Newark Natural Foods Co-op draws loyal customers (video)

    (Andrea Gibbs/WHYY)

    (Andrea Gibbs/WHYY)

    The Newark Natural Foods Co-op in the Newark Shopping Center on Main Street might be considered a trailblazer among today’s grocery stores.

    The Co-op, founded in 1967, was first a buyer’s club, a group that pools its buying power.

    It all started with the simple idea to get farm fresh foods, grown locally, on local families’ tables. “They got together and somebody would go to farm “A” and bring back corn. Somebody else would go to farm “B” and bring back fresh eggs and milk. They’d get together and they’d split these items amongst themselves. Well once people heard about it, they wanted to join. So this group decided to incorporate as a food cooperative,” said Anita Moss, marketing manger for the co-op.

    Today, the co-op caters to health conscience consumers, which fits with today’s supermarket trends. Middletown shopper Patrice Buller likes that she can buy organic and unprocessed foods. “It’s pretty much a one-stop shop for us. We get our organic produce, which is all right there, versus trying to fiddle through and figure out what’s organic and what’s not,” Buller said. “Deodorants, all our natural products, toothpaste, soaps, so it’s really easy to just come and take the trip and it’s worth it.”

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    As a co-op, shoppers have the option to be part owners by becoming a member, which Moss pointed out is beneficial. “Other than the fact that this is actually a democracy and you own a piece of the co-op, you get automatic daily discounts. So the prices on the shelves, you don’t pay full price. Every quarter you get a larger discount. You can get case discounts.”

    Members also have a say in the direction and management of the co-op. “We’re not a corporation as in we have one owner or a couple owners. We are guided by a board of stewards, which are voted in by our members. We have an annual meeting every year. We invite our members to attend and we have a great meal and we talk about the successes of the co-op and our financial liability and future,” Moss said.

    Members can get as involved in the co-op as they like. Calyce Magee took advantage of the membership by becoming a volunteer. “I learned about other opportunities where I could volunteer and help out and so I was on the Newark Natural Foods relocation committee, and that allowed me to be on the committee that made decisions about this move and this building,” Magee said.

    The new location, inside a 10,000 sq. ft. facility with an adjacent café, has allowed new customers to discover them. “For the first time in our history, we are what we call visible,” Moss said. “We were on a little side street when we first started, and then we moved into a shopping center 500 feet from here and we were in the back of the shopping center, so you couldn’t see us from Main Street. This worked out be the perfect spot for us in the [Newark] Shopping Center.

    One misconception is that you have to be a member to shop at the co-op. Ethan Knettler, who now works at the co-op, said he’d shopped there so often and was impressed with the customer service that he kept shopping there as a non-member. “I never got the feeling that you had to be a member here to shop here. Everyone was so welcoming and so friendly that no matter if you’re a member, non-member, been shopping there for 20 years, [or] this was your first time; everyone made you feel welcomed and part of a family.

    Newark Natural Foods Co-op is open 7 days a week and features foods specially prepared for specific dietary needs by Rawan Al-Haddad of The Spicy Chef.

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