Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

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Ontario Natural Food Co-op 35th Anniversary

Retailers and ONFC share many traits and values

This fall, Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC) is celebrating 35 years of bringing Ontarians and Eastern Canadians the best in natural and organic foods.

This fall, Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC) is celebrating 35 years of bringing Ontarians and Eastern Canadians the best in natural and organic foods.

ONFC is recognized industry-wide as a progressive, environmentally caring company which always strives to do the right thing when it relates to its employees, its customers and its partners. The staff and management team has set a high standard of business operation, with their values very much mirroring those of their natural retailer customers and other industry partners.

Randy Whitteker – who joined ONFC in 1988 and has been the organization’s general manager since 1992 – points out very early in an interview that the similarities between his organization and traditional natural health food stores are many. And this has not happened by accident. “ONFC’s focus is on independent natural health food stores. The ONFC board of directors is largely made up of natural retailers, and this has strongly influenced our culture and the way we do business. They set long-term standards for ONFC. Helping retailers is our mandate.”

Randy says he thinks retailers have a comfort level with ONFC because of the people who work for the Co-op. “I don’t think it’s a secret that people enjoy the ‘people side’ of our business. We know it is important when a retailer calls that we do everything we can to look after them. So, historically, our culture has been to hire strong people. Whether it’s a friendly voice on the phone or one of our drivers – they all serve as ambassadors for our entire company. We know the importance of being authentic and having substance.

“I think these are some of the things that make ONFC what it is today.”

ONFC’s commitment to natural health retailing has never been more evident than this past summer, when the organization took on a leading sponsorship role with Rising Stars, a seminar series focused on providing intense training to natural health store owners and managers. Randy called the sponsorship just one more way to help retailers.

“We’re owned by natural health food stores, and if they are stronger, ONFC becomes stronger, too.” ONFC

Membership in ONFC delivers great value to natural retailers

Kim De Lallo thinks it’s a good idea for all natural health retailers to become members of the ONFC. This comes as no surprise, since Kim is ONFC’s Member Relations & Education Manager. In a recent interview, Kim shared some of her thoughts on why retailers would benefit by joining the ONFC:

What are some of the reasons a retailer would want to be a member of ONFC?

KIM: The core reason is: ONFC is dedicated to the natural food stores channel. We’re a partner to this niche. Also, we have shared values: ONFC’s mission and vision align with the mission and vision of many of the natural food retailers.

There are many member benefits: retailers receive our member-only newsletter, which means they can get access to information not available to non-members, plus they can attend the Annual General Meeting. Also, there’s going to be a soon-to-be-launched, member-only area on the website.

Retailers also wield a great deal of influence and control at ONFC. Retailers can join our Board of Directors committees and even become a candidate for the Board of Directors. This means that members can have influence on the strategic direction of the Co-op. Being a member of a co-operative means being a co-owner of the business. Ownership means having a stake and this acknowledges the interdependence between distributor and retail.

There are educationally focused-benefits as well, for example, rebates to attend Rising Stars Seminars. ONFC also offers rebates and discounts for Living Naturally digital business solutions, and we offer member-only sales initiatives, along with financial discounts for all members on each invoice.

We are always making a constant effort to increase and improve member benefits. We’re working to make a difference for our members.

Are natural retail stores and ONFC members entitled to any “exclusives?”

KIM: Ontario Natural Food Co-op’s private label brand is exclusive to our natural foods channel. It will not be found in the mass market. It gives our retail members and customers an edge in their product offerings. We sell the private label to all our customers, not just our members.

Is it easy to become an ONFC member ?

KIM: Yes. The two categories of membership that apply to retail are Group A, which is a co-operatively structured retail store, or Group B, a typical health food retailer, which means you must derive at least 50 percent of your revenue from the sale of natural food and health products and you must conduct business with ONFC for more than one year. Then, it’s just a matter of filling in a basic application form, and paying a one-time $10 administration fee.

You can contact Kim for more information about joining ONFC at: 905-507-2021 x233 ONFC

Ontario Natural brand – part of ONFC’s commitment to sustainability

One of the more exciting ventures ONFC embarked on in recent times is the creation of Ontario Natural, its own private label brand of local, Ontario grown and produced, healthy foods. ONFC took this step as part of its commitment to contributing to a sustainable food system that supports the local Ontario economy and organic farming community – from seed to plate.

Ontario Natural food products are:

• Grown for the Ontario market

• Made locally from Ontario farms

• Reducing food miles for cleaner air

• Organically grown, nurturing

a healthy food system

• Strengthening local economies

• Sold only in Ontario

“Our private label brand celebrates healthful meals made at home by continually introducing staple meal ingredients,” says Ontario Natural brand manager Carol Hutchinson. “Each product has a unique story – literally from seed to plate – and by working alongside trusted friends, farmers and partners, we are developing locally sourced, Canada Organic certified and Ontario produced real foods. Our ongoing research of the expectations of Ontario food consumers and our ONFC independent natural food retailers, buying clubs and members adds value and supports a local and sustainable foods system.”

The Ontario Natural line includes organic canned tomatoes and tomato paste, organic dried herbs, organic tofu, a variety of organic beef products, refrigerated organic soups, organic sauerkraut, organic Kim Chi and, most recently, organic fish – caught off of Manitoulin Island. It is exclusive to stores in ONFC’s distribution network, thereby excluding big-name retailers. ONFC


CNHR News Podcast

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