Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods: We will develop new suppliers, produce more local food ourselves, and provide co-op owners with tools to track their purchasing patterns. We will mobilize community resources to achieve ambitious goals for local and sustainable food sales.
WSM’s Food House is the cornerstone of our strategy to sell more locally-produced food. The Food House provides co-op shoppers with a growing product line of locally-produced baked goods, deli items, and meats. The Food House produces 25% of the products that we sell and also supplies three nearby co-ops and other small businesses. The Food House is the largest artisan bakery, kitchen, and butcher shop of any co-op in the country.
Work at the Food House starts at midnight when bakers turn on the ovens and start baking the breads and pastries that arrive in our stores before opening. Food production continues throughout the day as foods are prepared, packaged, and delivered each afternoon. Having a dedicated facility means that we can have the freshest possible foods that are made with care using the best quality ingredients.
In addition to producing food, the Food House is the hub of our distribution network. It consolidates food delivered from local and regional producers and delivers it to our stores. This leverages the trucks that are already running to the stores, saves farmers time by making fewer deliveries, and enables us to receive produce in the stores in the afternoon that was picked that morning.
WSM helps develop new local suppliers
As we expand our selection of locally produced foods, we’re able to encourage new and aspiring artisans. We can provide not only a space to sell their wares but also advice on packaging, branding, and pricing. For example, our Marketing staff reviewed the original label on Ran-Lew Dairy’s milk, which showed a cow looking out of a window in the barn. The cow was cute, but when the photo was reduced to fit on the milk jug, the window wasn’t recognizable. We sent Ran-Lew Dairy feedback that resulted in a label showing Ran-Lew cows grazing on their pasture.
We helped launch two new local suppliers last year. Seal the Seasons is a company that freezes North Carolina produce for year-round sale. We helped them understand the retail market and helped with sales projections and pricing. We worked with JP’s Pastries in Raleigh to meet our need for gluten-free pastries, which cannot be made in our own flour-filled bakery. We helped with their business plan to move from farmers’ market sales to wholesale sales.
This year, our bread bakers began using flour from Carolina Ground, a mill in Asheville that sources all its grain from southern farms. The motivation for the mill originated with the extreme inflation of flour prices in 2008, not due to weather conditions or a bad harvest but because of manipulation by Wall Street. Baker Jennifer Lapidus founded the mill in 2012 after years working with the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, an initiative of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, that sought to locate local wheat growers and reconnect them with millers and bakers.
Jennifer and miller Kim Thompson mill up to 1000 pounds of local, organic grain each day. They use an Austrian-made mill, adjusting the stone grinders and monitoring the process manually. Our bakers now use Carolina Ground rye flour in the miche and deli rye breads. They are creating a new bread to showcase Carolina Ground’s whole wheat. In addition, Carolina Ground whole wheat flour is available to customers in our bulk bins.