Natural Foods Merchandiser

Store Tour: Green power

Seward Cooperative Grocery and Deli/Seward Community Cooperative

2823 E. Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Store size: 26,500 total square feet, 13,000 square feet of retail space

Revenue: $12 million in fiscal year 2008

Staff: 175

Top four sales categories, in order:

  • Packaged grocery
  • Produce
  • Deli/prepared foods
  • Meat and cheese (tied for fourth)

    By the early 1970s, the ’60s had finally hit Minneapolis. There was a booming counter-culture, driven by passionate community organizers, anti-war protesters and young people hungry for natural, back-to-basics food.

    In 1972, a handful of these folks came together around their common interest in politics and good eating to open Seward Co-op at the corner of 22nd Street and Franklin Avenue. Run by a core group of volunteers, the co-op’s goal was to offer the unprocessed foods, primarily in bulk, that they couldn’t find in their parents’ grocery stores.

    More than 37 years later, as the economy is busting and businesses struggle to stay afloat, Seward Cooperative Grocery isn’t just surviving; it’s booming. On Jan. 8, the co-op moved six blocks east toward the Mississippi River into a larger building that isn’t just eco-friendly; it’s eco-revolutionary.

    LEED-ing the way
    With its new $10.5 million, green-checkered building, Seward Co-op launched into the 21st century, becoming the first grocery store in Minneapolis to receive gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for its environmental practices.

    As blueprints were drafted for Seward’s new digs, LEED certification was always the goal, and community input weighed heavily on the final plans. Among the green-centric improvements were nontoxic paints, caulks and adhesives, a sloped parking lot and rain garden that saves 90 percent of water runoff, reserved parking for hybrid vehicles and bicycles, and a backup generator that enables load sharing for the neighborhood during peak periods of energy usage.

    The store’s energy-saving (and money-saving) attributes don’t stop there. The new-and-improved Seward has a white roof to minimize the urban heat-island effect—the tendency for big cities to be several degrees hotter than surrounding areas due to development and increased electricity use. The co-op incorporated skylights, a super-efficient refrigeration system and an environmentally friendly sanitation method recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration from Minneapolis-based Zap Water Technology that uses electrochemically activated water to sanitize food-contact surfaces. Overall, the new store uses about the same amount of power as the old store despite being twice the size, says General Manager Sean Doyle.

    Community table
    True to its grassroots beginnings, Seward places a strong emphasis on local foods. In 2008, Doyle says, 30 percent of the store’s food came from local farmers. In season, 98 percent of the produce comes from the local five-state region, with the majority from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Doyle says the growth of small farms in Minnesota is spurring the local trend. “The Midwest is a very viable organic community.”

    Included in the new store are a prepared foods section, a juice bar and a meat counter selling exclusively local meats and unique sausages prepared by a chef from Red Stag, a popular Minneapolis restaurant.

    Doyle credits the co-op structure with retaining customers, helping ensure the store’s continued success.

    “There’s a community that develops … many people have been shopping with the cooperative since it started,” Doyle says. “People feel a lot of passion for the purpose of the co-op.”

    Recession? What recession?
    Despite competition from roughly 12 co-ops and 15 grocery stores—including two natural foods co-ops and two large, conventional grocers within three miles—Seward Co-op has reported double-digit growth for the last 10 years, enough to warrant the board of directors to mandate the co-op’s third move in as many decades. The task was coming up with the millions of dollars necessary to complete the expansion.

    Of that sum, $1.5 million came from small loans from co-op members while the rest came from traditional loans. The store also received a New Market Tax Credit from a federal program designed to spur economic growth in poor, urban areas, which saved the co-op $2.4 million. So far, the investment seems to be paying off.

    “We have seen tremendous sales growth on our new opening,” Doyle says. “We’re tracking about 50 percent growth over last year.”

    David Accomazzo is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

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