Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We're Going Co-op!

by Dan and Addie

We have big news to share:  Real Pickles is becoming a worker cooperative!

Along with Real Pickles staff, we have been laying the groundwork for a co-op transition for a number of months now, and earlier this summer – during the UN's International Year of Cooperatives – we officially decided to make the switch!  Everyone here is excited about the plan to convert Real Pickles to a worker co-op, and we will be working to make it happen over the next few months.  While the two of us will no longer be the sole owners of the business, we will continue to be part of Real Pickles as worker-owners and managers.  We think a worker co-op structure will be an outstanding way to help ensure that Real Pickles will succeed far into the future – producing delicious and healthy food for people and making a lasting contribution to building a new and better food system! 

Why co-op?

We have worked hard over the last decade to build up our business: creating and scaling up our recipes, developing markets for our products, and educating folks about fermented pickles.  We have figured out how to manage the challenges posed by our commitment to sourcing locally – purchasing and processing our year's supply of vegetables all within the short span of the New England growing season.  And three years ago, when we had completely outgrown the community kitchen we were using, we made the big leap to our own organic food facility.

Now, after eleven years in business, it is quite gratifying to be able to say that Real Pickles has achieved a certain level of success as an organic food business.  We are not making big bucks, but things are financially solid.  We have a fantastic staff of twelve.  We operate out of a 100% solar-powered, energy-efficient facility.  We are supplying over 300 stores around the Northeast with delicious, nourishing food.  And, we are supporting local farms with annual purchases nearing 200,000 pounds of certified organic vegetables.  Yes!

Where does one go from here?  These days, the typical path for a business like ours involves continued rapid growth followed by selling out to a large industrial food corporation.  Entrepreneurs who have gone this route will offer a variety of rationalizations for why such a move can be socially beneficial.  As we see it, leaving it to big corporations to run the world leads to very bad social outcomes.  As far as Real Pickles goes, our deeply socially-responsible approach to doing business doesn't fit with big corporations' drive for monetary profit.  We are committed to keeping Real Pickles a small business working to truly change the food system, and so we clearly must choose a different direction.

We have decided, then, to try to help re-write the standard storyline for a successful organic food business.  We are interested in creating a new structure for the business which will support both its continued financial success and success in contributing to a better world.  And, while neither of us have any plans to leave Real Pickles anytime soon, we want this structure to help ensure that Real Pickles can be viable in the long run by eventually coming to be able to thrive without dependence on its founders.

As we see it, a worker cooperative is the most promising structure for Real Pickles.  As a worker co-op, Real Pickles' social mission and guiding principles will be inscribed in its articles of organization and bylaws, and be made difficult to change.  The business will stay rooted in the community.  Its owners will continue to be local residents who are directly involved in the day-to-day operations, and they will be highly unlikely to re-locate the business out of the area.  A worker co-op structure will also give members of our staff the opportunity to share in the decision-making and profits.  We expect this opportunity will serve as an important contributor to Real Pickles' future success as it incentivizes our excellent staff to remain at Real Pickles on a long-term basis. 

How will it work?

Five of us here at Real Pickles have made the commitment to sign on as founding worker-owners of the cooperative: Brendan Flannelly-King, Annie Winkler, Kristin Howard, and us (Dan & Addie).  Our hope is that additional staff members will join us following the transition.  According to our plan, staff will become eligible for worker-ownership following a year of employment at Real Pickles.  Once approved by the existing membership, a staff member will purchase one share of common stock in the cooperative, entitling him or her to a single vote in co-op affairs and to a share of the profits through annual patronage dividends.

As a cooperative, Real Pickles will be governed by the worker-owners via a board of directors.  On a day-to-day level, our current management structure will remain in place.  The business will continue to be managed in as participatory and inclusive a manner as possible, an approach which has been greatly successful in contributing to a satisfying and productive Real Pickles workplace.   

This fall, we will be working through the remaining steps necessary to making our co-op transition happen.  A key task will be to raise additional funds so that the worker-owners can purchase the business.  As plans develop we will keep you updated, so stay tuned!  It's an exciting time here at Real Pickles.  We are hopeful that at the end of this process – and the beginning of a new chapter – Real Pickles will be in an excellent position to be producing delicious and healthy food for people, providing meaningful and satisfying work for its staff, and making positive social change in the food system for many decades to come!



We are excited to announce the latest step in our plan to go co-op: An opportunity to invest in Real Pickles!  Offered to MA & VT residents, this is an excellent way to support our transition to a cooperative structure as well as our continuing work in helping to build a vibrant, regional, organic food system.  Read more:  www.realpickles.com/invest