Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Innovative SunCoast Market Co-op ~ A Healthy Way to Shop  

Rendering provided by SunCoast Market Co-op.

A new grocery concept is coming to Imperial Beach, and one of its goals is to showcase that bigger isn’t always better when shopping. The idea for the new SunCoast Market Co-op began when a grocery store was proposed for the Breakwater Town Center at 9th & Palm Avenue. Residents began advocating for a healthy option like Trader Joe’s or Sprouts. They even started a Facebook page, with 1400 people signing up to support bringing Trader Joe’s to Imperial Beach. Grocery Outlet eventually took the space

Then in December 2015, a small group hosted an exploratory meeting about setting up a co-op, with key players like then Mayor Serge Dedina, representatives from Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-op and 50 community members, who showed up in support. This gave them the boost they needed to begin researching, creating a mission statement, and working with the National Organization, Food Co-Op Initiative. The OB People’s Food Co-op was the first co-op to open in San Diego county 50 years ago, and SunCoast will be the second, and the first to open in a pre-dominantly Latin community. Co-ops are having a resurgence nationwide, with 150 opened in the last 15 years.

SunCoast Market Co-op Board President Kim Frink is fully invested and has visited at least 25 co-ops across the nation, with her favorite one in Port Townsend, Washington (just until SunCoast opens). “We don’t want to compete with the stores that are already here, but rather offer healthy options to keep food dollars spent local. A community survey showed that approximately 74 percent of Imperial Beach residents spend food dollars outside the city.”

In 2018, the group diligently began community outreach to educate and recruit people to become owner members for a $200 one-time share purchase. There are currently more than 1040 members, which include residents from Imperial Beach, Coronado, and surrounding areas, as well as businesses who each own two shares. They also offer financial assistance and payment plans for those who want to become members but can’t afford the upfront cost. They welcome everyone to become members to have a say, with details at suncoastmarket.coop. Efforts have been delayed due to the pandemic, but despite that there’s been remarkable progress in getting the word out and garnering support.

Golden Heart Family Farms offers fresh produce at the monthly farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of SunCoast Market Co-op

SunCoast Vice President and Outreach Coordinator Shannon Ratliff helps spearhead the myriad of outreach efforts which are underway, including cooking classes at various locations, as well as their popular Farmer’s Market at Veterans Park, 1075 8th Street, Imperial Beach, held the third Saturday of each month. With 50 vendors, from small farmers, bakers, eco-friendly home goods, local artisans, ready-to-eat food including poke, vegan Indian, acai bowls, BBQ, Filipino, Korean, and more; many of the vendors sell out quickly. The vendors have been enthusiastic in their support of the market saying they love getting to know the community.

Both Frink and Ratliff have health backgrounds, so it’s a natural fit that the co-op will help those with diet-related diseases and provide education to help shoppers find what they need to support their best health. They are coordinating with a variety of organizations to help, including Sharp Coronado, the American Heart Association, and Kaiser Permanente, to sponsor educational events and screenings.

Starting as a grassroots effort, the co-op is completely self-funded with no financial backers. The original group began taking up collections among themselves for a myriad of needed expenses like attorney fees and state filings. They have raised approximately one-third of the total project cost of $3.8 million and have now secured an ideal location in Silver Strand Plaza, 600 Palm Avenue with a projected opening in early 2024.

Two shareholders enjoy the monthly farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of SunCoast Market Co-op

The dedicated board of nine members has laid out a path to raise all the money needed, so they can open debt free. They hope to open with at least 1400 members, and see that as realistic since People’s has more than 12,000 members. Their grant writing team is hard at work to secure funding to bring better food options through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the City of Imperial Beach, and the County of San Diego, as well as other entities.

What is the difference between a co-op and a traditional grocery store? Frink and Ratliff point out that co-ops strive to be flexible and customize products to the needs of the community they serve in a welcoming environment. The diversity of income levels, with an eye to sustainability is taken into consideration. They offer quality products and help smaller farms and businesses to sell more products. Eventually, SunCoast Market Co-op hopes to secure grants for farmers, and give back to food banks, as well as offer profit sharing to their members, based on shopping totals. Between 25 and 35 percent of their produce, products, and baked goods will be locally sourced, thus creating a multiplier effect in the community. They project a $6.5 million impact annually to the regional economy.

Frink points out that it will be a full-service market, with a selection size comparable to Trader Joe’s. She notes that sometimes people get choice fatigue, and that SunCoast will have all the products shoppers need, but without an overwhelming selection. For example, rather than 20 kinds of spaghetti sauce, there may be a few carefully curated choices. SunCoast plans to offer a 50-50 ratio of natural organic products and conventional products; whereas traditional grocery stores typically offer 12 percent of natural organic products.

With an emphasis on great produce, SunCoast will also feature a bulk food section that will include grains, nuts, flour, coffee, and much more, to help reduce costs and package waste. Customers will be able to bring in their own containers to fill. There will be a selection of pre-packaged meats, with traditional and grass fed options. The bakery section will feature fresh breads and baked goods. There will be a local beer and wine selection, as well as a small wellness section and personal care products area.

The duo points out that SunCoast will be an integral community hub for health and wellness, as well as kid friendly. SunCoast is a Consumer Co-op corporation, with the goal of meeting the needs of their members and the community. They also hope to be able to offer food for everyone, with discounts to members and those with lower incomes. Once the store opens, planned events include cooking demos, health screenings, tours on how to shop in bulk and on a budget, for starters.

“Here Comes the Sun,” a fundraising festival event is coming up on Thursday, March 16 at 5 pm at the Coronado Cays Yacht Club. Funds raised will go to creating and equipping the Silver Strand Deli & Kitchen at the new market, which will provide healthy prepared foods, with a seating area in front. A delicious and nutritious hot and cold food bar, as well as pre-made smoothies, juices, soups, and salads will also be offered.

With a goal of raising $250,000 for the project, community members are encouraged to purchase tickets for $200 for members, and $250 for non-members, at suncoastcoop.givesmart.com. The festive event will feature delicious food donated by restaurants, a hosted bar, dancing to the band It’s Never 2L8, and fun games like Hole-y Cow Pie, Pickle in a basket, A chicken in every pot, Ring around the grocery, and more surprises.

There are lots of ways to get involved in helping to get SunCoast Market Co-op up and running to support improving community health, healthy food access, and environmental sustainability while supporting local farms and businesses. Reach out today to become a member, donate, volunteer, and support the monthly farmer’s market. For details, visit suncoastmarket.coop/.

Don’t miss the Suncoast Farmer’s Market held the third Saturday each month from 8 am to 2 pm, rain or shine, at Veterans Park, 1075 8th Street, Imperial Beach. Photo courtesy of SunCoast Market Co-op


Here Comes the Sun – SunCoast Market Co-Op Coming to IB – Fundraising Festival March 16


Jennifer Velez
Jennifer Velez
Jennifer fell in love with Coronado as a teenager while visiting a college friend. She vowed that someday she would make it her home, and that dream has recently become a reality. Fast forward through completing college with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations and Communications, she then went on to work with a variety of clients. She also taught Journalism and coordinated fundraising for her children’s school, and was a staff writer for San Diego Family Magazine and contributed to other parenting publications. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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