Consumers, farmers, producers benefit from food co-op's expansion

Local food is the Littleton Food Cooperative’s bread and butter. And its meats, cheeses, produce, dairy, craft beer, and more.

Overhead view of Littleton Food Co-opLocal food is how the co-op sets itself apart from supermarket chains. It’s how the co-op has built a membership of 6,000. It’s why the co-op prioritizes support for farmers and food producers, by providing customers, shelf and cooler space, and advice.

The co-op makes nearly $2 million in purchases annually from more than 150 local suppliers, and regularly talks with farmers about diversification, market trends, packaging … pretty much anything that might result in more sales and higher profits for the farmers.

“We want them to get a good price, and things like targeting certain times of year for certain crops helps them increase their income,” says the co-op’s general manager, Ed King.

Four years ago, the demand for local food not only was outgrowing the supply, it threatened to outgrow the co-op too. So its directors began planning a renovation and expansion.

Along with more shelf space, the plan included many energy- and cost-saving improvements, including doors on coolers, LED lighting, new refrigeration, and solar panels. It also included office space, and a café and teaching kitchen to connect the co-op’s members to the food and its producers.

Shopper inspecting produceWhen a lower-than-expected “as-built” appraisal created a collateral gap, Ed reached out to the Community Loan Fund. It was a great fit with our Farm Food Initiative, and the Grafton Regional Development Corporation and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation teamed with us to make the million-dollar loan.

Without that loan, Ed says, the co-op would have lost efficiencies that will produce short- and long-term savings. “That’s why organizations like the Community Loan Fund exist—to recognize those value and growth opportunities,” he says.

By mid-August, the work was finished and 20 of the 30 new jobs were already filled. The co-op hopes to shift more workers from part- to full-time, with benefits, and raise its starting pay to Grafton County’s living wage by June, 2018.

Best for consumers, farmers, and producers alike, the co-op now features more local food, including bread and butter, than ever before.

This story appeared in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's 2017 annual report.