Published June 21, 2018 by Food Co-op Initiative

Food Co-op Initiative announced that  Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Oak Park, IL is the recipient of their annual Startup of the Year award. Food Co‐op Initiative created the Startup of the Year Award to recognize the heroic efforts made by new co‐ops to open stores in their communities.

The Sugar Beet Co-op opened in July 2015, only to have a direct competitor open less than a month later just a mile away. Initially, the co-op fell far short of its projected sales volume and expenses were threatening to deplete their working capital. General Manager Chris Roland and the co-op’s committed board of directors reacted quickly. The co-op’s management team was restructured and new marketing efforts instituted to bring in more shoppers. A Healthy Staples program was introduced to feature everyday low prices on many popular grocery and household items.

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Sugar Beet General Manager Chris Roland, center, receives Food Co-op Initiative’s Startup of the Year award, with Stuart Reid and Jacqueline Hannah of FCI. [photo courtesy CCMA]

The co-op made personal calls to over 700 owner-members who had not been shopping and encouraged them to support their store or risk losing it. The effort paid off quickly and sales began to grow in 2016, and have not stopped increasing since. A new co-op that looked like it might fail became a rare example of a startup that showed its first profitable quarter before the end of its first year. Profitability and double-digit sales growth have continued, with Sugar Beet achieving $3.6 million in sales in its second year of operation. The co-op supports the local economy by purchasing over $1.4 million in goods from nearby farmers and producers. In 2018 the co-op was recognized as the Best Small Business in America in a competition sponsored by Rubicon.

Sugar Beet Food Co-op demonstrates how community ownership and talented leadership make cooperatives stronger, more resilient businesses. Their story is an inspiration to the estimated 140 other communities in the U.S. currently developing their own food co-ops.

Past winners of the Startup of the Year Awards:

2013 – Monadnock Food Co-op, Keene, NH

2014 – Co-op Market Grocery & Deli, Fairbanks, AK

2015 – Durham Co-op Market, Durham, NC

2016 – Renaissance Community Co-op (RCC), Greensboro, NC

2017 – East Aurora Co-op Market, East Aurora, NY