FM interviews Oregon State University's Richard Turnbull about the challenges of operating a sustainable c-store on campus.
FM talked with Richard Turnbull, Associate Director of University Housing and Dining Services at Oregon State University, about the challenges and issues associated with operating sustainable on-campus convenience stores.
Can you describe what type of c-store operation you have?
Cascadia Market at Oregon State University is a 1600 square foot convenience grocery store. It features locally grown produce and local and organic packaged foods.
Has it always been that way?
No. It was a traditional c-store until last year. With the ongoing and increasing demand for sustainably grown foods we felt that creating a market focused on sustainability would provide both the products and services that our students expect. In many ways our decision to move in this direction has actually been ahead of student demand, but it was clear that the movement towards sustainably grown foods was going to be a long-term trend. We wanted to be out in front of it.
What sustainable/organic/all-natural products do you offer?
Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, packaged and canned fruits, vegetables, soups, and snacks. Frozen entrees, juice and gelato.
Do you offer cleaning products, personal items, and paper products?
Yes to all. We want to position Cascadia Market as a smaller version of Whole Foods. We focus on high quality products that can meet a student's requirements whether they live in an apartment or on campus and want our product line to mirror what students can get in an off-campus grocery store.
How has the demand for these items changed over the years?
We anticipated that sales would decline a bit on the first year of operation because of the higher price point and they actually did decline by 6.5%. But demand for locally grown and organic products continues to grow.
What are the margins?
Our food cost increased about 10% last year, which resulted in a lower return. We anticipated this, but we believe that if we are effective in promoting sustainable foods, then sales will follow.
How have you dealt with the challenges and prices of purchasing locally?
Most of our purchasing continues to be through wholesalers but we value the relationships we are building with local farmers and ranchers. We continue to provide students with the option of buying products from traditional sources, but find many are willing to make a conscious choice to pay a little extra for local or organic products.