CEDAR RAPIDS – Iowa’s caucus season has ended, but the negative campaigning appears to have a residual effect.
Hy-Vee, with a dozen grocery stores and pharmacies in the Cedar Rapids area and more than 230 stores in the Midwest, recently sent out a flyer touting its HealthMarket; those aisles devoted to organic and gluten-free products in many of its stores, with the notable exception of the First Avenue Hy-Vee near downtown Cedar Rapids.
Unlike its typical flyers, however, this one offers a side-by-side comparison with a receipt from New Pioneer Food Co-op, which opened a store at 3338 Center Point Road NE, in December 2014, just blocks from the Hy-Vee at Oakland Road NE.
Related: New Pioneer opens doors to new store
With less than 10 items – a tiny fraction of the thousands of products available at New Pi – the receipt shows a savings of about $6 at Hy-Vee. What may be more cutting, however, is a note on Hy-Vee’s flyer stating “no pressure to be a member.”
New Pioneer is a member-owned cooperative, but you don’t have to be a member to shop there, and though I’ve been to the store numerous times since it opened, I’ve never been “pressured” to become a member. In fact, the only time it’s mentioned is when the cashier asks for a member number at checkout, not unlike Hy-Vee cashiers asking for a Hy-Vee fuel card.
I’m not a member of New Pi, but I understand that members receive benefits beyond the sales offered at the stores, as well as voting rights regarding the direction of the cooperative. It was those member/owners who voted to open a Cedar Rapids location to offer the same choices for local, organic and natural items as New Pi’s two stores offer in Iowa City and Coralville.
New Pioneer makes it a point to offer fair prices to local farmers and a majority of the co-op’s employees work full time, with benefits. The co-op’s mission is to stimulate the local agricultural production of natural and organic foods by providing a market for those products.
Trust is another factor, with producers thoroughly vetted to provide meat with no artificial growth hormones, for example, and seafood that is 100 percent certified sustainable. And for fans of the former Lincoln Café in Mount Vernon, Iowa, having chef Matt Steigerwald on-site to create prepared foods is a treat. New Pi also supports school gardens and more through its Soilmates program with organic garden educator, Scott Koepke.
Hy-Vee has been increasing the amount of food purchased from local farmers, and offers grants for school gardens and other programs, as well as employing in-store dietitians, who can help customers with nutrition questions. All are admirable.
That’s why I’m puzzled by the need to cut down a competitor, which has just one store in the entire metro area. Maybe, just like the politicians targeted by attack ads, it means New Pi is gaining momentum or has an appeal that other stores just can’t seem to provide. In either case, if you want to have choices of where to shop in Cedar Rapids, it’s easy to vote with your dollars.
See the Hy-Vee flyer, below, and read more about store competition in Cedar Rapids: Three-way grocery store race