Building the People’s Food System: Next Steps

A collage of images shows pasta, cheese, and oatmeal

We’re excited to announce the start of a new initiative to support fellow independent food businesses in New England and around the country.  For those who have followed us over the past several years, you know that the threat to small companies posed by massive consolidation in the food industry is something we have written and spoken about at length. Our Citizen-Consumer network has taken various actions around this issue.  Now, we are taking concrete steps to go beyond our own products and collaborate with other independent, mission-driven brands. 

Small Businesses in Jeopardy

Consolidation in the food system was already a problem, but the devastation of COVID-19 has accelerated the already-growing trend. For example, Amazon’s food sales more than tripled in the second quarter compared to the same period last year as consumers seek online alternatives to actually setting foot inside supermarkets for their weekly food needs.  The U.S. economy seems poised for an asymmetrical recovery, with different sectors recovering at different rates. Big businesses are thriving, yet many independent companies have had to shut their doors forever. These small businesses are the ones that put people first, the ones that are responsive to their community.  At Equal Exchange, we want to adhere to our fundamental values. That’s why we’re now making available for sale online a wider range of grocery staples that we hope will meet many of your needs while putting more food dollars to work. 

COVID-19 Challenges EE

In addition, COVID-19 has adversely impacted Equal Exchange’s sales.  Think about even just one sector – places of worship, which have been largely closed down for much of the past year.  The discouragement of large gatherings has challenged these institutions in many ways, of course, but one big effect is the restriction on traditional fellowship hours and weekly sales of Equal Exchange products.  Church coffee sales alone are down more than 70,000 lbs compared to this point last year.  We are hopeful that by making available even more everyday staples from independent food makers, more groups and individuals like you will see Equal Exchange as a go-to source for food, and in the process, help us build an alternative distribution system that is controlled by people, rather than big corporations. 

New Exciting Products

This new initiative has brought us into contact with many interesting independent food businesses who have resisted market pressure to sell or merge and are finding ways to keep getting great products to their customers.  We are pleased to share that some of the top-selling products of these companies are now available on our website.  While we knew the folks behind some of these businesses before, many are new to us.  As you explore the menu of new products, you will find different compelling aspects to each.  From worker ownership to fair trade sourcing to sustainable agriculture to deep community roots, each presents great products and reasons to be in solidarity with Equal Exchange. We expect to continue expanding these offerings in the months and years ahead as we all build this alternative distribution network, together. 

One final note on what you will find when you explore these new products. Consistent with the change we made with our own products last April, we are offering these products in larger quantities (cases or multipacks) in the hopes that our community network will continue to organize and order together — whether with friends, family, neighbors, or other community networks. We hope folks will share in volume which enables us to get these products to you in a way that is sustainable for us and our partnering brands.  As always, we’re eager to help you think about the most fun and simple ways to share these purchases with others.  Recruiting even just one or two other households can make for a successful way to engage in your community food system while supporting the kind of businesses we all want to see succeed.  Join us!

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