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First Alaskan Co-op Wins Startup of the Year

trophyWe are delighted to announce that Co-op Market Grocery & Deli in Fairbanks, AK is the winner of this year's Startup of the Year award. Lauded for its leadership, retail excellence, and commitment to building the local economy, Co-op Market beat out twelve other co-ops that opened storefronts since June of 2013. 

The Startup the Year award recognizes achievement by a retail grocery cooperative in organizing and opening a successful co-op grocery store. The award--and shiny grocery cart (above)--was presented to Co-op Market's General Manager, Mary Christensen, at the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference in Madison, WI in front of a crowd of 500 cooperative managers, staff, board members, and consultants.

The 6,000 square-foot store opened in March 2013 and was brought to fruition by the grassroots efforts of city residents as part of a broader downtown revitalization strategy. Today Co-op Market has 2,680 member owners, 20 employees, and its sales for 2014 are on track to reaching $2.8 million.

Co-op Market has experienced strong growth, far exceeding sales predictions, despite the many challenges of operating in Alaska. Co-op Market sits in a food desert tract where 46% of low-income residents lack access to a healthy food store within a half-mile. This new store serves a community with a high percentage of Native Alaskan households, and one where the average income is only 54% of the median. The Co-op emphasizes local products, providing a retail outlet for small farmers, ranchers, fishers, and producers in the region to sell to their own community.

As Stuart Reid, FCI Executive Director, presented this year’s award, he stated, "Fairbanks’ Co-op Market is a role model for how an organized community can work together to create a cooperative business to meet its needs. While more distant than any startup in modern history, it took advantage of the full support that we and the food co-op community have to offer, inspiring fellow Alaskan communities to do the same." There are currently three new food co-op initiatives organizing in the state.

There are currently 113 food co-op in development across the nation, and 70 have opened in the past five years, totaling over $155 million in annual sales, 1,006 new jobs, and 88,000 members. Forty more have stated their intention of opening in the next 18 months.

The past year’s store openings include:

  1. Co-op Market Grocery and Deli (Fairbanks, AK)
  2. Second Kitchen Co-op (Boulder, CO)
  3. Near East Side Co-op (Columbus, OH)
  4. Honey Creek Market (Plain, WI)
  5. Hometown Harvest (Mitchell, NE)
  6. All Things Local Co-op (Amherst, NE)
  7. Waimanalo Market Co-op (Waimanalo, HI)
  8. Doylestown Food Co-op (Doylestown, PA)
  9. Purple Porch (South Bend, IN)
  10. Local First Grocery (Manitou Springs, CO)
  11. Dubuque Food Co-op (Dubuque, IA)
  12. Orcas Food Co-op (Eastsound, WA)

The Startup of the Year award is sponsored by CDS Consulting Co-op and coordinated by Food Co-op Initiative.

Download the full press release