The Grocery Stores
To understand more about the placement of food, health, and society in my everyday life, I completed a third field report that focused on the marketing of food. In this field report, I wanted to explore the marketing of food from two similar, yet different, sources: Company Shops Market (co-op) and Food Lion. Both are stores that sell groceries including produce, meat, and beer. Even though the sell similar items, when I took a look deeper, I saw many differences.
Company Shops Market in Burlington, North Carolina may seem a bit out of place for its niche, but it does a lot for the community. What is a food cooperative? Food cooperatives are distinguished by seven key principles, which are displayed at Company Shops Market:
1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Democratic member control
3. Member economic participation
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training and information
6. Cooperation about cooperatives
7. Concern for the community
Even though the Company Shops Market is owned by more than 3,000 people, it is open to everyone. Ownership comes with certain perks and rewards but the co-op is certainly open to the public. The first thing I noticed about the co-op is its employees. They approached me, asked me if I have any questions, wondered how my day was going, and ultimately wished me a good one. They really tried to engage me in conversation, which I enjoyed.
Company Shops Market also provides a variety of allergy specific ingredients and food options, including gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, diary-free and lactose-free. It serves locally baked bread and pastries. The co-op also provides lunch with their hot bar, salad bar, and made-to-order sandwiches. You can tell immediately that the co-op and its employees are dedicated to the community and healthy living.
As I was talking to an employee there, she told me that what’s amazing about the co-op is that it provides purposeful shopping. For every dollar I spent there, 68% goes back to the community through donations, taxes, and payroll. That means I am helping support the local small farms, businesses, and producers in order for them to provide my community with all-natural, free-range, fair trade, and organic food products. Company Market Shops provides only the freshest food that is produced within 250 miles from Burlington. To further exemplify its support of the community, another employee explained that the co-op was going to open an espresso machine but didn’t because there was a coffee shop opening across the street and didn’t want to interfere with their business. The employee said it wasn’t going to be a loss for them to wait a few months to open their espresso machine because the new coffee shop would bring people into downtown Burlington, anyway.
Food Lion, on the other hand, is a massive grocery store headquartered in North Carolina that operates more than 1,100 supermarkets along the Mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic states. I tried to talk to a manager at the Burlington store, but none were available at the time. Upon research on the Food Lion website, I see that they have a social mission to give away free meals to families in need. They do this through donation, charitable foundation grants, and reusable Food Lion Feeds grocery bag sales. So far, Food Lion has served over 71,000,000 meals and supports food banks in states from Pennsylvania all the way down to Georgia and as far west as Tennessee. In North Carolina, the closest food bank to Burlington that Food Lion supports is in Winston-Salem (In Our Community). Yes, it seems like Food Lion is supporting “the community,” but the Burlington Food Lion does not seem to support the Burlington community. The Food Lion website also has very little in portraying the personality and emotion of the brand like the Company Shops Market website does.
The Beer Section
When I took a closer look at the beer section at Company Shops Market, I was quite impressed with the selection. They had two different sections; one for local beer and one for out-of-state, mass-produced beer.
Compared to Food Lion, the co-op had a much bigger selection and variety in sizes. Because Company Shops Market had the local and non-local beers obviously separated, I could really understand what I was buying. The mass-produced, non-local beers included the generic Bud Light and PBR, but I also found some breweries from my home state, Pennsylvania, like Yuengling and Victory. It’s not difficult to find Victory in regular grocery stores, but the co-op had a much bigger selection of flavors than offered at grocery stores like Food Lion.
Because my roommate is gluten intolerant, I noticed right away that the co-op had a much bigger variety of gluten free beers and ciders than Food Lion normally does. Food Lion does carry Omission, a gluten free beer, but it doesn’t nearly carry the amount of gluten free beers as Company Shops Market does.
What impressed me the most, though, was the local beer selection. They sold singles, 6-packs ($9-10), cases, growlers ($9), and pints ($5-11) of probably 40 local breweries. Company Shops Market also has specialized beers. The KCCO brewery is made from a photo and video blog app called The Chive and is hard to find. The co-op even has a “Build Your Own 6-Pack” which is a unique addition to the beer section. The beer prices were similar to Food Lion. One last interesting part that is different from Food Lion is that the co-op has a supplies section for home brews.
The Meat Section
The meat section was surprisingly small at the co-op compared to the one at Food Lion. I was impressed because every single part of the co-op meat section was clearly labeled with the specific farm from which the product originated.
It was actually very impressive how local and fresh the meats were. Asgard Farms and Reedy Fork Farms are just about 20 minutes from Company Market Shops. Reedy Fork Farms, located in Elon, NC, praises itself on organic feed. For example, it serves its chickens feed made from corn, oats, barley, wheat, flax, field peas, soy, and/or crab meal (Organic Chicken Feed). Plainville Farms practices humanness when raising turkeys. It advocates for clean barns to raise its turkeys, a pure vegetarian diet, no antibiotics, and short travel times to the processing plant (Animal Welfare). At Food Lion, none of this information is shown on the meats. Even though a product or two is labeled “organic” at Food Lion, it doesn't go into detail as to how and why it is organic, which leads to skepticism.
When I went to Food Lion, they had chicken wings on sale for 99 cents per pound while they were about $2.50 per pound at Company Shops Market. It seems like raising animals locally and humanely means higher costs at point of purchase. Both stores had a variety of meat packaging. For example, both had individually-packaged pieces of chicken, 2-3 breasts of chicken together, and whole birds.
It is obvious that Food Lion and Company Shops Market cater to two very different shoppers. Regular grocery stores like Food Lion are for people who are looking for cheaper groceries and may not have time to drive into downtown Burlington for them. Buying Food Lion brand meat will definitely be a lot cheaper than buying organic, humanely raised meat from the co-op; however, it’s not clear where that Food Lion meat came from and how long it took for it to get there.
My critical thinking question before beginning this field report explored the effects of our society’s need for variety and choice. I determined that grocery stores like Food Lion are so successful and big because they have the money and power to put 10 brands of meat on its shelves—almost all of which have no details about the production. This makes me wonder, are they trying to hide something? Do they not advertise their farming techniques because they know it’d be unpopular? The fact that grocery stores like Food Lion are able to grow is an example of Phillip’s point of a population feeding globalization. People who shop at Food Lion appreciate globalization because it allows their food to be cheap and plentiful. Food is mobilized as a commodity production and trade (2006). It is easy to forget where your food comes from if it’s the cheapest option in order to feed your family. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. Company Shops Market customers are people who take pride in where their food comes from. These are people whose mission it is to support the local community—even if it is a little more expensive to do so. How more local can you get by obtaining your family’s chicken dinner from just 10 minutes down the road or brewing beer right in your own home? Don’t get me wrong, I, too, shop at Food Lion because my grocery budget is not as big as I’d like. However, I enjoy splurging at the co-op when I can because it makes me feel closer to my community and my food. Life revolves around food which means there must be a strong relationship with it.
I’ve never been to a co-op until I came to Elon University but I think it’s an important asset to a community. It gives the community members a choice as to where their food comes from. It is also an education tool to allow its patrons to learn about different kinds of food sources. Because it’s community-owned, it puts the community responsible for spreading the word about better ways the things we ingest can be made. In addition, it takes some power away from the big companies who own 1,000+ stores and buy and sell products as cheaply as possible, even if the product isn’t produced in a humane way. Company Shops are necessary for a community to be able to trust where their food is coming from instead of eating blindly.
Animal Welfare. n.d. http://plainvillefarms.com/products/consumers/.
In Our Community. 2015. http://www.foodlion.com/InOurCommunity.
Organic Chicken Feed. 2015. http://www.northcarolinaorganicfeed.com/41/organic-chicken-feed/.