Since 1987, Pam Mehnert has been general manager of Milwaukee-based Outpost Natural Foods, one of the larger multi-store retail food cooperatives in the U.S. Outpost has four store locations across southeastern Wisconsin. The business says it’s welcoming to all, but Mehnert says talk is cheap when it comes to diversity.
“Outpost Natural Foods exists to serve the community rather than maximize profits. Since 1970 we’ve run our co-op through the lens of our deeply-rooted values, which today is focused on the health and sustainability of communities that reflect the diversity of our ownership.
“As we mark our 50th anniversary this month, there are many milestones of which we’re proud but few are as important as exemplifying one of our seven ‘cooperative principles’ of being ‘open to everyone’ — or as we like to say, ‘everyone is welcome here.’ That principle is reflected not only in our customer base, but also in our leadership and workforce.
“We employ a high ratio of women, with more than 52% making up the mid-level and top leadership in the co-op; and about one-fourth of those top positions are filled by people of color. We also prioritize full-time employment, with 66% of our workforce working full time hours with benefits. As a community-owned business, member/owners elect our board of directors so it makes sense that a multicultural board with 44% people of color would lead our way.
“‘Everyone is welcome here’ can’t only be words on paper – it’s about how we walk our talk and exemplify what creates that hospitality when you walk into one of our stores. Our approach has been a strong market differentiator for us, bringing in new shoppers across our community who make a connection with us because they feel like they belong here.”
Outpost Natural Foods
Milwaukee, Bay View, Mequon, Wauwatosa
Industry: Retail, grocery
Employees: More than 400