South Philly food co-op not just for hippies

Focus groups, feasibility and market studies — these aren’t things many people associate with food cooperatives, member-volunteer-staffed grocery stores that sell local, farm-fresh produce and often lean toward the hippie dippy.

But the South Philly Food Co-op is cooking up a new strategy. Conceived last year, the co-op is working with Wharton Consultants and Keystone Development Partnership to decide what products and services consumers want and where the store should be located for maximum traffic.

“Though co-ops are an alternative business model, at the end of the day, they’re still a business,” said President Alison Fritz, 31, who was inspired to start the co-op after being a member of Weaver’s Way in Mount Airy for two years.

“I think the character of a business is always going to be a symptom of who is leading the effort.

We’re really fortunate that on our committees, we have MBAs, accountants, lawyers, educators and people that know a lot about the food system and know a lot about co-ops. This allows us to be as focused and strategic as possible.”

Despite a lack of a physical location, the co-op is currently focusing on member recruitment through awareness and fundraising events.

“This seemed like a good fit right now with all the things happening in South Philly — new people moving in, the revitalization of the neighborhood. South Philly already has such a rich tradition of food, this seems like a natural extension,” Fritz said.

The co-op is also working on a program to offer members discounts at participating shop-local businesses.

“Since we may not have a store for some time, we want to be able to offer something,” Fritz said.

Who wants in on their co-op?

The co-op is unique in that it began with member recruitment instead of opening a physical location first.

“We’re not interested in starting anything that’s going to fail,” Fritz said. “Any business needs to start with a foundation and we want to make sure that the demand is there first.”

Residents can become member-owners for a one-time investment of $200, which allows them to run and vote for the board of directors.

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