BLOG POST

A Co-op By Any Other Name...

By: LeAnna Nieratko, General Manager | 2021-07-06

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" Just like that 16th century love stories and high school Literature classes feel relevant to the struggles of a modern day food co-op.

The conversation about our name and whether or not it is crucial to our identity, is not new to us. When I came to the Co-op in 2016, the conversation was already an old one. We seemed to have the luxury of time though, even when the mega corp that shares our name was absorbed by an even larger mega corp, we wanted to take our time and investigate every possible route, reaction and reason before we were ready to move forward with a name change. Afterall, we have been called Whole Foods since 1981.

We learned some things during the pandemic, mostly that we can make big decisions and execute them quickly. While we usually crave a well thought out plan with all the t's crossed and i's dotted, we learned that we could accept some unknowns in the larger plan as long as we were moving in the right direction. This brought us back to a thing we’ve known for a long time: We need to change our name.

One of our founding organizations was called Rainbow Foods. The name of Whole Foods didn't get adopted until MHEDS and Rainbow Foods merged. At the time, the community's need was for unprocessed whole foods, so the name was a call out to the community to indicate the co-op's purpose. Now, the name means something different. It has associations that couldn't have been predicted in 1981; the most unfortunate assumption is that we have to be a certain type of grocery store (read: expensive, organic, bougie) at a time when more and more people in our community are facing economic insecurity.

At the core of our identity is that we are a cooperative. We are a grocery store whose “owners” are over 7,000 Erieites who wanted some control over their food system. What once was a need to find whole unprocessed foods, is now a need to find local, affordable, ethically sourced foods. So many items we find in grocery stores today are from companies who fall under the umbrella of larger companies who may be under the umbrella of even larger companies, putting us farther and farther away from where decisions are made. Our community wants somewhere they can see the decision making of their food system, they also want somewhere where the income is shared and stays as much in our community as possible. Co-op's are our best modern day example of that. Our food co-op has a responsibility to try to meet this need.

So we thought about how our name can signify who we are and what we do in the longer term. We are owned by Erieites. We sell food. We are a co-op. These are truly the important things about who we are and what we do. We've decided it's time our name reflects that and will be changing our name this year to Erie Food Co-op.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer.