Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Website and Blog

We have launched a new website! Please check it out: www.peoplescommunitymarket.com

With this new website we're also launching a new blog that is contained within the website: www.peoplescommunitymarket.com/blog/.

We will no longer be posting on Blogger so please subscribe to our new blog.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Detroit Grocer Exemplifies Serving Community - Part 2

When MetroFoodland first opened 26 years ago the independent grocery store didn't have a particular focus on offering healthier foods options or providing supports and education for improving customer health. But over time MetroFoodland has gradually evolved its business priorities toward supporting its customers' health and is demonstrating key innovations in how grocers can have a positive impact. 

It all started when a customer asked Mr. Hooks if his store had any natural juices. At the time MetroFoodland didn't carry any natural beverages - just things like soda and beverages with artificial ingredients and sweeteners. But, as a grocer that responds to his customer's request, Mr. Hooks began to carry natural juice. To his surprise the juices sold far better than he had ever anticipated. This told him that his customers were beginning to want to healthier food options. So Mr. hooks began to add more natural beverage products. Gradually his customers began to ask the store to carry other healthy food items. This got Mr. Hooks thinking that he could do more to not only support his customers health, but to strengthen his customer base and his store's sales.

And so began a journey of change for MetroFoodland that, in 2010, culminated in a complete resetting of the store's shelves in which, after working with a team of dieticians for a year, about 1/3 of its products were eliminated and replaced with healthier items. Then Mr. Hooks began looking for ways that he could support his customers to buy even more of the healthier foods he now carried. He partnered with local celebrity Chef Shannon Wilson to offer cooking classes and demonstrations, stores tours and healthy recipes. And he posted a variety of resources on MetroFoodland's website including a healthy food shopping list.

Then Mr. Hooks implemented what's likely MetroFoodland's greatest innovation in supporting customer health: the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club. While most supermarkets have a rewards card program nowadays, the key difference in MetroFoodland's rewards card is that it's geared toward encouraging and rewarding healthy eating behavior. All of the healthy food products in the store feature a special tag which indicates that customers will receive points for purchasing those particular products. Customers receive one point for each penny they spend on qualifying items. Once a customer has earned 10,000 points (which is $100 in spending) they receive a $10 credit on their next purchase. This credit can be redeemed for discounts on the purchase of additional healthy food items.

What's most significant about the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club is that, to our knowledge, it's the first rewards card program in the country to be targeted toward encouraging healthier behavior. Since other reward card programs are geared at encouraging the same shopping behavior that a customer already has - which includes purchasing unhealthy products - MetroFoodland's program is a major departure from the dominant industry trend. In addition to encouraging customers to purchase healthier food items the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club helps make it more affordable to buy those healthier foods buy providing exclusive discounts on such products.

While the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club has only been an active program for a few months Mr. Hooks believes it will have a significant on both customer's food choices and on his store's bottom line. He believes this, in part, because he has already observed that having a stronger health focus provides his store with a unique source of differentiation from other area grocers. And that makes all the difference for an independent grocer striving to deeply serve its communities while staying competitive against larger chain stores.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Detroit Grocer Exemplifies Serving Community - Part 1

James Hooks is not well-known in the food retail industry. For the last 26 years Mr. Hooks has owned and operated a relatively small (24,500 square feet) grocery store on the outskirts of Detroit called MetroFoodland. Despite his modest position in the immense grocery business of today, Mr. Hooks is one of its most pioneering members and exemplifies many of the qualities that we, at People's Community Market, believe define a true community grocer.

Metro Foodland is the only African-American owned and operated full-service supermarket in all of Detroit. Mr. Hooks bought the store in 1984 when Kroger Supermarket, where he had worked as a store manager, decided to pull out of lower-income markets in the Detroit area (to this day Detroit doesn't have a single supermarket operated by a national chain). But, thanks to Mr. Hooks' vision and commitment, residents of Detroit are fortunate to have a locally-owned and independent supermarket that caters to their needs and cares deeply for their well being and satisfaction.

Metro Foodland's presence in inner Detroit doesn't just mean that residents have access to a reliable supermarket. It also means that many residents have a job. Mr. Hooks' store plays an important role in capturing the local food dollars that would otherwise go to stores in the suburbs outside of Detroit. Metro Foodland currently has 60 employees, half of whom work full-time and all of whom live in the local area. And Mr. Hooks' has been such a great employer and treated his employees with such respect that over half of them have worked at the store for over 10 years. This by itself is an outstanding accomplishment given that most supermarket employees leave after a couple of years. Given that employee turnover costs most supermarkets an average of $190k a year, Mr. Hooks has increased his store's financial performance just by treating his employees well.

Mr. Hooks and his team also go out of their way to find food products that their predominantly African American customers want and can't easily find. When Metroland first opened there were almost no mainstream wholesalers that carried ethnic food products, especially for African Americans. So Mr. Hooks began to search for suppliers in the region who he could partner with to grow, produce and distribute the kinds of ethnic food products that his customers wanted. The result is that numerous suppliers opened up around the Detroit metropolitan area specializing in various ethnic food products. While Metro Foodland does source from mainstream wholesalers, they also source a lot of products from smaller ethnic suppliers, which has helped to support more jobs in the region.

There's another very important area where Metro Foodland has been taking some big steps ..... supporting customers' health. In fact, it's in the arena of health, where many people in the food industry are trying to develop new strategies, where Mr. Hooks and his team may be contributing the most significant innovation. And it's these innovations at Metro Foodland that People's Community Market is most inspired by because they're similar to some of our own ideas. Stay tuned for our next blog post about what Metro Foodland is doing to improve health in its community.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating Business & Change Through Community Insight - Part 2

People's Community Market is being designed on a belief that personal behavior change is best addressed through bottom-up approaches in which the people most affected by an issue provide the primary insights and ideas for its solution. One of our company's core values is to seek out and embrace the perspectives, knowledge and ideas of West Oakland residents to craft our offerings in ways that are more aligned with residents' own values and aspirations. We call this an "asset-based" approach to serving our customers as it recognizes that residents offer vital assets - such as insight, creativity and extensive social networks - for building our company and pursuing our goals. By taking an asset-based approach to serving our community, People's Community Market will establish a reciprocal relationship with our customers in which we each have something to offer to the other. This shifts the dynamic from helping a community to being in partnership with a community to help itself.

People's Community Market is being created out of the work of its nonprofit sister organization, People's Grocery. With nearly ten years of experience in West Oakland building relationships, listening to residents and experimenting with a variety of approaches, People's Grocery has gained first-hand and personal insight into what motivates West Oakland residents. More importantly, People's Grocery has built an asset-based process for obtaining input and leadership from West Oakland residents. 

A great example is People's Grocery's "Community Health and Nutrition Demonstrators", or Community HANDs. Through this program West Oakland residents are trained to deliver health and nutrition education to other residents. The participants, as representatives of the community, contribute their own ideas and craft their own approaches for engaging other people in their community. Because these approaches taken by the Community HANDs were designed by the people that the approaches are intended for, they are turning out to be pretty effective and are generating some great ideas for how to motivate residents toward healthier diets and lifestyles.

People's Community Market is building on the foundation and success of People's Grocery to create a retail food store that authentically listens to and works with customers to craft its product offering and support services. Drawing off of People's Grocery's large social network, People's Community Market is taking a number of initial steps during its planning and design phase to draw input and leadership from West Oakland residents. A number of surveys in the community have already been conducted in the planning phase, which have had tremendous impact on the overall business concept. A Community Advisory Council is being formed in which residents will play a direct role in planning People's Community Market and conducting outreach to the community prior to and after our opening. We're also planning to hold a series of focus groups in the Summer that will take place around, appropriately, a fantastic meal created by our deli manager, Rene Cage.

We also have many plans for community engagement and leadership when People's Community Market is open and operating, such as hiring at least 60% of our managers and workers from the community, maintaining an active and influential Community Advisory Council, implementing mechanisms for capturing customer feedback and other types of customer-generated information, holding ongoing events centered in dialogue with residents, and creating pathways for community ownership of the business over time.

We will write another blog post with more detail about some of our ideas and plans for engaging community input and leadership once the store is open and operating - we're particularly excited about the partnerships with community organizations that we're developing and the ways that residents will be able to have a direct stake in the business. For now the point is clear - the only way to really change eating behavior in a community like West Oakland is to engage with, listen to and work with residents. This perspective and value is already firmly baked into People's Community Market's DNA even before we have opened our doors. It will only become a more central value as we open and begin to do serve and engage our customers and our community.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creating Business & Change Through Community Insight - Part 1

You hear it all of the time. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Consume less processed foods. Smaller portions are better. Half the plate should be vegetables. Don't snack between meals. Use whole ingredients. Try simple recipes. Cook at home twice as much as you eat out. Etc, etc, etc.....

Despite the abundance of information and advice on eating healthier that is available today, the government agencies that monitor health in the United States (such as the CDC, DHHS, and USDA) are all saying the same thing: eating behaviors are not really improving and obesity is very much on the rise. Given that little eating behavior change seems to be taking hold amongst most Americans, one has to wonder just what it is that the experts are getting wrong.

One answer may be that it's the experts themselves that are partly the problem. A majority of information in the media about improving diet and lifestyle comes from experts in the field of public health such as academics, public officials, physicians and dietitians. While these professionals are highly educated and do have a scientific understanding of the kind of dietary changes that are needed to improve health, they rarely have direct and personal insight into how to actually get people to make the changes.

To gain insight into what really works in motivating someone to do something one must be a part of that particular life experience in order to understand its perspectives, values and challenges. Experts aren't usually able to live inside of the many diverse and complex life experiences and perspectives that exist in the United States today. So they can't possibly have a complete understanding of what each person feels, experiences, and cares about. And it is often these things - the very personal aspects of an individual's world - that matter most when it comes to motivating change.

Too often public health experts and industry leaders tend to assume that average people don't have useful knowledge to offer in shaping a solution and, therefore, the experts don't build upon the knowledge that already exists among a given group of people. This is especially the case in relation to lower income citizens and people of diverse cultural backgrounds. At the core of this assumption is a belief that people are not capable of solving their own problems and, therefore, need the help of experts to solve their problems for them. A common result is that the experts end up coming up with approaches that are disconnected from the day-to-day experiences of the people they're hoping to reach and don't reflect the key elements that could inspire individuals to take action or adopt a change.

It's certainly true that People's Community Market is being created partly out of a desire to support healthy eating behaviors amongst West Oakland residents. Responding to the problem of diet-related chronic disease is a central impetus for creating our store. But instead of telling people what to do, we plan to listen to them. Instead of prescribing food choices based on what experts say, we plan to promote and hold up what residents say themselves. Instead of looking to science and industry for how to make dietary change, we plan to look to community and culture for guidance and ideas. Instead of using rules for eating healthier, we plan to use relationships centered on personal perspectives.

Next week we'll post a second blog on this topic in which we'll go into more detail on some of the ways that People's Community Market will work with its community in promoting healthier eating. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Imagining the People's Community Market Experience

Imagine having an experience at a grocery store that goes something like this...

When you reach the check out counter a clerk tells you that you can sign up for a rewards card and earn points every time you shop, take a class, attend an event, bring in a new customer, contribute an idea or progress toward a health related goal. You can use the points you earn to get a discount on a grocery bill, a ticket to an event, a monthly bus pass or a special gift like new cookware. In order to sign up for the rewards card you have to participate in a 15-minute consultation with a Nutritionist. To thank you for spending the time in the consultation you'll be given extra points right away.

During the consultation the Nutritionist measures you height, weight, blood pressure, etc. The Nutritionist asks you questions about your health, as well as that of your family. Using this information, the Nutritionist gives you some recommendations to improve or maintain your health, like reducing your sodium or sugar intake or eating more daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. The nutritionist also works with you to set up a couple of health related goals that you want to work toward over the next year. After finishing the consultation you receive your new rewards card and are credited points for your shopping and for the consultation. A couple of days later you receive a summary of the results of your consultation including the recommendations that were made and the goals that you set up.

The next time you come into the store you swipe your rewards card at the check out counter and a couple of cool things happen. First, you get some extra points for having more fruits and vegetables in your basket then you had on your previous shopping trip. Second, your receipt has a number of coupons, recipes and tips printed on the back that match perfectly with your personal goals. The receipt also features a graph that shows you the kinds of products you’ve been buying and the changes that have taken place in the way you shop.

As you are leaving you see a flier for a jazz concert for the next evening in the outdoor portion of the store called the "Front Porch". You decide to come to the concert with your partner to have dinner and enjoy the music. When you arrive for the concert, an employee swipes your rewards card and you receive points just for coming to the show.

On another day when you come into the store you decide that you want to try a new kind of product. But when you get to that section of the store you see that there are five different brands for that product and you’re not really sure which one is best for you given the recommendations that the Nutritionist made. So you ask an employee which product they think would be best for you to get. The employee runs your rewards card through a device that immediately shows your personal profile with your health recommendations and goals. The employee tells you, based on the information in your profile, which particular brand of the product would be best for you. You’re thrilled to be able to get such thorough help with your decision. You also know that you’ll earn more points for trying this new product that matches your health goals.

Now fast forward about a year. You have taken a number of cooking classes and health workshops, all for which you have received more points.  You have cashed in on your points as well, using some of your points for a discount on a big grocery bill and some to get a new cast iron pot for free. Your receipts have been giving you updates on your progress toward your goals so you have a general sense of how you’ve been progressing. Then you receive a Personal Annual Report in the mail that summarizes your entire year of shopping, taking classes, coming to events, earning points and, most importantly, progressing against your goals. The report shows what kinds of products you tended to buy one year ago, what kinds of products you tend to buy now and what the changes have been. For example, packaged snack foods used to account for 25% of your basket, but now only account for 16% of your basket. And the amount of fruits and vegetables you buy almost doubled over the same period of time! To celebrate these accomplishments the report includes tickets to an upcoming family-style dinner and concert event. The report also tells you about a goal where you could still make some progress and includes a few coupons and recipes to support you trying new products related to that goal. Finally, the report reminds you that it’s time for your annual 15-minute consultation to update your information and to set new goals for the next year. 

Imagine having this kind of an experience in your food shopping. Where your health aspirations are supported by a team of knowledgeable and helpful people at your community grocery store. Where you are not only supported for working toward your health goals, but are actually rewarded in ways that save you real money and provide you with real things and experiences. Where you have access to information that helps you make decisions and to easily understand the progress you’re making in achieving greater health and wellness. And where your social interests and your community are connected to the ways that you’re improving your health and enjoying your life. These are just a few examples of the ideas that People’s Community Market is imagining for its customers and the ways that People’s Community Market can be “More Than a Grocery”. Please keep imagining with us. Soon it will be a reality.