass shields at checkstands, promoting social distancing, implementing a store sanitizing program and mandating masks. Its biggest innova-
tion, however, was launching an e-commerce platform to offer customers curbside pickup. Menomonie Market’s website allows customers to shop for local products, helping keep sales of those items at pre-COVID levels so that the retailer could maintain its purchases from, and investment in, area farms at a time when local producers were losing revenue from the closure of other businesses. Although the e-commerce launch was
originally planned for 2023, a team of five staff members managed to get it up and running in just a few months. Eager to add money to the local economy, the co-op secured a Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant for processing equipment to increase their purchases of local food. Menomonie bought unsold produce from farmers’ markets and seconds from local farms, which were then turned into house-made foods by its
deli. The program enables farmers to earn money for products they wouldn’t otherwise be able to sell, and helps create jobs at the co-op. Additionally, the retailer’s annual Fund Our Foodshed grant program awarded $4,500 to fund projects at three small farms in the area. Further, when Just Local Food Cooperative, in Eau Claire, Wis., lost its entire administrative staff just before the pandemic, Menomonie Market staff stepped up to help by providing interim general management and administrative services. The two co-ops are currently looking at ways to continue their collaboration. All of these activities added up to Menomonie Market’s busiest and most productive year ever — achieved while helping their tiny town to survive and thrive despite a global emergency.