Maryland Co-op Struggles to Get Your Attention

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By Drew Rauso

Located in the basement of Stamp Student Union, the Maryland Food Collective offers students a variety of organic, local and vegan options. While health and wellness are important to many students at this university, this health-first food shop and restaurant is currently facing a major problem: Not enough people know about it.

Location is always imperative to a business’s success. A seafood restaurant located on the beach will turn a better profit than one in a landlocked state, just because of the natural inclination for seafood near the coast.

In addition to its less-than-ideal location, the Co-op has suffered in recent years from a lack of advertising, said Jude Hanlein, a junior accounting and finance major who has worked for the Co-op for more than a year.

“We essentially never advertised and relied completely on word of mouth,” Hanlein said. “A committee was formed at the beginning of this semester to address this issue, and we have already seen an improvement, especially through Facebook.”

The Co-op has also implemented a graduate student discount on Fridays, which has turned what used to be a somewhat slow day into another good business day.

While Hanlein refused to call business slow, he acknowledged that business could definitely be better.

“Our revenues for the last fiscal year were around $600,000 — which is only a little bit worse than they were the year before,” he said.

But because the majority of the shop’s inventory is fair-trade and organic, and every paid worker earns $10 an hour, expenses are higher than typical food stores, according to Hanlein.

“We actually ended up losing $1,000 last year,” Hanlein said. “This, combined with losses and liabilities carried forward from years back — such as an unpaid rent liability to Stamp — has put us in a difficult financial position.”

The Co-op seeks to maintain its mission of being a fair-trade organization for students, by students. Employees act as their own bosses, setting their own schedules and can work as little or as often as they want. Working there is “invaluable,” Hanlein said.

But with such healthy food and passionate employees, why is business slower than McDonald’s and Saladworks?

“I think you have to consider the mindset of many students,” said Noah Gilman, a senior history major. “Many kids are completely fine with grabbing a quick meal from McDonald’s or Panda in Stamp, and heading back to class. Why go to the Co-op when you pass Saladworks, which is seen as a very healthy eatery?”

The issue is one that concerns many people, not just the Co-op employees. With many students concerned about their health, one might think a health-conscious option such as the Co-op would be popular, but it does not see the lunch traffic that these other options in Stamp do.

One possible reason is simply unawareness, Hanlein said. Not enough people know about a place that, up until very recently, advertised only through word of mouth.

Now, the Co-op is working on new strategies to market itself as a healthy option for campus dining, Hanlein said. But, he added, it’s important to note that not every vegan and vegetarian option available at the Co-op is going to be a perfectly healthy choice.

“While we specialize in vegan and vegetarian options and our ingredients are of the highest quality, the customer needs to understand that a vegan cupcake is still a cupcake, which is obviously not the healthiest option,” he said.

But some students, such as junior Grant Gebhardt, said they can look past that minor detail.

Neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, Gebhardt, an engineering major, enjoys the organic ingredients for the taste, saying that he can taste the difference between fresh local produce compared to Saladworks or Chick-fil-A.

“I’ve been buying food from the Co-op since freshman year — I love it and what they stand for,” said Gebhardt. “I love the ingredients, and I love the final product even more. People don’t know what they’re missing.”

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