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Retailer Council Annual Report

The Organic Trade Association’s Retailer Council gives the Organic Trade Association (OTA) retail members an organized and ongoing forum for discussing organic-specific retail issues, challenges, and opportunities. Established in 2019, the Council seeks to work together to grow the organic industry and to utilize the Organic Trade Association member community for networking problem solving.


RETAILER COUNCIL HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2020

The wide-scale and rapid impact of COVID-19 had a direct impact on retailers around the world, with severe impact made on workforce health and supply chains. Given this impact, members strategically prioritized their work while also balancing the demands COVID-19 had on their businesses and communities.

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Modernizing Retailer Best Practice Materials

As its first major objective, in 2020, the Retailer Council took on the task of modernizing the Good Organic Retail Practices (GORP) guide. This tool is an important guide to help retailers ensure both organic compliance with the National Organic Program, and establish best practices that build consumer confidence and protect organic integrity. First published in 2002, OTA’s GORP training guide was widely distributed, and has assisted many retail establishments. Since then, the retail environment and organic industry have changed significantly. The updated GORP guide will not only reflect these changes, but also adapt to include the virtual marketplace.

The group met to discuss the document, and to highlight sections where the content is still relevant to today’s retail environment. They also spent some time identifying areas where the existing GORP tool fell short of today’s needs – notably, with the rise of e-commerce, and guidance to retailers around marketing organic in the virtual environment.

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Prioritizing Business Impact of COVID-19 on Member Organizations

Early in the process of evaluating the GORP manual, it became clear that the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus was taking an enormous toll on retailers. SPINS data shows that sales of organic products spiked by about 42% for the four week period ending March 22, 2020 – compared with an average growth of 2.3% for each of the three preceding periods of the year. This led to shortages throughout the grocery store, and the need to rapidly reassess product assortment and shelf allocation. All aspects of store traffic, merchandising, and customer interface also had to be swiftly reworked to keep shoppers and store employees safe.

Finally, because grocery store workers are on the front lines and were directly exposed to the public in the earliest days of the pandemic when safety protocols were still being developed, the initial months of the crisis were accompanied by staff shortages that further hampered day to day operations.

These extraordinary operating conditions led the Retailer Council to opt to take a pause on Council business during the spring and early summer months. During that time, the group met periodically to check in with one another on best practices, facilitate roundtable discussions on evolving impacts to members, and to share learnings about how retailers could best care for their communities during a global pandemic.

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Engagement in Future Rulemaking for Organic Retailers

Council members participated on the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Task Force this summer, providing a needed voice to the Organic Trade Association staff on provisions relevant to retailers. In September they were briefed by staff on key areas of the proposed rule and offered insights and feedback on the submitted filings from the association. This future rulemaking will have a significant impact on retailers and this briefing was another opportunity to assure that retail members are aware of the rulemaking and its business impacts.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2021
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Updating the GORP Manual

The Council is actively seeking a contractor to assist in updating the GORP manual for the first half of 2021. Once the document is brought current, the Council plans to transform the manual into several smaller tools that can be deployed across departments, and by employees with varying levels of experience with organic products. Potential outcomes of this work include a digital toolkit for retailers and an educational webinar.

Updating the GORP Manual
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Expanding Membership

In addition to the Council’s work in finalizing and transforming the updated GORP manual in 2021, members of the Council are discussing opportunities to expand membership with a larger reach both from within the OTA membership as well as bringing in new members to the trade association.

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JOIN OUR COUNCIL MEMBERS
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CURRENT MEMBERS

Community Food Co-OpDown to Earth Organic & Natural, Good Earth Natural Foods, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA), National Co+op Grocers (NCG), Naturepedic Organic Mattresses, Pilgrim’s Market, Thrive Market, Whole Foods Market, Whole Wheatery Co LLC

COUNCIL OFFICERS

The Organic Trade Association’s Retailer Council is chaired by Mark Squire of Good Earth Natural Foods. Ann Marie Hourigan of Whole Foods Market serves as Vice Chair, and Pat Sheridan of Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA) is the Council’s Secretary. The Retailer Council is supported by OTA’s Director of Education and Insights Angela Jagiello.

CALL TO PARTICIPATE

As a collaborative and engaged membership representing retail members at the Organic Trade Association, Retailer Council members are actively seeking to expand our membership and outreach to support organic-specific retail issues, challenges, and opportunities.  If our future work is relative to your business needs please contact OTA’s Director of Education and Insights Angela Jagiello.