Spotlight Series

Épicerie Coop Grocery

Moonbeam’s only grocery store, Épicerie Coop Grocery, is renowned for its meat department. It prides itself on offering fresh local products and friendly, courteous service. It primarily serves the residents of Moonbeam, including Rémi Lake and the surrounding areas.

Interview with Lise Cloutier, Chair of the Board
By Elizabeth MacMillan, SEE Outreach and Engagement

Let’s start with a brief overview of your social enterprise, including where you are located.
Épicerie Coop Grocery is located in Moonbeam, Ontario, a small town with a majority Francophone population of 1200, situated 20 km east of Kapuskasing along Highway 11.

What question provided the inspirational spark? What was the social, cultural or environmental pressure point that finally activated action?
In 2012, the owner of Moonbeam’s only grocery store decided he would close the store if he could not find a buyer by the end of the year. Members of the community immediately mobilized to save the grocery store. In an amazing show of solidarity, citizens raised the money needed to found a cooperative and acquire the grocery store in just over 3 months.

What is the legal structure, the governance structure? How long did it take from the Idea stage to launch?
La Coopérative régionale de Moonbeam Ltée (the “Coop”) operates the grocery store under the name of Épicerie Coop Grocery. It is governed by a volunteer board of directors made up of members of the community, who are also members of the Coop. The Coop took possession of the grocery store in 2013, almost one year to the day after the very first meeting.

What are 1-3 key actions that advanced the social enterprise?
Having solid community engagement as well as unwavering support from the municipality was critical. We had incredibly committed leadership and access to knowledgeable volunteers from various backgrounds (legal, finance, grocery store management, etc.). We also hosted an efficient fundraising campaign. Our local Caisse Populaire played an important role with guidance and a $25,000.00 investment.

Did champions play a role in the establishment and/or ongoing success?
Many community champions were activated to ensure that our community had uninterrupted access to its grocery store.

What are 1-3 key start up supports that would have assisted?
There is very little information on the legal process of a starting up a cooperative, especially in French. Information on how to prepare the annual meeting and the content of an annual meeting was also very hard to find. Not only was access to information a challenge, but board members and employees lacked the time and experience to pursue funding opportunities, which remains an ongoing challenge.

How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the major shortfalls of the 75-year-old building that houses the Coop such as physical distancing rules; limit of 4 customers at a time; line-ups outside, etc. We sent around a survey in the summer of 2020 to determine the needs of the community and to see if there is support for rebuilding the Coop.

What is the scope of the impact you are looking to make, and how do you measure it?
Having an essential service like a grocery store in the village fosters community spirit and helps maintain property values in Moonbeam. Our vision is to be the region’s favorite local grocer that provides friendly, helpful service, alongside an abundance of quality of products – many sourced locally, with competitive prices and strong community leadership.

What is the social enterprise’s 1-3 next steps, or ways to strengthen it?
Due to the building’s existing infrastructure limitations, we are utilizing the NOHFC’s Northern Ontario Recovery Program funding that we received in February 2021 for a feasibility study and business plan for rebuilding our infrastructure so that we are able to offer more products and online services to the community. Épicerie Coop Grocery is also recruiting to hire a General Manager. Please see the Coop’s Facebook page for details.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me today?
Épicerie Coop Grocery just celebrated its 8th anniversary!