Being a part of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA) allows smaller grocery stores like Harvest Market Natural Foods to negotiate lower prices on products, network ideas on how to improve and make more sustainable decisions. INFRA’s credo, “Strengthening our members through collaboration to forge a sustainable future” sums up their directive pretty well. We are happy to share our recent conversation with Mike Ohman, INFRA’s Regional Manager, in our ongoing series about organizations we support at Harvest Market.
Harvest Market: Please tell our readers about the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA) and how you got started.
INFRA: INFRA is a purchasing cooperative and nationwide network of independently owned natural and organic grocery stores that was established in 2005. Today we represent more than 237 members in 41 states with the primary purpose of leveraging together to act as a virtual chain for purchasing power, operational excellence, and marketing.
Harvest Market: In what ways does INFRA benefit the consumer?
INFRA: Harvest Market reaps the benefits of membership and passes it on to the consumer. For example, as a part of INFRA, members are able to keep their prices lower than if they were negotiating with industry partners on their own, this pricing is passed onto the consumer. Additionally, INFRA provides education to members so that the staff working the floor is knowledgeable and can answer consumer questions with ease and confidence. Members have a huge peer sharing network and share best practices for store events, which products to carry that are on demand, how to meet the consumer need, etc.
Harvest Market: How can you tell if a store is a member of INFRA?
INFRA: Sometimes you can tell by in-store signage like in Harvest Market, but for a complete listing of INFRA stores you can visit www.naturalfoodretailers.net. We have even heard tales of some people hitting a bunch of INFRA stores as they drive (or bike) cross country. We guarantee if you send us photos in front of an INFRA store, we’ll post them!
Harvest Market: Encouraging sustainability is a core part of INFRA’s mission. What are some ways that natural grocery stores are reducing their ecological footprint? Where do we have room to improve as an industry?
INFRA: It’s crazy how simple it can be for stores to reduce their carbon footprints…not carbon neutral but reducing little by little is still great! INFRA works with Climate Collaborative to educate our membership on how to do exactly that through reducing food waste and transportation, less deliveries to the store, and supporting organic agriculture. Don’t forget that packaging! Convenience is great but bulk is more environmentally conscious and all that packaging goes right into the landfill. Check out climate collaborative’s website and think of the ways you as a consumer can help Harvest Market reduce their footprint. Think bulk, organic, and really think twice about purchasing those individually wrapped items! Oh! And shop local! ☺
Harvest Market: Our store has been a part of INFRA for many years. From your perspective, what are some ways that Harvest Market has grown from that relationship?
INFRA: Harvest Market has been an INFRA Member since 2006 and is in many ways a “model” INFRA member. They actively take advantage of the resources available to them, network with their peers, and continuously strive to improve. Harvest Market’s drive to succeed and serve is inherent in their owners and staff – INFRA has simply aided them in achieving their goals.
Harvest Market: How does supporting an INFRA store help the local economy where it’s located?
INFRA: Supporting an INFRA store has EVERYTHING to do with supporting the local economy. Every INFRA store is owned and operated by community members and the money spent at an independent store stays there. For every $100 spent, $68 of that stays in the community…that number decreases to $43 at a similar big box chain, (that’s a 36% reduction!).
- Job creation: Local businesses are responsible for the creation of 2 out of every 3 new jobs and employ more than 52% of the nation’s employees.*
- Charitable Donations: 91% of local businesses contribute to their community whether financially or through volunteering.*
- Desirable Neighborhoods: Thriving neighborhoods with unique, independent retail stores are magnets for new families with children which brings investments to the schools, property values climb, etc.
- Local agriculture: Our stores are purchasing from their local farmers, your neighbors…they’re purchasing as much as they can locally because they trust the person they’re are doing business with, they know the product well, and the money stays here.
*Why Buy Local? An Assessment of the Economic Advantages of Shopping at Locally Owned Businesses – Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development. 9/2010
Our stores are able to respond to the needs of their communities in real time and serve their communities with genuine compassion and love.
Harvest Market: What aspect of your work is the most inspiring to you? And the most challenging?
INFRA: I come from the grocery industry and worked in an INFRA store for 10 years. I was proud to help my store serve its community. Now I get to work with an organization that serves customers in 237 communities. The most challenging part of my work is time – I want to be out visiting stores every day!
Harvest Market: If you could grant one wish for independent natural grocery stores like Harvest Market, what would it be?
INFRA: My wish for independent natural grocery stores is that they continue to be recognized as the primary and best source for natural and organic groceries and fresh foods.